Jan 27

Stan Musial And Frank Thomas Recall A Cleaner Time

Today I’d like to respond to two stories from yesterday, neither of them Mets related because, well, they haven’t done anything.

The first is Stan Musial’s funeral and the second Frank Thomas’ comments from the White Sox’s annual fan convention.

In different ways, both speak to baseball’s history in a profound light. Both return us to a cleaner, simpler time.

Let’s look at Musial first. Here was a three-time MVP and seven-time NL batting champion with 3,630 hits fr which 475 were home runs. But, numbers never gave us the true appreciation of this man.

I once saw him in the dining room at old Busch Stadium and thought of introducing myself and shaking his hand, but there was a crowd around him and I didn’t want to intrude. I told one of the Cardinals writers and he said, “You should have, Stan wouldn’t have mind.’’

Reading of his graciousness this week and the thoughtful eulogy from Bob Costas, I have little regret. I’ll always wish I saw him play. Even more, I wish I approached him that day.

One point Costas made was Musial didn’t have a singular achievement, such as Ted Williams hitting .406 and Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Musial also didn’t have the advantage of playing in a media center sof New York such as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and DiMaggio, or chasing a record like Hank Aaron. Timing and location mean a lot, but not everything.

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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.

 

Nov 15

Cabrera, Trout And Posey Top MVP Candidates

AL MVP CANDIDATE MIGUEL CABRERA

The Major League postseason awards conclude today with the granddaddy of them all – the Most Valuable Player Awards.

San Francisco catcher Buster Posey and Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera competing against the Angels’ Mike Trout are considered the frontrunners. Throw a blanket over Cabrera and Trout in the American League.

Let’s look at the American League race first because of the potential closeness of the voting.

The award has been shared before, the National League in 1979 between the Cardinals’ Keith Hernandez and the Pirates’ Willie Stargell. It is possible to have co-winners in these awards because they are done on a point system: x number of points for first place, y number of points for second place and so on.

Clearly, Trout had a MVP season, especially impressive had he not missed the first month of the season. Had he played a full season, it is possible he might have prevented Cabrera from winning the Triple Crown, one of baseball’s rarest achievements last done in 1967 by Carl Yastrzemski.

There is no criteria set by the Baseball Writers Association of America, which is why relief pitchers have won (Rollie Fingers, 1981), Willie Hernandez (1984) and Dennis Eckersley (1992). Also, players from teams with losing records (Cal Ripken, 1991) and Ernie Banks (1958-59) have been honored, as well as starting pitchers (Justin Verlander, 2011), Denny McLain and Bob Gibson (1968), and Sandy Koufax (1963).

The voting for all postseason awards must be in on the last day of the regular season, so playoff performances are not counted. However, traditionally, many of the winners – if not most – come from teams in the postseason.

The arguments for Cabrera and Trout are equally compelling, if not convincing.

Cabrera won the Triple Crown which is rare and impressive, and led the American League in OPS; his team made the playoffs and he moved to a different position. All strong arguments for Cabrera.

However, Trout led the majors in runs scored – 20 more than Cabrera; accomplished what he did in fewer games; and his team had a better record than Cabrera’s; and he might have saved at least 20 more runs with his defense. All strong arguments for Trout.

I have no complaint for either, but if forced to choose between the two I would take Cabrera because of the Triple Crown. It is such a rare achievement I can’t overlook.

The National League is easy for me. The best players are Posey, Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, last year’s winner, St. Louis’ Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina, and Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen.

Beltran and Molina will take votes from each other; McCutchen will be penalized by the Pirates’ late season collapse; and Braun will suffer from last year’s drug test controversy.

Posey, coming off a serious injury, hit .336 with over 100 RBI, and caught one of the game’s best staffs.

Oct 03

Amazing Season For R.A. Dickey Ends On Painful Note

R.A. Dickey’s Cy Young-worthy season ended last night with a painful revelation: That he’d been pitching with a torn abdominal muscle since April 13, injured in Philadelphia.

Ironically, Dickey will have surgery there Oct. 18.

Dickey called it a dull pain after last night’s no-decision, his eighth of the year, indicating a frustrating lack of run support.

“The pain was fairly significant from time to time,” Dickey told reporters last night in Miami. “We just did a good job of managing that. Whether it was backing off in the bullpen in between starts or getting the treatment that I needed or whatever else I needed to help with that pain, we were able to do it in a way that I was able to perform and not worry about it.”

Dickey finished the season with a 20-6 record and 2.73 ERA and 230 strikeouts while throwing 233.1 innings. That’s not good enough to win any of pitching’s Triple Crown, but good enough to be among the leaders, and even moreso considering he’s pitching on a team 15 games below .500 and with an injury.

One must also factor in opponent’s .226 batting average against him and a WHIP of 1.05. All his significant numbers showed domination on a team far from it.

There’s a school of thought the knuckleball would work against Dickey because many consider it a trick pitch. That nobody else throws it should be an endorsement for him because it is such a difficult pitch to master and one containing a high probability of error.

To wit, Dickey gave up 24 homers, including one last night. That shows he had incredible command of the pitch in the strikezone and they just wouldn’t knuckle for him those times.

There was bias from Tony La Russa in not starting him at the All-Star Game and I wonder how many of the voters might be swayed by that kind of thinking. It shouldn’t, because whether it is a knuckleball, fastball or curve, you still have to control it and Dickey was remarkable in doing it.

Perhaps also working against him is an anti-New York bias, which is often the case in voting such as this. It shouldn’t, but there are always some with phobia’s and Dickey has some significant opposition.

That Dickey did not pitch for a winning team shouldn’t work against him. This isn’t like the MVP voting where team placement in the postseason is usually an overriding factor to consider. There have been several cases of pitchers winning the Cy Young for teams not making the playoffs and Dickey should be one of them.

 

 

Sep 01

Mets By The Numbers: Finishing Strong

We are at arguably the worst part of the season. The dreams of March and April, followed by the anticipation of a strong start have faded into mediocrity. The second half collapse after the break robbed us of meaningful baseball in September.

Sure, the Mets could play a spoiler role, but really, what fun is that? If the Mets wanted to spoil things for the Nationals they had numerous opportunities this summer.

WRIGHT: Aiming for 90 to 100 RBI. (AP)

No, this is the time of year, with winter looming, that forces us to take some statistical interest in the Mets, both as a team and individually. Here’s what I’d like to see:

1) Team: On Sept. 1, finishing .500 and in third place are possible. Third moreso than .500 as the Mets are eight under. Can they finish eight over the rest of the way? They reached that level only once. Of all things, it’s the one I’d like to see most. As far as third place goes, it is better than fourth, but still won’t be close.

2) David Wright: Earlier this summer, when the Mets were streaking and Wright was hovering around .500, he was a legit MVP candidate. He’s at .316 with 17 homers and 78 RBI. It would take a monster September, but I’d like for him to reach over 90 RBI, maybe 100. If he does, he most likely would have over 20 homers and be hitting over .300.

3) R.A. Dickey: He’s at the top of all NL pitching categories. The competition is strong, so even 20 wins – he has 17 – will be formidable for the Cy Young Award. Dickey leads with three shutouts and also has four complete games. All with a tough pitch to master.

4) Ike Davis: Davis was below .200 for much of the season, but is at  .224 with 25 homers and 74 RBI now. It would take a blistering month to finish at .240, but if he does, he’ll probably reach the 30 homers and 90 RBI levels. That would be a good season.

5) Jon Niese: He been erratic and has 10 wins. I’d take 13 or 14 now. Would be a nice thing to shoot for.

6) Daniel Murphy: He’s fallen below .300 to .285. I can see him getting back to .295, but .300 would be difficult.

There are others, such as Ruben Tejada hitting .300 and Lucas Duda belting 17 homers. However, for the remainder of the team, for guys like Josh Thole, Andres Torres and Jason Bay, there’s not much left to be aiming for as their numbers are so woefully weak.

For the above, reaching those levels would take some of the sting from the season and perhaps make the winter more palatable. Individual numbers is what passes for meaningful baseball in September for the Mets.