Clearing the Bases

Finally a chance to catch up on a few things without worrying about what’s going to be in Part III of the next continuing series:

• Ozzie Smith was the only player who garnered enough support to gain election to the Hall of Fame. While I had the Wizard on my ballot, the announcement that he was the only one to do so felt anticlimactic after all of the spirited debate I’ve partaken in online over the past few weeks. I have no beef with Oz making it–he was on my ballot. And I was marginally heartened by the support some of “my players” got. But I was disappointed others didn’t fare so well. Here’s a breakdown of the voting, sorted into three groups–the ones I voted for, the ones I considered but ultimately didn’t vote for, and the ones I didn’t even mention, all of whom except one fall off the ballot due to the 5% rule.

VOTED FOR: Ozzie Smith (91.7%), Gary Carter (72.7%), Andre Dawson (45.3%), Goose Gossage (43.0%), Tommy John (26.9%), Bert Blyleven (26.3%), Jim Kaat (23.1%), Alan Trammell (15.7%).

DIDN’T VOTE FOR: Jim Rice (55.1%), Bruce Sutter (50.4%), Steve Garvey (28.4%), Jack Morris (20.6%), Don Mattingly (20.3%), Luis Tiant (18.0%, falls off of the ballot after 15 years), Dale Murphy (14.8%), Dave Parker (14%), Keith Hernandez (6.1%), Ron Guidry (4.9%, falls off).

DIDN’T MENTION: Dave Concepcion (11.9%), Dave Stewart (4.9%), Mike Greenwell (0.4%), Frank Viola (0.4%), Lenny Dykstra (0.2%), Tim Wallach (0.2%), Mike Henneman, Jeff Russell, Scott Sanderson, Robby Thompson 0

I’m disappointed that Gary Carter didn’t get in; he missed by only eleven votes. Apparently his wife had planned a surprise party for him on the likelihood that he would get The Call; when it didn’t it really wrecked their day. Memo to Mrs. Carter: a greater catcher and better philosopher than your husband had some wisdom which applies here: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Memo to Mrs. Mattingly: skip the cake.

Mrs. Carter and her husband can at least take solace in the fact that her husband showed the largest percentage gain of the holdover candidates, moving up almost 8 percent from last year (64.9%). Sutter (47.6% in 2001), Blyleven (23.5% ), Morris (19.6%), and Tiant (12.2%) showed gains; Tiant’s wasn’t enough, as he falls off the ballot. Perhaps he” do better at the hands of the new and improved (?) Veterans Committee

Several ballot holdovers saw their percentages fall, among them Rice (57.8 in 2001), Gossage (44.3%), Garvey (34.7%), John (28.3%), Mattingly (28.2%), Kaat (27.0%), Murphy (18.1%), Parker (16.3%), Concepcion, Stewart, and Guidry.

Sutter joins Carter and Rice in crossing the 50% threshold, which is very significant. Not counting the players on this ballot, 68 of 69 who have received 50% eventually were elected; the odd man out was Gil Hodges (these numbers are from a Baseball Primer poster named jimd, who did a quick study). Eighteen of those 69 were elected in the next year, 16 in the year after that.

That’s not to say that I think Sutter should have beaten Gossage across that line. I felt that Gossage was one of the three strongest candidates on my ballot, along with Smith and Carter. Blyleven, whom I’d have ranked fourth, came nowhere near 50%, except among egghead types [he placed third in the STATLG-L Hall of Fame voting at 63.4%; Smith (83.2%) and Carter (76.0%) got in there].

• The other big news in baseball these days is the revelation that So-Called Commissioner Bud Selig took out a loan from a bank owned by Twins owner Carl Pohlad a few years ago. If that rings a bell, it should, because Pohlad is the man who stands to gain hundreds of millions of dollars if Bud has his way and the Twins are contracted. The loan itself is relatively small potatoes ($3 million), and it was paid back with interest in a timely fashion, but it violated one of Major League Baseball’s rules, Rule 20 (c), which states: “No club or owner, stockholder, officer, director or employee (including manager or player) of a club shall, directly or indirectly, loan money to or become surety or guarantor for any club, officer, employee or umpire of its, his or her league, unless all facts of the transaction shall first have been fully disclosed to all other clubs in that league and also to the commissioner, and the transaction has been approved by them.”

Despite the obvious appearance of a conflict of interest, baseball owners don’t seem too concerned about Selig’s transgresssion. Bud’s best bud, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf (a man who makes my skin crawl), takes a very interesting attitude towards the whole thing: “We have a lot of rules we don’t necessarily enforce all the time,” Reinsdorf said. “What is the big deal? …To me, it’s a like a cop sees a guy going 62 (mph) in a 55 zone. You let him go. What’s the harm?” I wish I’d passed by Officer Reinsdorf a bit more often back when I had a car.

On the other hand, three previous Commissioners were less charitable in their assessments. Fay Vincent, ousted by a Selig-Reinsdorf junta in 1992, decried, “It’s such a treacherous thing. It would raise in my mind all sorts of concerns.” Some of the senators forced to watch the Bud and Pony show last month in front of Congress felt similarly. Michigan Senator John Conyers called for Selig’s resignation, though he’s since backed off.

What’s amazing in all of this is the miraculous ineptitude of Selig. Between this loan and the backroom machinations behind the Red Sox sale, the smoking guns continue to turn up–with Selig’s fingerprints all over them and the driver’s license which fell out of his wallet as well. If Selig thought he was having a hard time selling the contraction/poverty stuff before, his sales job just got harder. This won’t lead directly to Bud’s ouster, but sooner or later the other owners are going to get tired of having the World’s Dumbest Liar giving them an even worse reputation, and they’ll realize that he’s part of the problem, not the solution.

• Part of my nice little just-celebrated birthday haul was baseball related. My friend Nick gave me “When It Was a Game,” a 3-DVD set which aired on HBO last summer (which I missed). All of the footage is from fans’ 8-and 16-mm home movies, and almost all of it is in color. I watched the first volume, which includes footage from 1937 to 1953, and some of it is jaw-droppingly spectacular–well preserved, with more than passable color. Seeing Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Dizzy Dean, Connie Mack, Judge Landis, Leo Durocher and others in this is like stepping into Oz. I half-thought some of these players’ natural complexions were gray before watching this. And the old ballparks… seeing color footage of old Yankee Stadium for the first time gave me goosebumps. There’s a there’s a ground-level shot up to the facade which is awesome. Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, Fenway (with an advertising-covered, not Green, Monster), Wrigley Field (before the ivy coverred the outfield walls), Sportsman Park–they’re all here. So is footage from the 1938 World Series, believed to be the first color recording of any World Series. The voice-overs of the ballplayers are interesting, but the narration is flowery enough to make Ken Burns gag. Still, the footage is worth the price of admission.

My friend Lillie gave me a book entitled The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told. Edited by Jeff Silverman, the anthology includes writing by Roger Angell, Ring Lardner, Red Smith, John Updike, Red Barber, and others. There are transcripts of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” skit, Casey Stengel’s hilariously cryptic testimony before Congress, and Vin Scully’s call of the last inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game. Some of the other pieces are familiar–the Updike selection on Ted Williams and Gay Talese’s profile of Joe DiMaggio were selected for a book edited by David Halberstam called The Best American Sports Writing of the Century last year. A nice addition to my baseball library.

And my mother sent me a book called The World Series: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Fall Classic, by Josh Leventhal. This oversized book summarizes each series, and features great photos, detailed line scores for every game and composite box scores for every World Series through 2000, plus sections at the end on series records and an All-Star team. The endpapers alone are worth looking at–color reproductions of World Series program covers going back to at least 1907. Another one worth adding to the roster.

• Speaking of that Halberstam book, I went to a book signing at Barnes and Noble when it appeared last year and had the opportunity to have Halberstam, Talese, George Plimpton, Ira Berkow, and Dick Schaap sign my copy. I was saddened and somewhat shaken to learn that Schaap passed away just before Christmas. He was one of the finest sportswriters of all, a man ahead of his time who saw the way the Civil Rights movement would change the face of sports. I have fond memories of reading and re-reading Instant Replay, the as-told-to diary of Green Bay Packer Jerry Kramer, which I read before I’d gotten my hands on Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. It remains one of my favorite sports books. I’m glad I had the opportunity to oh-so-briefly tell Schaap how much the book meant to me. He was one of a kind, and he’ll be missed.

• Speaking of passings, Bruce Markusen of the Baseball Hall of Fame does a very respectful and respectable job of chronicling all of the baseball-related people who died in 2001 in this piece over at Baseball Primer. From Willie Stargell and Eddie Mathews to Lawrence “Crash” Davis and Brian Cole, each of them left some kind of mark on the game. Worth a read.

• One passing which didn’t make the list because it happened in the new year was that of Al Smith, an American League outfielder from the 1950s. Though he was a solid player (.272 AVG, 164 HRs, two All-Star appearances in 12 years), you probably know him best from a famous photo. He’s the poor outfielder who got beer spilled on his head in a 1959 World Series game following a home run. The spill wasn’t intentional–the fan was going after the home-run ball, off the bat of Dodger Charlie Neal. It’s not a great claim to fame, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable sports photos of all time. Your 15 minutes should be so rich.

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