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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Jan 20

Baseball Mourns Losses Of Musial And Weaver

The television sound was off, but I didn’t need words to know this was sad news. Why else would there be grainy black-and-white images of Stan Musial unleashing that powerful swing out of an awkward stance?

Musial passed away last night, not long after former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver died, and the sports world was suddenly without two legends. Despite polar opposites in terms of temperament, both were unique and left an indelible mark on baseball.

MUSIAL: Stan the Man.

Weaver was the fiery manager of the Orioles who built his championship teams with superb starting pitching and the three-run homer. Musial was overshadowed by Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, but was as lethal with the bat as any of them. Others were more spectacular and played in flashier markets than St. Louis, but Musial personified baseball in his town and throughout middle America.

Having worked in Baltimore covering the Orioles, I learned quickly now woven Weaver was into the fabric of that town, and traveling numerous times to St. Louis, and saw that city embrace Musial to where two statues of him are outside Busch Stadium.

The beauty of baseball is how the sports rolls on with one generation of greatness following the other. However, there are those few who transcend their times and will be remembered through the ages.

There’s sadness in the losses of Weaver and Musial in that they are gone, but also that many of us never got a chance to witness their greatness in person. And for that, we are all the poorer.

Jan 10

How To Change The Hall Of Fame Voting Process

I read many columns from my colleagues, and was greatly disappointed in those who would not recognize a player on the first ballot, and even worse, those who returned their ballots blank.

As I wrote yesterday, boycotting first timers is an abuse of power. If you truly believe a player merits induction based on his career, then he should be on your ballot the first year.

You can’t legislate whom a voter marks down on his ballot, and history has shown this practice has gone on since the voting began.

Tom Seaver appeared on the highest percentage of the ballots at 98.84 percent. In the all-time rankings of the Hall of Fame inductees by percentage: Ty Cobb (4), Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner (tied 11), Willie Mays (14), Ted Williams (18), and Stan Musial (19).

Did you know, Frank Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Yogi Berra, Bob Gibson and Harmon Killebrew didn’t even receive 90 percent of the vote?

Did you know, before the voting rules changed, that Lou Gehrig received only 22.6 percent of the vote?

How could any of these players not appear on a voter’s ballot?

If you’re a voter and believe a player is worthy, he should not be omitted based on his first year of eligibility. Frankly, that is an abuse of your voting privileges.

Then there is the issue of the blank ballot. You’re allotted ten votes. Send your message against the steroid users all you want, but don’t penalize a worthy candidate with a blank ballot because it changes the percentages. I find it impossible out of all the candidates a voter can’t find at least one player worthy.

A blank vote is a vote of arrogance.

There are voting guidelines, but one should never be to dictate how a member votes. I am disappointed in the first-year and blank ballot voters, but don’t believe they should lose the right to vote based on their God-complex.

What changes would I make in the voting process?

* I would have the Hall of Fame voters identified with their choices. Media members can find out easily enough as to whom the voters chose. I think it should be out front and a condition of the voting.

* Blank ballots should be identified and not count against the percentage of ballots cast. This will eliminate the voter who votes against Barry Bonds and in the fallout penalizes Craig Biggio.

* Identify drug users on their plaques and have their names listed with an asterisk in the record books. Tainted players have tainted records. In my thinking, Hank Aaron and Roger Maris have the career and single-season home run records, not Bonds and McGwire. When I refer to Bonds and McGwire, I’ll say “balls hit over the wall,” and not call them home runs.

Baseball is about numbers and history. Bonds, Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro, not to mention Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, all have careers worthy of induction. We just can’t pretend their careers didn’t exist.

To put a scarlet letter on their careers doesn’t condone their actions, but acknowledges their complete roles in the sport.

Sep 28

Mets Matters: Last Time Facing Chipper Jones

The Mets are in Atlanta tonight to start a three-game series against the Braves and long-time nemesis Chipper Jones.

Jones has taken his farewell tour among National League parks and has been given numerous gifts ranging from a pop-art painting of Shea Stadium from the Mets, a surfboard from the Padres, and maybe the best of all, an autographed Stan Musial jersey from the Cardinals.

The Braves will honor him prior to tonight’s game and he’ll have three more shots at tormenting the Mets.

Jones will go down as one of the top four switch hitters in history, along with Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray (both over 500 homers) and Pete Rose (the career hits leader).

He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Niese starts for Mets: Jonathan Niese will make his final start of the season. The pre-season goal was 15 victories, but Niese stands at 12-9 with a very respectable 3.49 ERA, and an improved 1.18 WHIP (from his career of 1.36).

He has a very good 152-46 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, but needs to cut down on homers allowed (21).

Perhaps most importantly, Niese will end the season injury free with 30 starts.

Gee goes home: Dillon Gee is at his off-season Fort Worth, Texas, home today, having been sent home by the club after the Citi Field 2012 finale.

Gee threw a bullpen session Monday, his first time on the mound since July 13, when he had surgery to repair an artery in his pitching shoulder that caused numbness in his arm.

Gee said he had never thrown off a mound this soon after an extended down period and came away pleased.

“All I wanted to do was see how much I could build up before the end of the season,” Gee said. “And, to be honest with you, normally I’m not on the mound this early. So to be up on the mound this early and feel pretty good is encouraging. That was a goal.’’

It was important for the Mets to see Gee throw before winter, even if it was only 25 pitches so they could get a feel of his physical status.

Gee said he’ll start working out immediately after the season and begin throwing in December, as he does every year. That there are no restrictions on him is very encouraging.

Citi Field, 2012, numbers: The Mets finished 36-45 at home, a number that must at least be reversed if they are to become regarded as a contender. They scored 287 runs, their fewest at home since 1994, when they scored 235 runs. They did homer 67 times, their most at home since opening the park, but were outhomered by five.