Jan 26

Yankees Ready To Spar With Rodriguez

The Yankees fired an interesting salvo in their on-going war with disgraced slugger Alex Rodriguez.

After refusing to hold a “clear-the-air’’ meeting with Rodriguez, the Yankees are reportedly bracing their legal defense to prevent him from collecting on any of the $30 million in bonuses he would get from his 2007 marketing agreement with the team.

RODRIGUEZ: Facing more legal hassles.

RODRIGUEZ: Facing more legal hassles.

Good for them, even though they are sure to lose.

With six more homers he will tie Willie Mays (660) for fourth place on the career list, which would be worth $6 million. He would also get $6 million for tying Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755), Barry Bonds (762) and passing Bonds.

Naturally, the basis for their argument is Rodriguez’s involvement with steroids. It would be a worthwhile fight except for several flaws, namely the Yankees knew what they were getting into when they signed him, and then re-signed him.

However, their case would carry greater weight if they were to sue him for money already paid and to get out of the contract entirely, which has three years and $61 million remaining.

Proving they had no knowledge about steroids would be difficult because it is largely assumed Major League Baseball was aware of steroid use as far back as 1998, when we were “treated,’’ to the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

Going this way would undoubtedly reopen old wounds and possibly create new ones. Personally, I would like to see them go that route regardless of the fallout because maybe all the truth would come out.


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.

Jun 16

Baseball As A Bond On Father’s Day

Was channel surfing on the car radio Saturday when the numbers stopped on the New York Mets game. I thought I’d stick around for a quick listen to Howie Rose and Josh Lewin for a couple of reasons.

First, they are good, and secondly I thought I’d do my part to boost their ratings. What else are friends for?

I forget the context it was mentioned, but Howie brought up the now-demolished Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Josh called it, “The Mistake on the Lake.” Constructed on the shores of Lake Erie, the one-time home of the Indians and Browns – and built in the long-forgotten hope of Cleveland one day hosting the Olympics – like so many others exists only in film clips and memories.

Howie mentioned his disdain for the Stadium and asked how anybody could like the place. To anybody who once shivered watching the Browns in December or Indians in April, or battled the monstrous bugs, or sat behind a pillar, or smelt the stench of the beer and urine-soaked concourses, I surely understand.

But, I said “once.’’

For me, and thousands like me, there were countless trips and Cleveland Stadium became a second home. When Howie mentioned it I couldn’t help think of my father, who on this special day, is only with me in my distracted and rushing thoughts.

My father instilled in me my love of baseball and sense of fair play. He was my Little League coach and my teams weren’t that good, but win or lose, after each game we’d go for ice cream. And, whether you were good or not, on my father’s team you always played and everybody batted. No exceptions. Only now do I understand why we lost so many games late because some kid I’ve long since forgotten muffed a pop up or struck out.

The first day of practice was for preparing the field. You brought shovels and rakes, not bats and gloves that day.

Baseball was it in my house. Dad rushed home to coach the games, and on the nights we didn’t play we’d watch the Indians. I loved watching those games with him. Somehow, it was better in black-and-white long before the days of instant replay and high-def.

However, serious bonding was done at Cleveland Stadium. I still have the box score from the first game he took me to, won 5-0 by the Indians over Baltimore. I came to see Rocky Colavito, but Chuck Hinton homered.

We’d go several times each summer, and he always brought along a group of my friends for my birthday. I’ll never forget when he took my brother and me out of school for Opening Day. He said we’d remember that more than anything they’d teach us that day in school.

He was right, as he often was, but I didn’t give him that much.

I remember a lot of the games, including the time we had standing room tickets to watch the Browns beat Dallas in the playoffs. Dale Lindsey ran back an interception for a touchdown. What I remember most was looking up at him as he shivered just because I wanted to be there.

When I got older and covered the Indians, I treated him. Then, years later, the best time I had with him in my adult life was when he spent a week with me in spring training. Sadly, we did it once. But, that week in Florida was planted in Cleveland Stadium decades earlier.

The Stadium wasn’t glamorous, but it was mine. Just as Shea Stadium was Howie’s place of worship, so to speak. In these days of Citi Field and retro stadiums, there are countless of baseball fans like us weaned in dumpy ballparks.

Gone are Tiger Stadium; Memorial Stadium in Baltimore; the old Yankee Stadium; RFK in Washington; Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota; Crosley Field; and Forbes Field. And, we haven’t even gotten to Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds.

Those are sacred places of Tom Seaver and Mickey Mantle; of Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson; of Harmon Killebrew and Pete Rose; of Ralph Kiner and Willie Mays.

Some of those stadiums are now dust, or covered in concrete and built over by apartment complexes and shopping malls. Some of the players are also gone.

They remain in our consciousness in large part because our fathers told us about them while sitting in cramped aisles between innings and pitching changes. Those were the days before non-stop video and blaring audio, sometimes between batters. The lull in the action is the beauty of the sport, which those who run this game worrying about the added five minutes will never understand.

My father and I were close then, but drifted apart as I grew older. We differed politically and I rebelled about a lot of things, as most teenagers do.

I don’t recall if we ever played catch in the yard after he stopped coaching and I went to high school. Maybe we did, but honestly, I don’t think so. However, when things were the coldest between us, we always had baseball and World War II history to talk about.

There were times, even if I knew the answers, I’d ask questions just to hear him talk. Even manufactured conversation is better than silence. He’s gone now and there’s so much more I’d like to tell him if I had the chance I will never get.

If I were smart enough then as reflective as I am now, perhaps we would have thrown the ball around a lot more.

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.

Dec 26

One More Night Of Tom Seaver …

Good morning. I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas and you got what you wanted or needed. If I had the power, I would have given you these things:

* One more summer like 1969, when the expectations weren’t high and your team captured the imagination of the City and the nation.

* An ownership group solvent and desirous of giving you the talent you deserve to cheer for.

* One more night of Tom Seaver going into that classic windup and stride, brushing his right knee to the mound and throwing a darting fastball on the corner, with Willie Mays swinging and missing with a mighty grunt.

* Shea Stadium rocking one more time, with the stands actually moving as the K’s mount up for Dwight Gooden.

* Darryl Strawberry uncoiling that mighty swing of his and ripping a majestic blast deep into the bullpen area. That is, if it misses the scoreboard.

* Another summer against the classic rivalries, the Cubs, the Cardinals, the Braves … and beating them.

* Mike Piazza whiplash swing, rifling a line drive deep into the night.

* The gritty play of Len Dykstra and Wally Backman, diving for balls and into bases, letting us know hustle is still in vogue.

* Keith Hernandez, creeping in from first to pounce on the bunt and nail the runner going to third.

* Johan Santana, healthy from April through October.

* Jerry Koosman dropping a slow curve in on the hands of Willie McCovey.

* Those hundreds of creative signs on Banner Day.

* Seeing the stars come in one more time: Mays, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Gaylord Perry, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Richie Allen, Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell, Fergie Jenkins, Dale Murphy and yes, Chipper Jones.

* Jose Reyes drilling a liner into the gap, striding around the bases and diving head first into third with a triple.

* Ed Kranepool holding on speedster Maury Wills at first.

* A Dave Kingman moonshot, without the complementary strikeout.

* Shea Stadium on a sunny, Sunday afternoon.

* Citi Field, full for once on a date other than Opening Day and against somebody other than the Yankees.

* Speaking of the Yankees, sweeping them during interleague play.

* Carlos Beltran running into the gap to chase down a line drive.

* A solid rotation of Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez.

* Randy Myers throwing smoke in the ninth.

* Billy Wagner doing the same.

* Jerry Grote blocking the plate.

* An October of magic, with J.C. Martin getting the call when he was struck running down the line … with Tommie Agee chasing down uncatchable fly balls and Donn Clendenon ripping home runs.

* A summer when the non-descript come through in the clutch: Ken Boswell and Al Weis; Ron Taylor and Don Cardwell.

* Another spring training with Casey Stengel telling his tales.

* Another summer with Gil Hodges in the dugout.

* David Wright with supporting hitters all around him.

* John Olerud’s sweet swing.

* Robin Ventura with the bases loaded.

* R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball floating towards home.

* And, one more dribbler down the first base line from Mooke Wilson ….