Oct 21

This Series Could Be Special

For as long as I have loved baseball, first as a Little Leaguer with an active imagination, and then as a journalist covering the game I was not good enough to play on the major league level, the World Series always held a special place for me.

I remember bits and pieces of the 1969 Series, but confess I was shocked like most of the country. I admit to playing hooky from school to watch the 1970 Series, but maybe it served me right because I pulled for the Reds.

searchMy favorite Series was the 1975 Red Sox-Reds. Although disappointed in the outcome, it was compelling because of it went seven and Game Six was arguably the best game in history. There was Bernie Carbo’s game-tying homer; Carlton Fisk’s game-winner; and Dwight Evans’ game saving catch.

One of the great stories coming from that Series was Pete Rose telling Fisk something along the lines of, “this is a great game, isn’t it?’’

Next up was Twins-Braves with the classic Jack Morris-John Smoltz Game 7. If not the Fisk game, maybe this was history’s best.

I covered all the Yankees’ titles under Joe Torre, but the most dramatic of them was one they lost, in 2001, to Arizona. Go figure, perhaps the worst throw of Mariano Rivera’s career was after fielding that bunt in the ninth inning of Game 7.

A lot of historic homers were hit in that Series, but my favorite moments the fans chanting Paul O’Neill’s name; the bald eagle Challenger scattering the Yankees before the anthem; and George Bush throwing a ceremonial pitch perfect strike.

Each Series has its defining moment or story line, and I can only imagine what it will be this year.

Some match-ups are more compelling than others, but Giants-Royals – regardless of what ESPN says – will be a Series worthy of our attention. There was actually a Sports Center lead-in actually daring to ask if these teams “deserved,’’ to be there.

The fact is, baseball itself bears responsibility for the appearance of an “unworthy’’ match-up because it tampers with the integrity of its season with interleague play and the unbalanced schedule forcing teams to run different courses to the finish line.

However, these teams, based on being a wild-card entry, each played an additional game. They took on all comers – each having to beat the team with the best record in their league.

They also play the game the way it should be, with pitching, defense, timely hitting and solid bullpens. Both can also hit the long ball when needed, but neither survive by the homer, which is refreshing.

I believe this one has the capability of going seven, which defines “classic,’’ to me. Both teams have reason to believe they can be considered a team of destiny.

I can’t wait to find out which one.

Jan 08

Tom Glavine Gets Into Hall; Examining The Process

The baseball writers got it both right and wrong with the today’s Hall of Fame announcement, and in the process issued a strong statement on the PED issue.

The no-brainers were Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas; three dominant players that did it cleanly. Glavine played for the New York Mets, as did Mike Piazza, who fell short again.

GLAVINE: Bound for Cooperstown.

GLAVINE: Bound for Cooperstown.

Maddux, Glavine and John Smoltz – the latter will be eligible next year – were the driving force behind those Atlanta teams that dominated the National League for nearly 15 years. Their manager was Bobby Cox, who will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.

While the bulk of Glavine’s numbers were compiled with the Braves, he won his 300th game as a Met, and this afternoon reflected on his time in Queens.

“I would summarize it as a great five years of my career,’’ said Glavine, who was 61-56 with a 3.97 ERA in 164 starts as a Met. Of those starts, 56 were in games he either lost or took a no-decision while giving up three or fewer runs.

“I had a lot of fun in New York,’’ Glavine continued. “I certainly made a lot of great friends there as teammates and people within the organization. It was a fun five years, albeit a tough five years at times for my family with me being gone. But it was a fun five years for them. It was a great experience being in New York and playing in New York. It’s an experience, I think, every player should have.

“I’ll always have fond memories for the Mets organization for the opportunity, but also because I won my 300th game in their uniform. That’s something I certainly will never forget.’’

Unfortunately, many Mets fans – and some in the media – won’t forget Glavine’s last game when he didn’t make it out of the first inning in the 2007 season finale. That season the Mets lost a seven-game lead with 17 to play.

“On behalf of everyone at the Mets, we congratulate Tom Glavine on his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame,’’ Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said. “We are proud that Tom won his 300th game as a Met and were fortunate to have him on our club. His excellence as a player is equaled by his excellence as a person.’’

While Glavine’s outing that afternoon represents a black cloud in Mets’ history, Piazza’s homer against Atlanta in the first game played in New York following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, authored one the franchise’s golden moments.

Piazza gained percentage points in the balloting, rising from 57.8 percent last year to 62.2 percent. That could be an encouraging sign.

“On behalf of the organization and our fans, Mike is a true Hall of Famer,’’ Wilpon said. “We proudly display his plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame, and we’re hopeful that he’ll soon have one hanging in Cooperstown.’’

It might happen eventually for Piazza, but it should happen next year for Craig Biggio, who has over 3,000 career hits, of which 1,104 were for extra bases. That’s more than Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.

Biggio actually has only 14 fewer extra-base hits than Thomas, whom many considered a slamdunk. Thomas was an outspoken critic of PED usage as a player and reiterated his position today.

“I’ve got to take the right stance, too,’’ Thomas said. “No, they shouldn’t get in. There shouldn’t be cheating allowed to get into the Hall of Fame.

“What I did was real that’s why I’ve got this smile on my face right now because of the writers. They definitely got it right.’’

Biggio is one I believe the writers got wrong. Also, Piazza. The others are debatable. Biggio should be rectified next year as he only fell two votes shy.

It’s unlikely Piazza will make up the percentage points needed to reach the mandatory 75 percent by next year. While there is no documented link to PED use by Piazza, steroids remained a hot button issue, one not likely to go away soon.

Roger Clemens dropped from 37.6 to 35.4 percent of the vote; Barry Bonds fell from 36.2 to 34.7 percent; Sammy Sosa went from 16.9 to 11.0 percent; and Rafael Palmeiro dropped off the ballot completely, going from 8.8 to 4.4 percent.

I did not vote for any player linked to PEDs either by failing a drug test, being named on a MLB sanctioned survey, such as the Mitchell Report; or one accused on the record by another player with proof.

This did not apply to Piazza or Jeff Bagwell. It does to Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Sosa.

While there is no mandate from the Hall of Fame or Major League Baseball banning PED users, there is one regarding gambling which applies to Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

PED use is a tangled mess in large part because it had tacit approval from Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig for allowing its use after the 1994-95 strike season – which killed the World Series in 1994 – in an effort to jack up attendance.

Some writers, such as myself, won’t vote for anybody with a PED link, but will submit an honest ballot after considerable research.

What irks me most about the process are writers who make a joke of their ballot. One Los Angeles-based writer submitted one name, Jack Morris, but ignoring 300-game winners Maddux and Glavine. What about the other nine slots? If you’re going to take the effort to vote in Morris, as I also did, how come you couldn’t find another worthy candidate?

Then there is Dan Le Batard, who gave his vote to Deadspin in form of protest. The Baseball Writers Association is researching ways to improve the process, for example allowing more than ten votes.

One suggestion I have would be to suspend Le Batard’s vote. It’s a privilege to vote, one earned after ten consecutive years in the BBWAA. It’s not a joke as Le Batard made his out to be.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

Jan 09

Disappointed In Hall Balloting; Biggio Snubbed

I am not surprised at the voting numbers for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, but I am stunned at there being a total shutout and disappointed at the reasoning of some writers.

For just the second time in four decades none of the candidates were elected, and that is wrong. Craig Biggio, who was on my ballot, had 3,000, which had been an automatic ticket – save PED user Rafael Palmeiro – to Cooperstown.

One explanation I heard, which I vehemently disagree with was this reporter made it a policy to never vote for somebody on the first ballot that is totally off-base. It is a responsibility to vote, and I believe it is irresponsible and an abuse of power to exercise that logic.

Every player’s case should be judged on its own merits and not voting for a player on the first ballot penalizes him as it disregards what he did on the field. Biggio deserves to be in regardless of whom else appeared on the ballot.

I left off Bonds, Clemens and Sosa, and had my reasons for voting for Mike Piazza, Jack Morris, Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez.

For Piazza, he failed no drug test, did not appear on the Mitchell Report and was never accused on the record. His only linkage to steroids was rumors.

I do not understand how a writer can leave off Bonds, Clemens and Sosa this year as a punishment, but vote for them next time. It is our responsibility as a voter to vote with our conscience, but it becomes abusive to say, “I’m punishing him for this year.’’ You are either against a player using PEDs or not.

I would change my thinking if a player’s steroid-aided statistics were denoted with an asterisk and his plaque mentioned his use of PEDs.

Jan 09

New Parameters For Hall Of Fame Voting?

The outcome of today’s Hall of Fame voting could have far reaching ramifications as to future induction parameters.

I voted for both Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, both with good but not overwhelming numbers. My criteria was not only a long productive career, but that both performed of PEDs in that they were never formally accused, named in the Mitchell Report or failed a test. It was a testament to doing it cleanly. In that regard, I also saluted Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez.

These guys, and Jack Morris, approached most of these numbers the right way. Although he fell short because of injury, Mattingly had several dominating years before he was cut down by injury. Sandy Koufax is another who had a mixed career, mediocre followed by great numbers before an injury cut him down. Mattingly’s career was in reverse, with the numbers spiraling down in the end.

As far as Martinez is concerned, he’s being penalized by an anti-DH bias. Designated hitter is an established position and he was the best. He shouldn’t be discriminated against based on his position.

You know my feelings towards the rest.

Numbers have always played a big part in the voting process, with three historically providing an automatic ticket to the Hall of Fame, those being 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and 300 victories. Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds touched those numbers, but could be left out. Voters in future years could tweak those numbers, but I am not sure how they will go. Will they raise the bar or enforce them even more with a continued anti-steroid bias?

I will choose the latter. I’ll continue to respect the numbers and vote against those who used PEDs until there is a change in the acknowledgement process. I believe the Hall of Fame is a baseball history museum, and history isn’t always clean. Would you have a Twentieth History Museum and not mention Hitler, Stalin or Charles Manson? Of course not. History is also damning.

In that regard, if the Hall of Fame were to acknowledge on their plaques the linkage to steroids and the baseball record books would have an asterisk next to their names and statistics, I could see changing my vote. But to let them in under the present acknowledgement process wouldn’t be right.

It is a lame argument to claim they didn’t break any baseball rules, but they did break the law. Using steroids without a doctor’s prescription is against the law. How else to you explain Clemens getting injections in his hotel room?

Until that changes, I can’t justify voting for those who cheated, and in future ballots that will include Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz.

 

Dec 20

Casting My 2013 Hall Of Fame Ballot

piazza gfx

I am at my desk holding the official BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. It is my reward turned responsibility for covering Major League Baseball for over 20 years.

That’s close to 2,500 games, many spent watching Mike Piazza dominate his position like no other catcher with 396 homers (427 overall). That dwarfs Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane, all who played before steroids became part baseball’s lexicon.

I vowed not to vote for a player officially linked to steroids, whether by admission, a failed drug test, accused on the record by another player or baseball official, or mentioned in the Mitchell Report.

That meant Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro or Roger Clemens – all on this year’s ballot – won’t get in by me.

Then there is Piazza.

Piazza hasn’t been linked to performance enhancing drugs in any capacity with the exception of innuendo from writers who deemed that an acne-spotted back was as reliable as a blood test. If acne were the sole criteria, then most every teenager in this country would be suspected of being on the juice.

Like the gay rumors, it is unfair, unjust and irresponsible reporting. Yes, Piazza starred in baseball’s checkered steroid era, but I see him as a victim of circumstance, of guilt by association, of being painted with a broad brush.

Supposedly, Piazza confessed to an unnamed reporter. Unnamed reporters, like unnamed sources, raise suspicion and should be questioned with skepticism. It is why I put my name on everything I write.

If a reporter had that story, it would be a goldmine. If so, where is it written? Piazza has denied on the record any usage, and based by his name being absent on any official list, I believe him.

Despite his no-show before Congress, McGwire came clean; Palmeiro failed a test and was suspended; BALCO star Bonds admitted to using the clear and the cream but claimed he didn’t know what it was; Sosa has been blamed on the record and used corked bats twice; and Clemens’ former trainer produced physical evidence with his DNA.

I’m not buying the court decision on Clemens, as the government couldn’t get a conviction with a signed admission. Andy Pettitte’s most significant change-up of his career is what probably allowed Clemens to get off.

Then, there is Piazza who might be denied based on one newspaper account citing back acne. That reasoning is as pockmarked as Piazza’s back at the time.

Voting against Piazza is a writer’s right, but it can’t be based on his .308 career average, .377 on-base percentage, .545 slugging percentage, .922 OPS, 427 homers and 1,113 RBI, numbers that are off the charts in comparison to other catchers.

In case that’s not impressive enough, there are 12 All-Star appearances, 10 Silver Slugger Awards emblematic as the dominant offensive player at his position (and most ever by a catcher), and seven times finished in the top ten on the MVP ballot.

Piazza will get my vote, as will Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Don Mattingly and Tim Raines.

Piazza’s numbers are what the writers should be counting, not back pimples or whispers from those too gutless to put their names on the record.

Voting against Piazza is a writer’s right, but not the responsible choice. A journalist’s obligation is to be objective, fair and honest. Voting against Piazza on the strength of a rumor is none of those things.

It’s irresponsible and disgraceful.

John Delcos is a lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America and has covered the sport for over 20 years. He has voted for the Hall of Fame for over a decade. You can read more of his insights at NewYorkMetsReport.com or reach him at JDelcos@yahoo.com.