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03/26/2003 Archived Entry: "Cooperstown Confidential; by Bruce Markusen; March 26, 2003"
Spring Training Edition; March 26, 2003
Balloting For The Baseball Reliquary
Now that the overbearing Michael Moore has had his say at the Academy Awards, it’s time for me to have my say. Don’t worry, this won’t become a political commentary of any sorts; I’d simply like to post my votes as part of the fifth annual ballot for the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals. The Shrine, which inducts three baseball figures each year, is a kind of alternative Hall of Fame, basing its selections less on statistical achievement and more on an individual’s impact on the culture-at-large. The following is a complete listing of the Shrine’s criteria, as found at the website (www.baseballreliquary.org) for the Baseball Reliquary:
Criteria for election shall be: the distinctiveness of play (good or bad); the uniqueness of character and personality; and the imprint that the individual has made on the baseball landscape. Electees, both on and off the diamond, shall have been responsible for developing baseball in one or more of the following ways: through athletic and/or business achievements; in terms of its larger cultural and sociological impact as a mass entertainment; and as an arena for the human imagination.
With such criteria firmly in mind, here are my nine selections, representing the maximum number of candidates who can be named on a single ballot.
Jim Abbott: This gentlemanly left-hander didn’t have the long-term prosperity that his early major league promise might have predicted, but his ability to enjoy any measure of success given his physical handicap remains a tribute to his character and determination. Born without a right hand, Abbott refused to listen to the naysayers who told him that he would never pitch—at any competitive level. After each delivery to the plate, he learned how to transfer the glove to his left hand with quickness and agility, and then cradle the glove against his body with similar deftness after fielding grounders, putting himself in quick position to throw to first base…Abbott starred at the University of Michigan, where he captured the Sullivan Award as the country’s top amateur athlete. He then served as one of the aces of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, helping America to the gold medal. From there, he moved on to the major leagues, experiencing his best seasons with the Angels before pitching a no-hitter with the Yankees… Abbott lost his arm strength at a young age, perhaps because of the absence of his right hand, which prevented him from following through properly and completing his motion like most pitchers. Whatever the reason for his downfall, Abbott’s early major league performance—along with his consistently amiable and positive demeanor—should serve as a continuing role model for pitchers and players of varying disabilities.
Dick Allen: He was one of the first outspoken black superstars in major league history, making him reviled in the minds of some and praiseworthy in the hearts of others. Unquestionably, Allen deserved praise for his ability to overcome the racial protest that greeted him as the first professional black player in the history of Little Rock, Arkansas, and earned a fast promotion from the minor leagues to the majors. Bristling at convention and the general establishment during his major league career, Allen rebelled against managers, front office officials, and members of the media whom he felt lacked respect for the black ballplayer. In one example, Allen complained about the childlike name that sportswriters saddled him with after reaching the major leagues; he didn’t want to be known as “Richie,” which was the name that most of the general public used in identifying him throughout the 1960s. “Richie is a little boy’s name,” said Allen, who insisted that he be called Dick. That finally happened in the early 1970s, after the Dodgers traded him to the White Sox, where he captivated the baseball community with his historic 1972 season. For the first time in his career, Allen found a manager with whom he could co-exist, the accommodating Chuck Tanner. Though he had never faced American League pitching prior to that summer, Allen emerged as the league’s clearcut MVP. Leading the AL in home runs, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, walks, and RBIs, Allen almost single-handedly kept the White Sox in the divisional race against a far superior Oakland A’s team. The lone bright spot in a lineup filled with mediocrities (and even lesser lights) like Luis Alvarado, Rich Morales, Ed Spiezio, Rich Reichardt, and Walt “No Neck” Williams, Allen carried the White Sox to a level of amazing overachievement the entire summer. If Allen had found just a little bit more help from his supporting cast, the Sox might have narrowed the five-and-a-half-game gap that separated them from the eventual World Champion A’s… Allen only added to his colorful resume in 1977, when he joined the green and gold of Charlie Finley. Like some of the unconventional A’s (and encouraged by Finley), Allen wore something other than his surname on the back of his uniform. Allen proudly bore the name “Wampum” on his jersey, as a way of celebrating his hometown of Wampum, Pennsylvania… For Allen, his brief tenure with the A’s would represent the final stop on the baseball trail. Bristling at Oakland’s insistence on using him as a DH, Allen announced his retirement in mid-season. For a man who always played and worked on his own terms, it was the most appropriate of ways to end a playing career.
Harry Caray: Only a few broadcasters have gained a level of popularity with fans that either matched or exceeded their infatuation with the home team. Caray was one of those announcers, a man who developed such a faithful following during his fourth—and final—major league stop. Although Caray is best remembered as the voice of the Cubs, he had already carved out an impressive resume during earlier stints with the Cardinals, the A’s (where he lasted one year working under Charlie Finley), and the White Sox. It was during his first Chicago gig that he unknowingly (with an assist from owner Bill Veeck) began the tradition of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from the broadcast booth… Caray worked with several legendary broadcast partners over his career, including Jack Buck in St. Louis, and Jack Brickhouse and Milo Hamilton in Chicago. He sometimes struggled to co-exist with his boothmates—in particular Hamilton, who despised him—but he always remained on cordial terms with his fans, whom he realized were the most important members of his target audience, above and beyond petulant players and owners. Caray always considered himself the fans’ “man in the booth,” a trait that some of today’s broadcasters would be well served in following.
Roberto Clemente: “The Great One” is one of two “no-brainer” selections among this year’s eligibles for the Shrine. An elegant superstar on the field, Clemente has had tremendous social impact off the field, both during and after his life. He bristled at what he considered racist treatment from sportswriters, some of whom phonetically quoted him—incorporating his Latino accent—as an attempt at embarrassing him. Unlike many of the Spanish-speaking players who preceded him, Clemente refused to remain quiet, instead insisting on equal treatment for the Latino ballplayer… Although Clemente is probably best known for the heroic way that he died—trying to airlift supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua—he regularly performed such charitable acts throughout his life. During the season, he typically helped raise funds for Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital; after the season, while spending winters in his native land, Clemente staged free baseball clinics for Puerto Rican children… Unlike some athletes, who become forgotten once their playing days have ended, Clemente’s legacy has only grown since his death. Countless schools, parks, and bridges bear his name, both in the United States and throughout Latin America. His greatest individual legacy remains the Roberto Clemente Sports City, an athletic complex created by his widow, Vera, and maintained by the Clemente family, including two of their sons. Since its creation in 1973, thousands of underprivileged children have benefited from the facilities and family atmosphere created by the Sports City… Unfortunately, the Roberto Clemente Sports City is now undergoing financial hardship. To make donations to the Sports City, send a check to: Roberto Clemente Sports City, G.P.O. Box 364571, San Juan, PR, 00936-4571. For more information on the Sports City, visit www.robertoclemente21.com.
Dr. Frank Jobe: The good doctor never played the game and never worked in the front office, but he’s had as much impact on the pastime as any non-baseball man can have. Dr. Jobe invented the procedure now known as “Tommy John surgery,” an operation in which a ligament from the forearm is transplanted onto the elbow of the injured throwing arm. Such a ligament transplant had never been performed on a pitcher, and Dr. Jobe wasn’t particularly optimistic, giving John only the smallest chance of resuming his career after the September 24, 1974 operation. As it turned out, the groundbreaking procedure saved John’s career, allowing him to resume pitching in 1976 and giving him an opportunity to put up the kind of numbers that may still land him in the Hall of Fame someday… Once John had established that the procedure worked, Dr. Jobe felt more confident in performing the operation on scores of other pitchers. Some of the recipients of the surgery have included Cardinals ace Matt Morris and Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who underwent the procedure while in the minor leagues. “Tommy John surgery” has hardly become routine (there’s no such thing as routine arm surgery), but it has emerged as an effective way to treat pitchers whose damaged elbow ligaments simply won’t allow them to continue their professional careers.
Effa Manley:If elected, she would become the second female member of the Shrine of the Eternals, joining umpire Pam Postema in elite company. Manley was one of the most successful owners in the history of the Negro Leagues, guiding the Newark Eagles with her husband, Abe. While Abe concentrated most of his efforts on running numbers, Effa served as the primary brain trust of the Eagles. Working in a man’s world that had little tolerance for feminist notions, Manley signed a number of the top black players of the thirties and forties, including legends like Biz Mackey and future Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Monte Irvin. She paid her players better than most Negro Leagues owners, even accommodating the team with a luxurious $15,000 bus. Although Manley understood the importance of pioneers like Jackie Robinson breaking through major league barriers, she had a strong independent streak and bristled at the unwillingness of owners like Branch Rickey to compensate Negro Leagues teams for raiding their rosters… Off the field, Manley earned acclaim as a social activist. She worked to provide camps for children, walked in picket lines, pushed for local businesses to provide better jobs for blacks, and served as the treasurer for the Newark chapter of the NAACP.
Marvin Miller:Love him or hate him, no one can question the impact that the former head of the Players’ Association has had on the economic culture of the game. A brilliant student of labor law and a persistent and stubborn negotiator, Miller succeeded in swinging the balance of power from owners to players during his 18-year term as the leader of the players’ union. He supported the efforts of pioneering players like Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith, and Dave McNally, players who were willing to buck the system at the risk of being blackballed by management. Under Miller’s stewardship, the players gained major improvements in an outdated pension plan while also winning the rights to use financial tools like salary arbitration and free agency. Simply put, there isn’t a major league player in the game today who hasn’t benefited from Miller’s work.
Jackie Robinson: Like Clemente, this is a no-doubt-about-it selection. Has there ever been a baseball player who has had the sociological impact of Robinson, the first African-American player in 20th century major league history? If Robinson had failed Branch Rickey’s “Great Experiment,” the movement to bring black players to the big leagues would have slowed considerably. Of course, Robinson didn’t come close to failing, achieving an immediate All-Star level of play while keeping his temper in check against the verbal and physical onslaughts of racism… After his playing days ended, Robinson remained successful, achieving a high-ranking position with the Chock-Full-O-Nuts coffee company and serving as a chairman with the Freedom National Bank. Still, Robinson remained a social crusader, voicing his concerns over the lack of similar opportunities for blacks as managers and executives within the game of baseball. At his final public appearance, at the 1972 World Series, Robinson expressed his hope of seeing a black man in a managerial position; sadly that would not happen until Frank Robinson’s selection in 1975, three years after Jackie’s death from a diabetes-related heart attack.
Casey Stengel: Other than perhaps Yogi Berra, no one has had such a profound impact on the baseball lexicon as “The Ol’ Perfessor.” And while many of Berra’s “Yogi-isms” were actually created by Joe Garagiola, Stengel authentically authored almost all of the sayings that make up the subset language called “Stengelese.” Stengel’s ramblings often made little sense, but still managed to captivate fans and media alike, making him one of the game’s most legitimately colorful characters. He almost single-handedly made the “Amazin’ Mets” an appealing team to follow, even though they produced some of the worst baseball seen during the game’s expansion era… In his earlier years with the Yankees, Stengel proved a managerial genius, developing a daring and trendsetting platoon system while maximizing the success of his immensely talented teams in the Bronx. Stengel’s record-tying 10 league pennants might be surpassed by some future manager; his unprecedented five consecutive World Championships may be a bit more difficult to attain.
Other particularly strong candidates listed on the Shrine’s ballot of 50 include Sparky Anderson, Yogi Berra, Ila Borders (a woman who pitched three seasons against men in the minor leagues), Dizzy Dean, Negro Leaguers Rube Foster and Josh Gibson, Dummy Hoy, Bill James, Danny Litwhiler (a baseball inventor and innovator), Phil Pote (a noted Los Angeles-area scout), Fernando Valenzuela, and Rube Waddell. For a complete listing of the ballot for the Shrine of the Eternals, visit www.baseballreliquary.org.
One of the nicest attributes of the Baseball Reliquary is its level of inclusion. Voting is not restricted to baseball writers (internet or print) or broadcasters, but is open to the general public. In order to vote, all one has to do is sign up for a one-year membership, at a cost of $25.00, by the deadline of April 1. Membership payments can be made via check or money order and sent to the following address: The Baseball Reliquary, Inc.,PO Box 1850, Monrovia, CA 91017.
Trammell (Not Alan) For White (Not Roy)
The Yankees and Padres, who always seem to be linked in trade rumors, made an interesting deal last week involving two veteran outfielders and a minor league pitching prospect. In acquiring outfielder-DH Bubba Trammell and young left-hander Mark Phillips for 2002 free agent bust Rondell White, the Yankees pulled off an absolute steal. While White may be the better player when healthy, he has almost never shown the ability to stay injury-free, and that tendency doesn’t figure to change now that he’s 31. Trammell is far more durable, draws more walks, hits with more power, and hits left-handers better than White (an .860 OPS vs. southpaws over the last three years, as compared to White’s .808), which makes him perfectly suited to be New York's right-handed DH... Another problem with White: he’s a good outfielder in terms of range, but his throwing arm is simply awful, probably worse than Roy White’s right wing, which is saying a lot. With Bernie Williams in center field, the Yankees had to play two very poor throwing arms next to each other in their 2002 outfield. That circumstance, along with the offseason acquisition of Hideki Matsui, forced the Yankees to use White as a DH, a role to which he was not accustomed… Brian Cashman’s ability to coax the Padres into giving up Phillips makes this a terrific deal for the Yankees. A 21-year-old left-hander who throws 97 miles per hour is always a worthwhile commodity to have. Phillips still has time to harness his control, which has been his primary weakness in Single-A ball… Very quietly, the Yankees have stockpiled young pitching in making three of their most recent acquisitions. They picked up right-hander Delvis Lantigua as part of the Orlando Hernandez deal, signed hard throwing righty Ramon Ramirez (who has reached 98 MPH on the radar gun) out of the Japanese leagues, and insisted on Phillips’ inclusion in the Trammell-for-White exchange. Lantigua is expected to start the season at Triple-A Columbus, while Phillips and Ramirez will open up at Double-A Trenton.
Spring Training Sonnets
The Yankees are thrilled with the spring training performance of Hideki Matsui, who somehow has managed to exceed the hype that accompanied his signing to a three-year, $21 million contract during the winter. Based on what the Yankees have seen so far, “Godzilla” has enough speed to collect loads of doubles and triples at Yankee Stadium, makes far more consistent contact than expected, and is a much better defender than advertised. Regarding the latter assessment, Joe Torre gave Matsui his first start in center field last weekend and watched his Japanese rookie make an impressive running catch in right-center field. Matsui’s cameo in center field begs the question: does he have the ability to play center field fulltime, thereby allowing the Yankees to put Bernie Williams in left field, where he and his noodle-like arm and late reactions belong? It’s too early to say for sure, but it’s almost a certainty that some members of the Yankee brass have started to consider the merits of such a switch… At the beginning of spring training, Lou Piniella championed one of the silliest ideas in recent memory when he talked about the possibility of using an over-the-hill Greg Vaughn as the Devil Rays’ leadoff man. By the time the laughter had subsided, Piniella had come to his senses, so much so that he convinced general manager Chuck Lamar to place Vaughn on waivers last weekend. In retrospect, Piniella’s idea might have simply been an attempt to boost the confidence of the struggling Vaughn; it didn’t work, as the 37-year-old Vaughn hit a lackluster .217 during the spring and looked all too much like the fading hitter we’ve seen over the last two seasons… Although Vaughn’s release will cost the Devil Rays $9.25 million this season, it’s the kind of move that this organization needs to make to plant itself in the right direction. The Rays would have had to pay Vaughn either way, so why allow him to continue to hurt the team and watch him impede the development of young outfielders like Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli? Crawford and Baldelli need to play every day (and will receive the first crack at occupying the first two spots in Piniella’s revamped lineup), if for no other reason than to allow the Devil Rays to evaluate them as major leaguers. If they are as good as the Rays think, then this franchise might have made its first serious steps toward something other than the drudgery of last place in the American League East… In the National League, the Cardinals have settled on a revamped five-man rotation for the start of the 2003 season. Tony LaRussa announced earlier this week that his rotation would run as follows: 1) Matt Morris 2) Woody Williams 3) Garrett Stephenson 4) Brett Tomko and 5) Jason Simontacchi. That leaves Cal Eldred as the odd man out, but the veteran right-hander remains one of the most intriguing comeback stories of the spring. His career given up for dead, Eldred seems to have regained some of his previous velocity in Grapefruit League play, earning him a spot in the bullpen on St. Louis’ Opening Day roster. And perhaps that is just the right location for Eldred, whose fragile arm probably wouldn’t stand up to the rigors of starting every fifth day.
Continuing with the Clemente theme this month, let’s take a look at an intriguing card from 35 years ago, part of the 1968 Topps set. The “Manager’s Dream” (No. 480 in the set) features three Latino stars: from right to left, Clemente, Leo Cardenas, and Tony Oliva. Curiously, none of the three Latino players are featured with their given names on the card. Now in the case of Oliva, whose real first name is Pedro, he certainly didn’t mind being called “Tony.” In fact, he used his brother Tony’s passport in coming to the United States, and the name has stuck ever since. With regards to the other two players pictured on this card, both are featured with names that certainly did not represent their personal preference: “Bob” Clemente and “Chico” Cardenas. Clemente hated to be called “Bob” or “Bobby,” resisting efforts by the media and fans to Americanize his name. Extremely proud of his Latino heritage, Clemente insisted that he be called Roberto, a name he felt so strongly about that he gave it to his first-born son. As for the nickname “Chico,” it means “little boy” in English, which probably didn’t please at least some of the Latino players from that era. The list of small-sized utility infielders from the 1960s who found themselves saddled with this tag included Chico Fernandez, Chico Ruiz, and Chico Salmon... Did the use of such nicknames as “Bob” and “Chico” represent a form of subtle racism against Latino ballplayers in the 1960s? Probably, but I would argue that it was a form of unintentional racism, born out of ignorance and lack of awareness of the Latino culture, rather than reasons of hatred or mean-spiritedness. In all likelihood, some of the American writers and broadcasters of the sixties probably had little idea what “Chico” meant in its English translation, and may have also felt they were merely trying to be friendly or informal in calling Clemente “Bob”… Issues of racism aside, the “Manager’s Dream” card provides an interesting study for other reasons. The photograph for this 1968 card was likely taken two or three years earlier, either at the 1965 or ’66 All-Star Game, but it could not have been the 1967 game, since Cardenas didn’t make the All-Star squad that year. It’s also the kind of themed group shot (which featured headlines like “All Star Vets” and “Super Stars”) that Topps used frequently in the 1960s, but curiously abandoned in the 1970s. Some of these combination cards showed players from different teams—like the “Manager’s Dream”—while others featured star players on the same team—with alliterative headlines like “Bird Belters” and “Mets Maulers.” Thankfully, Topps has started to reincorporate these fun kinds of themed cards into some of its sets in recent years, giving cards a retro feel while reminding us that baseball is a team game with intriguing collections of star players.
Re-Living The Swingin’ A’s—30 Years Ago
From time to time throughout the season, I’ll take a 30th anniversary look at some of the most intriguing events surrounding the 1973 World Champion Oakland A’s. In this week’s first installment, orange baseballs take center stage.
On March 29, 1973, orange-colored baseballs were used for the first time in major league history. The unique baseballs, the invention of A’s owner Charlie Finley, were utilized in an exhibition game between the A’s and the Cleveland Indians. Unlike most of Oakland’s spring training opponents, the Indians had agreed to use the orange baseballs that Finley had been pushing heavily on Major League Baseball. Finley believed the orange baseball, which he dubbed the “Orange Alert” ball, would prove more visible for fans and hitters. As Commissioner Bowie Kuhn watched from the stands, former A’s outfielder George Hendrick (whom Finley had traded earlier in the week along with catcher Dave Duncan for catcher Ray Fosse and infielder Jack Heidemann) deposited three of those brightly colored baseballs into the bleachers against his old team. Ironically, several hitters complained that they couldn’t see the orange baseballs as well as the traditional white ones. Other players criticized the baseballs because of the similarity in coloring between the red stitching and the dyed-orange horsehide. “As I recall it,” says former A’s left fielder Joe Rudi, “they were regular [Spalding] hardballs that were dyed orange. And that was the problem, because it made it real difficult to pick up the seams on the ball. As a hitter, you look for the seams to pick up the rotation on the ball, to tell you whether it was a slider or some other pitch. With those orange-dyed balls, you couldn’t see the seams—they were camouflaged by the dye used on the ball—and that made it tough.” Much to Finley’s chagrin, the Orange Alert baseballs failed to receive much favor from the game’s participants.
Hall of Fame Handbook
A reader of last week’s column wondered about the circumstances of Lou Gehrig’s election, and whether, in fact, the traditional waiting period was actually waived so that he could enter the Hall of Fame before his expected death. Here’s what happened. The Hall of Fame announced its 1939 vote on January 23, with Gehrig not included on the regular ballot since he was still an active player. Later that year—on December 8, 1939—the Baseball Writers held their annual meeting and decided to conduct a special vote, voting the now-retired Gehrig into the Hall by acclamation. Since no elections were scheduled to be held in either 1940 or ’41 (at that time, it was decided that elections would be held every three years), the writers had essentially waived an extra two years of waiting for Gehrig so that he could enter the Hall of Fame while still alive. So this was not quite the same as waiving the traditional five-year waiting period (since the five-year wait had not yet been established), but it did involve a conscious decision by the writers to waive at least a two-year waiting period for Gehrig.
Here’s an update on former major leaguers who have died during the month of March.
Harry Eisenstat (Died on March 21 in Shaker Heights, OH; age 87): Eisenstat had a losing record during a major league career that spanned from 1935 to 1942, but is best remembered for defeating Hall of Famer Bob Feller in the final game of the 1938 season. Feller struck out 18 Detroit Tigers that day, but Eisenstat pitched no-hit ball through seven innings on the way to earning a 4-1 victory over Feller and the Cleveland Indians. Impressed by his performance, the Indians acquired Eisenstat the following season, in exchange for Hall of Fame outfielder Earl Averill. Eisenstat also pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers, his first major league team, during a career that saw him post a win-loss record of 25-27.
Joe Buzas (Died on March 19 in Salt Lake City, UT; age 87; long illness): A former major league player and minor league owner, Buzas was the New York Yankees’ Opening Day shortstop in 1945. A shoulder injury cut short his career, limiting him to 30 major league games. Buzas remained active in baseball, becoming a manager in Puerto Rico before making the transition to ownership. He purchased his first minor league franchise in 1956, buying the Allentown Red Sox for $25,000 and eventually moving the team to Bristol, Connecticut. In 1983, Buzas moved the franchise to New Britain and watched the club claim the Eastern League championship while showcasing a young pitcher named Roger Clemens. Buzas also owned the Pacific Coast League’s Salt Lake Stingers, who led the league in attendance during Buzas’ first six years of operation. The Salt Lake and New Britain franchises were just two of about 60 minor league teams that Buzas operated at one time or another.
Bruce Markusen is the author of A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s (ISBN number 1-878282-23-9), which is available at www.amazon.com and at many major bookstores, including Borders Books. Markusen has also written The Orlando Cepeda Story and Roberto Clemente: The Great One.