The Hall of Fame was in the headlines last week, and not just because the retirement of Mike Piazza kindled the inevitable debate over his Cooperstown credentials. No, an even more deserving honoree made waves via what was almost certainly a first: a request to the voters not to be elected.Thanks to Barra, Belth, and of course Miller for their cooperation and encouragement with this article. While I think the Hall of Fame is a lesser place without Miller and part of me hopes that someday this sorry chapter ends with his induction, I admire his chutzpah for speaking up. His place in baseball history is already guaranteed with or without the sanctioning of Cooperstown's cronies, and his actions expose major cracks in the Hall's foundation, cracks that the institution would do well to address while the men it should be honoring are still alive to enjoy their glory.
The unusual appeal came from Marvin Miller, who served as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 to 1982, overseeing baseball's biggest change since integration via the dismantling of the Reserve Clause and the dawn of free agency. Snubbed by an ever-changing electoral process three times in the past five years, the 91-year-old Miller is not only tired of his hopes being dashed, but disillusioned with the institution itself. "As I began to do more research on the Hall, it seemed a lot less desirable a place to be than a lot of people think," said Miller in a recent interview with Baseball Prospectus. "Some of the early people inducted in the Hall were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Tris Speaker, Cap Anson, and some people suspect Ty Cobb as well. When I look at that, and I looked at the more current Hall, it was about as anti-union as anything could be," he continues, citing recently ousted Hall president Dale Petroskey's past service in the union-busting Reagan White House. "I think that by and large, the players, and certainly the ones I knew, are good people. But the Hall is full of villains."
...It's unclear whether the Hall will honor Miller's wishes. President Jeff Idelson--who took over in late March after Petroskey resigned--believes the VC will again be reconstituted before the next vote. He says that the institution plans to discuss the matter with Miller, and that while his request will be communicated to the screening committee, there's no guarantee his wish will be heeded; Miller will be nominated if the committee so decides. That reaction suggests Miller's statement may work as a bit of reverse psychology -- if he's daring the electorate not to tab him, what better way to piss the man off?
Miller is hardly waiting for the Hall's overtures. He sounds genuinely at peace with his own intractability on the matter, invoking an unlikely pair of historical figures in Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman and comedian Groucho Marx. "[Sherman] basically said, 'I don't want to be president. If I'm nominated I will not campaign for the presidency. If despite that I'm elected, I will not serve.' Without comparing myself to General Sherman, that's my feeling. If considered and elected, I will not appear for the induction if I'm alive. If they proceed to try to do this posthumously, my family is prepared to deal with that."
The mention of Marx adds a final bit of levity to Miller's request. "What [Marx] said was words to the effect of, 'I don't want to be part of any organization that would have me as a member.' Between a great comedian and a great general, you have my sentiments."
A dismal week for the Yankees ends on a high note with the return of Alex Rodriguez (4-for-11 with two doubles and two homers after a 17-game absence) and strong performances from Darrell Rasner and Ian Kennedy. The former puts together his third straight quality start, lowering his ERA to 1.89, while the latter finally gets his ERA down to Boeing territory (7.27) with just his second quality start out of seven. More help is on the way for the Yanks, who begin Joba Chamberlain's conversion to the rotation; while the move will be second-guessed by some wags, the Yanks simply need him there; their rotation is 10th in SNLVAR and last in innings pitched per start, while the bullpen is seventh in WXRL.The Yankees kept the good times rolling after that was published on Friday, rolling up 13 runs against the hapless Mariners, and the line kept moving on Saturday, when I took my in-laws to Yankee Stadium for the first time and watched the Yankees continue to treat the Mariners like a punching bag as they won 12-6, their fourth victory in a row. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and in the high 60s, and for a Saturday it wasn't so crowded as to be claustrophobic, thanks to the opponent and the holiday weekend. A great day for baseball.
It's been a rough century for the Cubs. They haven't won a World Series since 1908, and they haven't captured a pennant since 1945 despite the best efforts of superstars like Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, and Sammy Sosa. They've punctuated that dry spell with agonizing collapses — their late-season fade in 1969, a squandered 2-0 lead in a best-of-five Championship Series in 1984, and the Steve Bartman debacle in 2003 — and watched as the Red Sox and crosstown White Sox have overcome similarly epic championship droughts. History has not been kind, but at long last, this may finally be the Cubs' year.The race appears tight at the moment, but the two teams hanging with the Cubs, the Cardinals and Astros, were forecast for just 75 and 72 wins, respectively, and the adjusted run differentials suggest a three- and five-game gap between the Cubs and those two teams. Meanwhile, the Brewers, who were forecast for 86 wins, appear dead in the water at the moment, their bullpen frightful and their rotation depth squandered. So my money's on the Cubs.
On the surface, the team simply appears to be solid contenders, perhaps a bit improved off of last year's NL Central-winning 85-77 record. Their two-game lead in the division isn't overly generous, and at 28-18, they trail the Diamondbacks by half a game in the race for the league's best record. However, thanks to a recent 9-2 tear in which they outscored opponents 67-35, they have the majors' best run differential through Tuesday, at +76 runs. It's not like they're playing far above their heads, either. This spring, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA forecasting system tagged the Cubs for 93 wins, tops in the division and second only to the Mets among NL teams.
Leading the way for the Cubs is an offensive juggernaut that's scoring a major league-best 5.7 runs per game while hitting .285 AVG/.371 OBP/.448 SLG, tops the NL in the first two categories, and second in the latter. Left fielder Alfonso Soriano has powered the recent streak with a 21-for-44 tear that included seven homers in six games, but he's had plenty of help. Indeed, the Cubs are getting above-average production at every position except center field, with first baseman Derrek Lee, second baseman Mark DeRosa, third baseman Aramis Ramirez, right fielder Kosuke Fukudome, and shortstop Ryan Theriot all getting on base above a .400 clip.
On-base percentage is the offensive statistic which best correlates with run scoring, and historically, it's been an Achilles heel for the Cubs. Former manager Dusty Baker showed a maddening tendency to favor free swingers over disciplined hitters; as a result, the Cubs never placed higher than 11th in OBP during his four-year tenure (2003-2006), but it wasn't all Baker, as the problem goes back much, much further. The team hasn't led the league in OBP since 1972, and has only placed in the top three four times - 1972, 1975, 1984 and 1989, the latter two playoff seasons - since 1945, when the club ranked second.
Under new skipper Lou Piniella, last year's unit ranked ninth in the league with a .333 OBP, up from a dead-last .319 mark in Baker's final year. This year's offense has been bolstered by the additions of Soto, a top catching prospect who hit a searing .353/.424/.652 at Triple-A Iowa last year, and Fukudome, an import who topped a .430 OBP in the Japanese Pacific League in each of the last three years while drawing comparisons to Bobby Abreu and J.D. Drew for his moderate power/high-OBP skill set.
Bolstering Piazza’s primary JAWS case are his secondary numbers, which confirm the oft-repeated claim that he’s the best-hitting catcher of all time. Piazza’s .311 EqA [Equivalent Average] is the all-time high for the position. No Hall of Fame catcher has an EqA above .300, though there are several in the .295-.299 range and the positional average is a robust .289. The highest EqA for a catcher not in the Hall of Fame is sabermetric hero Gene Tenace at .308 (ayyy Gino!), while the highest active marks coming into 2008 were held by Joe Mauer (.305) and Jorge Posada (.300).Piazza also holds the record for home runs as a catcher, hitting 396 of his shots while playing that position. His fielding is another story; at -149 runs, he's the worst-fielding catcher ever, which prevents him from topping the JAWS list at his position. Had he taken the time to learn first base in his later years, he might have had a shot at 500 homers, but as it is, he's still got enough of the good stuff for the Hall of Fame.
Furthermore, Piazza’s 472 Batting Runs Above Average is light years ahead of the rest of the backstop pack. No Hall of Fame catcher has more than Johnny Bench’s 325 BRAA. Joe Torre, at 396, is the only hitter between Bench and Piazza, and while he played a plurality of his games at catcher (893) and this is classified as such in our system, the majority of his time was actually split between the infield corners (793 at first base, 515 at third). Torre’s got a lifetime .298 EqA as well.
scareduck (Still closer to Angel Stadium than Chavez Ravine): Three questions: 1) For my Cubs lovin' wife, are the Northsiders for real? They've done well so far, but what are their big questions down the stretch? 2) Is there any light at the end of the Andruw Jones tunnel, or is that the sound of a diesel locomotive? 3) Joe Torre: great manager, or *greatest* manager? Seriously, look at Friday's Dodgers lineup: how could he expect to win?That's Rob McMillan in the top spot above, operator of the Dodgers- and Angels-themed 6-4-2 blog, which is one of my daily reads, incidentally. Anyway, I had some great chat questions left over, enough that I may repurpose some of them into my next Hit and Run column. Like a good chef, I do my best use the whole part of the beast.
JJ: Cubs: for real. Their run differential is the best in all of baseball by a wide margin, and I don't see any of the other NL Central teams being able to hang with them. I think the big questions are whether Rich Hill rediscovers his control and returns to the rotation, and whether Kerry Wood can hold up as the team's closer. Barring injuries, I think they'll be OK, and even with those injuries, they have a bit of depth to either cover from within or make a trade to help themselves out.
Andruw: lots of questions about him today. The upside of his injury is that it may explain some of his struggles, it may force him to get back in shape as he rehabs, and it will give Dodger fans a bit of relief when it comes to the daily drama of the outfield lineup.
Torre: Furcal being hurt certainly takes a bite out of that lineup. But really, Torre's going to have to get over this Russell Martin-at-3B fetish, even though it's only been a total of 37 innings he's played there. It's fine to give him a breather now and then, but when you're stealing at-bats from DeWitt or LaRoche to give them to Gary Bennett, something is definitely wrong.
jlebeck66 (WI): Dodgers. DeWitt. LaRoche. How's this gonna end? Did LaRoche anger a deity or something?
JJ: Sticking with this topic for a moment, I'm as big a LaRoche booster as you'll find, but DeWitt is knocking the stuffing out of the ball. I don't expect that to continue unabated, but there's no sense in sitting him down right now.
From a long-term standpoint, it's a nice problem to have. I'd hate to see them trade LaRoche, but I don't think they necessarily have to. I wonder whether the Dodgers would consider revisiting the DeWitt-to-second experiment that they tried in 2006, when the kid was at Vero Beach. With Jeff Kent clearly showing his age and Tony Abreu apparently joining the Federal Witness Protection program, that may be a palatable option.
Joe (Tewksbury, MA): Why do I keep reading about how much trouble the Yankees are in? Hasn't this been the story for three years running now? Slow start, fast finish. Do you see anything to make you think this year will be different from 2005-2007?
JJ: Yes. Everybody in the lineup, including Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada is a year older, and with the exception of Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano, they're a year further away from their statistical primes, to say nothing about the fact that Cano looks pretty lost right now. The bench is weak even for a team that's done poorly in that area in the recent past. Seriously, I'd take Chili Davis, Darryl Strawberry, Luis Sojo and Ron Coomer circa 2008 over some of the stiffs they have lying around.
There's that, plus a weak pitching staff where the back of the rotation has been a thorough disaster thus far and the bullpen situation is considered so fragile that there's actually a question about whether they'll move Joba Chamberlain to a starting role this year. Add to that the fact that the AL East has gotten tougher and I think there's no longer any guarantee that the Yankees will contend, let alone win the division.
The other thing in play is the new manager. Through the early season debacles of the last few years, Torre was able to absorb the front office's slings and arrows and still give off a sense of calm confidence that things would eventually turn around. Girardi is protected from the barbs of Hank Steinbrenner at the moment -- his focus appears to be on forcing Brian Cashman out -- but Little Joe is the kind of guy who seems more likely to go Billy Martin bonkers as things get worse, and I don't think that's going to help.
Continuing their middling ways, the Mezzo-Metsos haven't strung together more than two wins or losses together all month, but if there's one thing Mets fans can be unequivocal about this year (other than a general "You suck!" that may as well become their rallying cry), it's that thus far the team's controversial deal with the Nationals is paying off. While Lastings Milledge is hitting just .238/.309/.327 with a -0.6 VORP for the Nationals, Ryan Church is hitting .310/.378/.538 with a team-high 14.0 VORP for the Mets, with Brian Schneider (.318/.385/.400) adding another 4.8 VORP. If only those two guys would grow cornrows...Not pictured in the Mets' entry are the events following the aftermath of Thursday afternoon's loss, when closer Billy Wagner ripped his teammates, particularly Carlos Delgado, for not being around to talk to the media after the game, an event which spurred a team meeting and fueled speculation that manager Willie Randolph's job is on the line. Though Wagner apologized to Delgado, it's clear he's become a go-to guy in the team's unhappy clubhouse, the heir apparent to garbageman/closer John Franco; recently he ripped Oliver Perez as well.
Yammering Hank: In a further attempt to prove himself the measure of his old man, the old Boss, the Yankees' new boss compares his team unfavorably to the Rays as the latter holds the Yanks to six runs in a four-game series which knocks the pinstripes into last place in the AL East--the latest in a season that the team has been in the cellar since 1995. The outburst places pending free agent Brian Cashman directly in the crosshairs just as the team prepares to face Johan Santana in the Subway Series. Not helping matters is Ian Kennedy's return from the minors to deliver more of the same; he has just one quality start out of seven.
The 1962 and 1963 teams had overachieved; the former (102-63) had outdone their Pythagorean record by five games, the latter (99-63) by seven games. Their luck finally reversed in 1964. Despite outscoring opponents by 42 runs with virtually the same cast, the Dodgers slumped to sixth at 80-82, six games below their projected record. Losing Koufax for the final six weeks of the season didn't help, but the Dodgers were just 58-57 and mired in seventh place when he went down with traumatic arthritis, the result of a jammed shoulder sustained while diving to avoid a pickoff throw.Reviewing Bavasi's life's work, I find it remarkable and more than a little disappointing that he's not in the Hall of Fame, but then general managers haven't been well-served by Cooperstown (more on that in a moment). Bavasi has been up for election by the Veterans Committee in each of the past two years, but VC politics and the change from a larger electorate of all living Hall of Famers, Spink and Frick award recipients to a 12-man panel of so-called experts did not serve him well. After pulling 37 percent in 2007, he fell to under 25 percent (with no exact total given) in 2008. In the first year, the candidates were on a composite ballot with managers and umpires, and the electorate could vote for as many as 10 individuals, while in 2008, the group of 12 could only vote for as many as four individuals:
Koufax and Don Drysdale had combined for 68 starts of 2.01 ERA ball, amazing even given that the park-adjusted league average for Dodger Stadium was 3.25. The rest of the 1964 rotation, most notably Phil Ortega and Joe Moeller (25 and 24 starts, respectively), had combined for a 3.96 ERA, nearly double that of the dynamic duo. Thus Bavasi's big focus over the winter of 1964-1965 was bolstering the rotation, and to do so he made perhaps the boldest move of his tenure, trading the team's top power threat, Frank Howard, to the Washington Senators in a seven-player deal. A 28-year-old, 6-foot-7 behemoth, Howard had hit 24 homers in 1964, but those only partially redeemed a .226/.303/.432 performance coupled with defense that was well below average (-13 runs according to the Davenport Translations, and worth only 2.8 WARP in all). Howard would go on to some monster years in Washington, but Claude Osteen, the 25-year-old lefty who was the prize of the return package, would become a mainstay in LA. In 1965, his 15-15 record belied the impact of giving the Dodgers 40 starts of 2.79 ERA ball in an environment where 3.26 was average.
To offset the loss of Howard, first baseman Ron Fairly moved to right field, and Wes Parker, who'd spent 1964 as a reserve, moved in at first. Though hardly a power threat, Parker was a legitimate plus defender who would go on to win six Gold Gloves. Also new to the lineup was second baseman Jim Lefebvre, who won Rookie of the Year honors while upgrading a position where Nate Oliver, Dick Tracewski, and Jim Gilliam had combined to hit an anemic .235/.308/.283 the year before. Along with Maury Wills and Gilliam--who had retired to become the team's third-base coach, only to rejoin the lineup as the third baseman in late May--the infield was entirely composed of switch hitters, a first.
Bavasi needed to make one more major move once the season began. On May 1, two-time All-Star Tommy Davis, the team's left fielder, broke his ankle sliding into second base; though Davis was coming off of a down year (.275/.311/.397, 5.9 WARP), the loss looked potentially devastating to the lineup. Luckily, Bavasi had stashed Lou Johnson at Triple-A Spokane; Johnson was a 30-year-old journeyman who had been kicking around the minor leagues for a dozen years while getting just 185 big league at-bats; he'd been acquired from the Tigers for pitcher Larry Sherry the year before. Johnson filled in seamlessly for Davis, hitting .259/.315/.391 and tying with Lefebvre for the team high in homers with 12 (no, those Dodgers didn't have much offense, but remember, it was a low-offense era). All in all, his performance was worth 5.0 WARP, right in line with a conservative estimate of what Davis might have provided.
The Dodgers led the NL for most of the year before a 13-16 stretch starting in mid-August dropped them as far down as third behind the Giants and Reds. They stormed back and won 13 straight, with the pitching staff allowing just 14 runs in that span, six of them in one game. They retook first with a week to play, nipped the Giants by two games to win the pennant, and went on to win a thrilling seven-game World Series over the Minnesota Twins, with Koufax pitching a three-hit shutout on two days' rest in the clincher. Johnson homered to provide the finale's first run; it was his second homer of the series as he hit .296/.321/.593. For the second time in three years, the Dodgers were World Champs.
2007 2008Nobody from this august group was elected by the larger VC in 2007, and of the three elected in 2008, only O'Malley had even drawn minimal support beforehand. Meanwhile Marvin Miller was knocked down a peg by the reconstituted group in favor of stuffed shirt Kuhn. Interestingly, though Bavasi's take on the entry of agents and free agency into the game was a somewhat reactionary one, he himself harbored no ill will against Miller ("Marvin Miller never did one thing to hurt the game of baseball," he told BizofBaseball.com's Maury Brown).
Barney Dreyfuss ---- 83.3%*
Bowie Kuhn 17.3% 83.3%*
Walter O'Malley 44.4% 75.0%*
Ewing Kauffman ---- 41.7%
John Fetzer ---- 33.3%
Marvin Miller 63.0% 25.0%
Bob Howsam ---- 25.0%
Buzzie Bavasi 37.0% <25.0%
Gabe Paul 12.3% <25.0%
John McHale ---- <25.0%
Bill White 29.6% ----
August Busch Jr. 16.0% ----
Charley O. Finley 12.3% ----
Phil Wrigley 11.1% ----
Perhaps Bavasi has been overlooked because of those who worked with him--and before him--with the Dodgers. His predecessor as Dodgers GM was Branch Rickey, one of the game's clearest thinkers, the man who brought Jackie Robinson to the big leagues, and a certifiable baseball genius. That's a tough act to follow, though Bavasi did it very well. And then there was Bavasi's owner during his time with the Dodgers. Walter O'Malley, the National League's most influential owner for decades, cast a long shadow as a mover and shaker. O'Malley himself didn't earn election to the Hall of Fame until last December, so perhaps it's understandable that Bavasi has had to wait this long.Unfortunately it won't be until 2010 that Bavasi can be considered again, but then again, we shouldn't expect much from the Veterans Committee in any form.
There's another factor at work here, too. In general, general managers are woefully underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. Unless they happened to have doubled as owners, their chances of making the grade in Cooperstown haven't been very strong. Look at some of the men who have been elected to the Hall of Fame at least in part for their work as de facto general managers. Rickey was, for a time, the Dodgers' owner, Lee MacPhail worked for a long time as the American League president, Ed Barrow was an owner, and Bill Veeck was an owner. As fellow historian Eric Enders has pointed out, only George Weiss has been elected to the Hall of Fame solely for his work as a GM. Weiss was never an owner, never a league president, and never a pioneer in the sense of Rickey.
Well, it's time to change that trend. General managers are vitally important to building championship ballclubs. The best ones should be represented in Cooperstown. Bob Howsam, the architect of the Big Red Machine who died earlier this year, should be in, as should Bavasi. Arguments could also be made for Harry Dalton (based on his work in Baltimore) and perhaps even Joe Brown (the architect of two championship teams in Pittsburgh). And perhaps one day John Schuerholz, the longtime general manager of the Braves, will receive his due in the form of a plaque in the Hall of Fame Gallery.
We can only hope that the same honor is given to Bavasi, even if it has to come after he can enjoy it.
This Is How the Other Half Lives? Last year the Yankees claimed four of the league's top 20 hitters according to VORP, but with Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada sidelined and Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano struggling, things just aren't the same; since the first two went on the DL, the team is scoring just 4.22 runs per game. Jeter (.301/.331/.374) has yet to homer and has walked just four times in 131 PA, while Cano (.172/.226/.297) has been mired below the Mendoza Line all season long, as has Jason Giambi (.163/.324/.419).Jeter finally homered on Saturday in the Yankees 38th game of the year, the longest he's gone without a dinger to start the year save for 2003, when he injured himself on Opening Day and missed 36 games. In 2001, he also hit his first homer on May 10, but that was in the Yanks' 35th game. Giambi homered on Friday night and doubled on Saturday; he dug himself an early hole but since I took a look at his performance a few weeks back he's actually hitting .255/.383/.660. I have to admit, that's better than I thought.
By this time, the core of the team that Branch Rickey had assembled was aging. [Jackie] Robinson retired rather than report to the Giants after a 1956 trade. The 1957 season was soured by the team's inevitable departure for Los Angeles (a topic recently revisited here by Gary Gillete), while the Boys of Summer crept closer to their ruin. [Roy] Campanella was paralyzed in a January 1958 auto accident, [Don] Newcombe was traded to Cincinnati after an 0-6 start, and Pee Wee Reese became a part-timer. The Dodgers finished seventh out of eight teams at 71-83 in their inaugural season in LA, their first sub-.500 campaign since 1944. Yet Bavasi was already working to rebuild his aging ballclub by remaining true to a pair of Rickey principles: a commitment to the Dodgers' player development system, and complete faith in the virtues of power pitching. He assembled an unlikely World Champion in 1959 out of that mess, one that -- prior to the dawn of the Wild Card era -- Bill James called the weakest of all time.Part Two will run next week.
Bavasi was able to rely on the nearly overripe fruits of the system to overhaul the team. [Johnny] Roseboro and [Charlie] Neal, both of whom had spent the better part of the decade in the minors, stepped into the lineup as solid regulars in 1958; Neal enjoyed a breakout year in 1959, when he was the league's top-hitting second baseman via a .287/.334/.464 performance with 19 homers and 17 steals. The speedy [Maury] Wills, who had toiled for nine years in the minors, was recalled midway through 1959, replacing a slumping Don Zimmer at shortstop, and hit a sizzling .345/.382/405 in September. Bavasi also made one key trade that year, acquiring left fielder Wally Moon from the Cardinals for Gino Cimoli. The lefty-swinging Moon rebounded from an off year with St. Louis by taking advantage of his odd new environment, the Los Angeles Coliseum. Built in 1923 for University of Southern California football games, the Coliseum was a 93,000-seat football stadium ill-suited for baseball. It was 300 feet down the right field line, 440 to right center (reduced to 375 in 1959), 420 to dead center, and just 251 feet down the left field line (which was topped by a 40-foot screen). Moon quickly learned to focus on hitting to the opposite field; 14 of his 19 home runs were at home, nine of them "Moon Shots" which went over the screen.
The Dodgers used another of their new home's quirks -- dim lighting and a major league-record 63 night games -- to give their pitching staff an added advantage. The team had already led the league in strikeouts every year since 1948, but in 1959 they became the first staff to top 1,000 in a season, blowing away 1,077 hitters. Don Drysdale led the league with 242, while Sandy Koufax placed third with 173 despite tossing just 153 1/3 innings. Johnny Podres, the hero of the 1955 World Series, was seventh with 145 and third in strikeout rate. Koufax and Drysdale had been signed by the Dodgers in 1954; the former, a bonus baby, had joined the big club in 1955 but had struggled with the strike zone ever since, while the latter joined the staff the following year and became a rotation mainstay in 1957. The duo would anchor the team's fate for the better part of the next decade.
Further aided by another pair of pitchers Bavasi promoted in midseason -- veteran Roger Craig and rookie Larry Sherry -- the Dodgers won a three-way race in 1959, outlasting the Giants (now relocated to San Francisco) and the Milwaukee Braves, whom they beat in a best-of-three playoff at the end of the season (for more on that race, see my chapter in It Ain't Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book, now out in paperback). They then beat the Go-Go Chicago White Sox in the World Series
They reverted to fourth place the following year, and finished second in 1961 despite holding the lead as late as August 15. They finally moved into state-of-the-art Dodger Stadium in 1962, a ballpark that dramatically favored pitchers, and won 102 games, the second-highest total of the Bavasi era. Sparked by the speedy Wills, who stole an NL record 104 bases, a new stable of homegrown youngsters, including first baseman Ron Fairly and outfielders Willie Davis, Tommy Davis (no relation), and Frank Howard, helped them finish second in the league in runs scored despite the park's suppression of offense. Drysdale and Koufax both topped 200 strikeouts, with the former leading the league for the third time in four years and winning the Cy Young on the strength of a 25-9 record, and the latter topping the circuit in ERA despite a two-month absence.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the Giants won 103 games, including the rubber match of a three-game playoff. That game almost cost Bavasi and Alston their jobs. Alston, forever working on one-year contracts, had been forced to swallow the irascible Leo Durocher as part of his coaching staff -- "on the grounds that we don't want bridge partners or cronies for assistants," explained O'Malley -- and the Lip continually undermined the manager in front of the team and second-guessed him in the press, particularly over Alston's staying with Stan Williams instead of summoning Drysdale amid a four-run ninth-inning meltdown in the deciding game of the playoff. Soon after the defeat, Durocher carped that the team would have won if he'd been in charge. Bavasi hit the roof when he found out, threatening to fire Durocher, but was overruled by O'Malley, who wanted to fire Alston in favor of Durocher. Bavasi told O'Malley, "If you fire Alston, I'm gone too. He didn't make those errors, he didn't give up those base hits. How in the hell can you say it was Alston's fault?" O'Malley backed down, and all three men kept their jobs.
1. Ball Four by Jim Bouton -- the groundbreaking look behind the curtain at the ups and downs of a baseball playerEven personally speaking, I'd be hard pressed to call this list my definitive one; at the time I was just ticked off enough at Bill James to avoid fretting over whether or not to include Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, The Bill James Guide to Managers, the Historical Abstract, or This Time Let's Not Eat the Bones. Given a second batch of ten to right that wrong, I'd also add Weaver on Strategy, my Baseball Prospectus colleagues' Baseball Between the Numbers, Moneyball, Nine Innings, Red Smith on Baseball, and the aforementioned Veeck as in Wreck, and that would still leave me bummed that I couldn't include another batch of Roger Angell, a shout for the idiosyncratic, Bouton-edited anthology "I Managed Good But Boy Did They Play Bad", a nod for Pat Jordan's A False Spring, a giggle for The Bronx Zoo, and a self-interested plug for It Ain't Over.
2. Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn -- a meditation on mortality and a brilliant, poignant study of the flawed beauty of the human organism, masquerading as a baseball book
3. The Summer Game by Roger Angell -- a lyrical account of baseball in the Sixties as seen through the eyes of one erudite fan
4. Seasons in Hell by Mike Shropshire -- for my money, this gonzo account of the 1973-1975 Texas Rangers is funniest baseball book of all time
5. Nice Guys Finish Last by Leo Durocher and Ed Linn -- an agonizing choice between this and Veeck as in Wreck, ultimately decided by Leo the Lip's role in the New York-centric golden age in the Forties and Fifties
6. Past Time: Baseball as History by Jules Tygiel -- a concise summary of nine trends that changed baseball, by one of the game's unsung scholars
7. Lords of the Realm by John Helyar -- an often hilarious account of a century's worth of labor versus management battles
8. The Glory of their Times by Lawrence Ritter -- the classic oral history of early 20th century baseball
9. The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book by Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris -- two fans explore their love affair with those cardboard slabs and the memories they represent
10. The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz -- a wonderful exploration of the history baseball statistics, from the development of the box score to the onslaught of real-time Internet updates to the entry of performance analysis into front offices
"I'll never forget one night in Lynn, Mass.," Campanella said in 1983. "Newcombe had pitched, and I hit a home run, and we won the game. We were all dressed and sitting in the bus. Buzzie said he was going inside to pick up the check. All of a sudden, we heard Buzzie and their manager fighting. We went in and broke it up. We found out later that their manager" had used a racial slur when he told Bavasi, " 'Without those two [black players], you wouldn't have won.' Buzzie went after him."In 1947, he was summoned to work for the Dodgers, and one of his duties was to scout the Vero Beach Army base that became Dodgertown and hammer out an agreement with the city. Bavasi then spent three years as the Montreal Royals' GM before being named to the Dodger post in late 1950. As the club's GM, he was well known for both his tight purse strings and his paternal attitude towards players:
I always had a warm feeling of gratitude toward Buzzie because he took a chance on bringing me up from the minors after eight years. He stuck by me," former Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills said Thursday. "He had a way of getting me to play hard without paying me a lot of money."Bavasi took pride in his ability to operate on a budget, but as the Dodgers' success took its toll on their payroll, he met something of a personal Waterloo when he presided over the dual holdout of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the spring of 1966, a year which wound up being the final season of Koufax's career and the Dodgers' last pennant until 1974. As Bavasi recounted in Sports Illustrated in 1967:
One of Bavasi's favorite ploys was to draw up a phony contract in the name of a player coming off an excellent season and type in an artificially low salary. When another player who wasn't as good came into his office to negotiate, Bavasi would leave the phony contract on his desk, then excuse himself from the room. The player inevitably would take a peek at the contract, read the low-ball salary and back down in his own negotiations when Bavasi would return to the room.
To tell the truth, I wasn't too successful in the famous Koufax-Drysdale double holdout in 1966. I mean, when the smoke had cleared they stood together on the battlefield with $235,000 between them, and I stood there With a blood-stained cashbox. Well, they had a gimmick and it worked; I'm not denying it. They said that one wouldn't sign unless the other signed. Since one of the two was the greatest pitcher I've ever seen (and possibly the greatest anybody has ever seen), the gimmick worked. But be sure to stick around for the fun the next time somebody tries that gimmick. I don't care if the whole infield comes in as a package; the next year the whole infield will be wondering what it is doing playing for the Nankai Hawks.Full of more than a little bravado, the four-part series offers a revealing window into the tactics of a Reserve Clause-era executive so smug about holding the best cards in the negotiation game that he could afford to lay them on the table for the world to see. These fascinating articles -- first brought to my attention by Alex Belth, who dug them out of the SI clip library for me a couple years back -- are now fully available online via the recently debuted SI Vault :
...The double holdout started on February 26, 1966, when spring training opened and Sandy and Donald didn't show. It looked in the papers as though they had made a big salary demand on the club and the club had turned them down. But it wasn't that simple. Being three good friends, as I hope we still are, Donald and Sandy and I had met and talked things over. In the first meeting, right after the 1965 season, we got no place. We sat down in my office at Dodger stadium and they said they had an agent—Sandy's lawyer, Bill Hayes—and that they wanted a three-year no-cut contract totaling $1 million and that neither one would sign unless both were satisfied. I told them I would negotiate only with them, that any discussions they had with their agent were their own business but please keep him away from me, that the amount of money they were asking was ridiculous, and that nobody on the ball club, including me and Walter Alston, was ever going to get more than a one-year contract. As I recall, I said something like, "You're both athletes, and what you're selling is your physical ability, and how can you guarantee your physical ability three years in advance? If you guarantee me that you will both be healthy and strong and still winning 20 games each in 1968, I'll give you a three-year contract." Since not even Cassius Clay could make a guarantee like that, the meeting broke up. But there was plenty of time; this was only October, the World Series was barely over and I was in no rush to get them signed, especially at their asking price of $166,000 per year apiece. From the beginning I was willing to give them raises on their 1965 salary, which were $80,000 for Don and $85,000 for Sandy. I had it penciled into my budget: $100,000, more or less, for Sandy, and $90,000, more or less, for Donald.
...The double holdout was over, but I can't say that I felt good about it. We wound up giving the boys much more money than we had intended, and if you had to pick a winner in the whole argument, you'd have to say it was Drysdale and Koufax. Donald got a $30,000 raise and Sandy got a $40,000 raise, and neither would have commanded that much money negotiating alone. After all, they got the biggest raises in baseball history. To that extent, the double holdout worked, although they gave in on the three-year contract for $1 million, which I don't think they ever meant, anyway. But, as I said before, the plan only worked because the greatest pitcher in baseball was in on it, and also they caught us by surprise. Believe me, Walter O'Malley and I have talked the problem over many times, and no double holdout will ever work again on the Los Angeles Dodgers. We're firm on that. The next time two of them come walking in together, they'll go walking out together. Koufax and Drysdale took advantage of a good thing, that's one way to look at it, and another way to look at it is, why shouldn't they? All's fair in negotiating, as I have also said before. This was a unique situation, and it will never happen again.
Anyway, the double holdout didn't cost the ball club quite as much as the figures would seem to indicate. In the first place, I had anticipated the possibility of having to come up with high figures for Don and Sandy, especially after the season they had had, and therefore I had not been quite as generous with some of the other players as I might have been. I don't mean I cut anybody just to get money to pay the two pitchers. It worked more like this: let's say a kid comes into my office and I've got him penciled in for $27,000, and he sits down and says that he wants $23,000. This happens all the time, believe me, and my natural inclination is to say, "I've got you down for $27,000, and that's what you are going to get." But not this time. This time if the kid said he'd sign for $23,000 I'd let it go at that, or maybe I'd sign him for a thousand more. The net result was that our 1966 budget for ballplayers went up exactly the $100,000 I had planned on, with Koufax and Drysdale getting $70,000 of the increase and the other 24 guys getting the rest. I'd have liked to give the other players more, but a budget is a budget and I stuck to it.
Big Hurts: the Yankees lose Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, Brian Bruney and Philip Hughes to injuries in the same week. Both Posada and A-Rod are gone after wavering between the bench and the lineup, likely prolonging their absence, and while some question the validity of Hughes' injury -- particularly in light of dubiously timed reports of his night vision woes -- the latest word is that a stress fracture of his ninth rib may sideline him until July. Adding insult to this spate of injuries, the team is swept by the Tigers in their return to the Bronx following a record 18 road games in April -- 18 in a 20-game span, no less.I'm not sure if it was Peter Abraham who technically broke the story on Hughes, but in the wake of Will Carroll's "Ferris Buehler comparisons in yesterday's "Under the Knife," he was the first I saw, and he's consistently the fastest gun on the Yankee beat when it comes to this type of news. If you're a Yankee fan and not stopping by his blog on a daily basis, go get a late pass.
The honeymoon is officially over.Yeesh. I'll be surprised if he makes it through two seasons here.
It ended before Wednesday night's Yankees-Tigers game. While meeting with boss scribes that afternoon, a reporter asked Girardi about the status of Phil Hughes. Girardi answered by saying Hughes' situation was the subject of "internal discussions."
"That's all I will say," Girardi explained.
The same reporter then asked if Hughes was still in the rotation. Girardi said, "Yes."
Another scribe asked if that meant Hughes would make his next start. Girardi answered by saying, "I just said" Hughes was in the rotation. The same scribe then said, "That's not what I asked you, I asked if he's going to make his next start."
Girardi repeated his "internal discussions line" and said: "That's just the way it is....I don't mean to get irritated, but I've been asked the same question five times."
The reporter said he wasn't "asking that" and - again - wanted to know if Hughes was going to make his next start. At that point a Yankees PR executive scolded the reporter and cut the session off, prompting the scribe - in full lecture mode - to remind the suit it wasn't his job to tell him how to "ask my questions."
"The ending (of Girardi's interview) may have seemed somewhat comical, but the whole session was tense," one participant said.
Torre would never have let things get that far out of hand. He would have admitted there was a problem with Hughes that the brass hasn't yet figured out how to deal with. Either that, or Torre would have said Hughes felt a "twinge" the other day, which may have something do to with his poor pitching performance. He then would have said either way, we're going to put Hughes on the DL, but go talk to "Cash" for the details.
TV Barn: So, do you agree with Will Leitch that MSM-blogger relations were irreparably harmed by that exchange on your show?Gotta call bullshit here. If you go to the barber every day, then you'll eventually get a haircut, and if all you read is Deadspin -- a site where the comments often go way overboard -- you're going to wind up thinking that blogs are basically abusive by nature. But there are a number of sites that do a great job of filtering out the good from the bad, the relevant from the irrelevant, sites like Baseball Think Factory and Ballbug and dozens of good blogs that will point you to other good blogs as well as good mainstream articles as well. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure that out or to gain a knack for filtering it your own damn self via the RSS news readers at Yahoo, Google, or a million other places.
Bob Costas: No. No. Buzz realizes that he did a disservice to his own points. On the other hand, if fairness prevails — which on the web it often doesn't because people are coming after whoever the villain-of-the-day is with torches and pitchforks — but if fairness prevails, you keep in mind who he is and that more than outweighs a subpar performance on his part.
The heat he brought to it obscured whatever points he made. And then some people made the leap that because I am critical of some — precisely SOME aspects of the web — that my sentiments are the same as Buzz's. And they’re not.
It's convenient, and in this case Buzz handed it to them on a silver platter, it’s convenient and self-flattering for some members of the blogosphere to think any and all objections to them come because mainstream media people are threatened by them.
While there is unquestionably a new media revolution going on, and much of it is good, the part — speaking for myself, the only part, the ONLY part — of which I am critical, is that there is an ethos on a significant portion of the web, an ethos not of criticism or skepticism or a contrarian viewpoint. There is an ethos of abuse, where not only is cogent thought not required, it’s almost resented. Where a reasonable argument has no place and where ad hominem attacks reign. That is not all or even most of the web, but no fair-minded person would say that isn't a significant portion of it. That’s my criticism.
Interrupting as usual -- because as the defender of literature and higher learning whatever he had to say was, like, way more important than what anybody else had to say -- [Bissinger] told Leitch, "You say you don't want to be in the press box because the facts get in the way," which isn't even close to what Leitch had said. What Leitch had said was that he declined to apply for press access because "the minute I start doing that, I start writing for the other people in the press box ... I get a lot of benefit from having that distance."Funny, while Costas tried to apologize on Bissinger's behalf, Buzz himself has been strangely silent. Hallelujah to that.
But let's not let facts get in the way, right, Buzz?
"It seems to me," Bissinger continued, "what you're saying is, 'I don't want facts to inhibit me. Facts get in my way, so I'm going to sit in my little room and I'm going to give this nebulous fan's voice.'"
Pretty rich coming from a guy who sometimes -- for instance, in this very comment -- takes only a nodding interest in facts. Here, courtesy of FireJoeMorgan.com, are links to a bunch of smart people finding fundamental errors in a piece Bissinger wrote for the New York Times magazine Play last year about Kerry Wood.
He'd have found them himself if he'd bothered to do a little research instead of just transcribing the thoughts of Tony La Russa and other baseball men, as he'd done for his book "Three Nights in August" two years earlier.
...Bissinger is big on boneheaded generalizations about people who are younger than he is, which is 53. In "Three Nights in August," he wrote that the sabermetric movement had populated baseball front offices with "thirtysomethings whose most salient qualifications are MBA degrees."
"It is wrong to say that the new breed doesn't care about baseball," he wrote. "But it's not wrong to say that there is no way they could possibly love it, and so much of baseball is about love. They don't have the sense of history, which to the thirtysomethings is largely bunk."
If by "it's not wrong," he meant "it's absolutely 100 percent gold-plated wrong," then I'd agree.
There were some things I should not have said. I shouldn’t have used profanity, I shouldn’t have been as hostile in my approach to Will Leitch, ’cause it makes me look bad, its unprofessional and its unfair to him … I don’t care if it’s Will Leitch or anyone, no one should be treated the way I treated them. Just wasn’t right.As somebody who's blogged for nearly seven years without making more than a few bucks to keep this endeavor self-sustaining -- something I share with a great majority of blogs out there -- I can agree with this clueless, self-important schmuck on one thing: that's not what it's about. Unfortunately, until Buzz Bissinger does figure out what it is about, he's welcome to the ignominy guaranteed by the eternal preservation of his shameful performance. Every time that "Costas Now" clip repeats or those spiteful words are read, the joke will be on him.
...I don’t take back a word of what I said. I have a tremendous amount of problems with blogs. It doesn’t mean all blogs are bad. It doesn’t mean I’m against free speech, because I’m not.
...The reason for it was is that I really care about this passionately, because, you know, I think blogs are a threat, not a threat to old school, it’s not a threat to M-M-S’es, as they call it, the mainstream media, it’s a threat to writing and reporting, which is what I’ve done for 40 years and what many people have done better than me.
It’s not all just about what flies into your head, and let’s, you know, put it down, and let’s be nasty and mean-spirited and hope we get as many posts and comments as we can so traffic increases and then, bingo-bango, we make some money. That’s not what it’s about.
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