Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Thanks to my cousin for bringing this to my attention today.

From Bombers Beat at the MLBlogs Network:

70 years ago, a dying Lou Gehrig stood on the field at Yankee Stadium and said goodbye to baseball, making what can only be considered the most memorable and greatest speech in the game’s history.

Today, this Fourth of July, every Major League team playing at home will conduct a special on-field ceremony to commemorate his farewell. The Yankees are hosting a special “4-ALS Awareness” ceremony on the field this afternoon at 1 p.m. and will recognize Michael Goldsmith, a lifelong baseball fan who contributed to the development of the “4-ALS” initiative.

In addition, to honor Gehrig, a “4-ALS” logo will appear on top of first base in every ballpark around the Majors. All on-field personnel will wear a patch honoring the initiative, and Yankees players will help recreate Gehrig’s speech in a video tribute.

There is a great display inside Gate 4 at the Stadium which has a large photograph of Gehrig speaking on July 4, 1939, accompanied by a continuous loop of the audio. Today would be a great day to stop in and check it out if you’re headed here.

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”


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My 2009 All Star Ballot

American League
1B: Justin Morneau. Youkilis currently leads in the voting but he doesn’t quite approach Morneau or Teixeira in power and run production. Miguel Cabrera’s .330+ batting average puts him in the discussion but the other three are much more complete players while Cabrera is really just a hitter. There’s some temptation to attempt a case for Teix on the grounds that Morneau has been slumping in the past month but Teix’ production seems ultimately tied to ARod and how well he’s producing behind him, so I’ll stick with the clearer choice.

2B: Very tough decision. I think Aaron Hill edges Ian Kinsler. Very similar power production and both are excellent defensive players. But I think Hill’s superior batting average (.301 to .263) trumps Kinsler’s 16 – 3 advantage in steals. Kinsler is currently just edging out reigning MVP Dustin Pedroia (who might not even belong in the top 5) followed up by Cano and Hill in a distant 5th place. Notable mention to write-in candidate Tampa utility player Ben Zobrist who has started 32 games at 2B (more than any other position for him) and has put together a stat line comparable to Kinsler and Hill.

SS: Jason Bartlett has been absolutely raking since early April and shows no signs of slowing down. From a Yankee fan perspective it’s terrific to see Jeter leading all American League players in votes, assuring his 10th All Star game. But Bartlet, in distant second in the SS voting (with fewer than half of Jeter’s votes) is the more deserving player. Fortunately, Bartlett is a lock to be selected for the bench by Tampa manager Joe Madden.

3B: Evan Longoria. Nice to see the fans getting one right. Interesting question on whether ARod deserves second-place honors here. Obviously his production this season doesn’t warrant any consideration, but he is Alex Rodriguez and he appears to now be playing very near the level we expect of him.

C: Joe Mauer. Another strong fan consensus for the correct selection. Mauer is third in AL votes at any position after Jeter and Longoria. Kind of annoying to see Varitek and his .234 batting average in second place, especiallu with such strong seasons so far from Victor Martinez and Mike Napoli.

OF: Carl Crawford and Torii Hunter are the easy choices for the first two OF slots. Ichiro Suzuki beats out the rest of the pack, notably Nelson Cruz, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, Jason Bay (the current AL RBI leader and leader in voting among American League OF).

National League:
1B: Albert Pujols leads all MLB players in All Star votes – and deservedly so. Prince Fielder has been pretty awesome this year, but there’s no comparison.

2B: Chase Utley is second among all MLB players in All Star votes. Head and shoulders above his competition in the National League.

SS: Hanley Ramirez is another easy choice for the fans. Rollins, Reyes and Furcal just aren’t getting it done this year. So far, National League fans seem to have much easier selections.

3B: And I can also go along with the fans’ choice of David Wright. With batting average and steals both near the top of the league, I can forgive his dearth of home run power this year and mediocre defensive play. Helping him is that his best competition is Mark Reynolds, who’s defensive play could be flatteringly described as “clunky”.

C: With no clear standout, I’ll go with Brian McCann over the fans’ choice of defensive stud Yadier Molina. Not a very exiting group to select from.

OF: The NL fans get it right here as well with their selections of Raul Ibanez, Ryan Braun and Carlos Beltran. However, Beltran’s injury will keep him out of action through the All Star Game. So my vote for the third NL outfielder goes to Justin Upton, with respectful nods to Brad Hawpe and Michael Bourn.

Feels kind of strange not voting for any Yankees, but in my best effort to be as objective as possible, this is what I come up with. If fans voted on pitchers I’m sure I’d vote for Mariano Rivera and perhaps I could make a case for CC Sabathia. It’s interesting to note that (this year, anyway) the American League is much more of a popularity contest with players like Youkilis, Jeter, Varitek, Dustin Pedroia and Josh Hamilton amassing vote totals far beyond what their production should warrant. Some might argue that the National League simply has fewer stellar players to choose from. Whatever the case, the National League voting far better reflects the best of the league at the mid-point of the 2009 season. Whether this will translate into better than recent success for the senior circuit remains to be seen.

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I didn’t believe the Yankees’ silence on Mark Teixeira was an indicator that they weren’t interested. Signing him made too much sense, within both the Yankees’ free-spending approach and in more pragmatic terms, as well.

Contrary to what some might think following my recent rant, I’m not generally opposed to seeing the Yankees’ sign top tier free agents. I just think they need to be much smarter about it than they have been. Their lack of long term planning often means they are forced to fill immediate holes in the lineup by taking on big contracts with players that aren’t a very good fit. For example one deal I wish they did make was for Carlos Beltran back in 2005. They knew Bernie Williams was in serious decline and that if they held off, there would not be a comparable CF available in the coming years. Indeed, the following year they found themselves in a bind and spent relatively big money on the best option available, Johnny Damon, who turned 33 that year and has been a decent offensive player when healthy but a defensive liability at the position they signed him to play. And he hasn’t been very healthy at all in the last two years, missing 40 games and nursing injuries at DH in another 70.

So, here are this Yankee fan’s pros and cons on signing Mark Teixeira (cons first):

1. Recently obtained 1B/LF Nick Swisher, whom I was excited to see receive a chance to play every day, is the biggest loser in this deal. Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t obtain players like Swisher as their first choice to start at any position. Swisher, like Wilson Betemit (who was traded to the White Sox for Swisher last month) was brought in as an insurance policy in case they didn’t obtain a more marquee player in the offseason and to step in should another starter get injured. This is only a one-year problem for Swisher. If he is able to distinguish himself in part-time duty this year, he will have more opportunities for playing time as the contracts of both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui will expire after the 2009 season, leaving left field and designated hitter open.

2. The Yankees would be wise to leave 1B/DH/LF as open as possible in the short and long terms. They have several aging core position players with multiple years remaining on their contracts who might be able to continue to produce offensively but would have to move to less demanding defensive positions. The first issue is Posada. We don’t know whether or for how long he will be able to continue to be a viable starting MLB catcher. The official word is that the shoulder that ruined his 2008 season is responding well to rehab but the front office would never readily acknowledge that the shoulder was shot if that were the case. And even if it does heal up fine, he turns 38 next season and is signed through 2011. Next is Jeter. His contract is up after the 2010 season, during which he turns 36. Assuming he’s still producing offensively, the Yanks will probably give the modern face of the franchise (and link in the historical chain of Yankee greats) 4 years or so to wind down his career. He’s already lost a step at shortstop and however things work out, he will probably have to find another position before his tenure in pinstripes is finished. And then ARod is only 1 year younger than Jeter and is signed through his 41st birthday. Personally, I’d really hate to see Jeter or Posada finish their careers anyplace else and ARod’s contract is probably untradable.

3. The Yankees have proven with the greatest World Series dynasty of the last half century that you don’t need a major thumper in the middle of the lineup to reach the promised land, much less two. Through each of those 4 Championship seasons, no Yankee player hit more than 30 home runs. During his tenure with the Yankees, Tino Martinez hit over 30 twice, in 1997 and in 2001. Interestingly, those were the only two years during Tino’s first go-round in the Bronx in which they didn’t win the World Series. While superfluously adding power hitters to the lineup may be the modern Yankee way, it has not in any way shown itself to be a of model for success for the modern Yankees. It does, however, add legitimacy to complaints about the Yankees’ excessive use of their resources and chiding of their recent playoff futility despite the unprecedented spending.

Now the pros:

1. This is the Beltran deal they didn’t make in 2005. It’s a major signing that brings short, medium and long term benefits. While it would be nice to try to remain more flexible than locking up a first baseman for 8 years will allow, this player is a top talent who still has most of his prime seasons ahead of him. He will be 37 in the last year of the contract, an age at which he is likely enough to still be productive. Next year there will not be a better player who is a better fit who Teixeira stands in the way of. There will be no need to sign another Johnny Damon next offseason. There will be no search for an offensive boost during the 2009 season. Precluded are any trades for some other team’s midseason salary dump.

2. Thanks to the Sabathia and Burnett signings, they can’t do any more major damage to their 2009 draft. With the two new pitchers, the Yanks’ 1st and 2nd round picks are already gone. I assume they will now lose another, since Teixeira is a type-A free agent, but at this point who cares about their 3rd rounder? They might as well take advantage of the opportunity to sign a top tier type-A free agent without having to sacrifice a 1st or 2nd round draft pick.

3. Boosting the offense isn’t such a bad idea. Improved production from Posada, Matsui and ARod over last year should replace some of the production lost from Abreu and Giambi, but the Yanks were 10th overall in MLB in runs scored last year and that number could stand to improve. Adding Teixeira should also re-establish offensive dominance over the Red Sox, who were Teixeira’s most touted suitors before this afternoon. This should leave the Sox unable to add the marquee power hitter they were seeking –obviously, they can’t counter this move by siging Manny Ramirez. As their lineup now stands, Bay and Youkilis are fine middle-order hitters, but they won’t provide Ortiz with anything like the protection that Manny did. And there are questions about Ortiz’ health, to boot.

4. Team chemistry. Teix has a great clubhouse reputation, which is a factor the Yankees seem to be focusing on this offseason. There’s no denying that Alex Rodriguez is a bit of a head case who likely stands to benefit from another marquee name relieving some of the pressure he feels to carry the team.

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Unlike many Yankee fans I run into these days, largely people who signed on as bandwagoners since the mid-1990s or younger fans who came of age only knowing perennial playoff appearances (until this year, at least) I have been a fan long enough to vaguely remember the 1981 World Series and acutely recall the competitive near-miss years that followed through the mid 1980s. Even though 1981 marked the last time the Yanks would see the playoffs until 1995 (that drought tragically spanning almost the entire length of the great Don Mattingly’s career) the team was quite competitive through most of the 1980s, averaging 91 wins from 1983 through 1987.

But anyone who followed the team in those days remembers a steep descent that began in the latter years of that decade, the lessons of which seem sadly forgotten by the current stewards of the franchise. It somehow escapes them that the effort to remain competitive through the 1980s was quite similar to the current approach. The Yankee braintrust in those days fell into the habit of chasing one free agent after another, each one touted as that final piece which would lift them them to the next level. In 1984 they signed 46 year old Phil Neikro. In 1985 they signed Ed Whitson. In 1986 they signed 41 year old Joe Neikro and 43 year old Tommy John. In 1988 they signed Jack Clark and John Candeleria. In 1989 they signed Steve Sax, Mel Hall, Dave LaPoint and Andy Hawkins.

I can’t find a record of how many or which of those players were class-A or class-B free agents, but most of them likely fell under one of those categories, which means those names represent an awful lot of draft picks sacrificed in exchange for supposedly established (and almost always grossly overpaid) players who never had any significant positive impact on the team.

Further sabotaging the stock of young talent in those years was the working philosophy that developing players are less reliable than established veterans and therefore are best used as bargaining chips for obtaining players who are proven assets. Prior to the 1987 season, they traded Doug Drabek (who would quickly become one of the better starters in the NL over the next 8 years) for Rick Rhoden. Later that year they traded Bob Tewksberry (who later blossomed and had some pretty good years for St. Louis in the early 1990s) for Steve Trout. The next year they famously traded Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps. Then in 1989 they traded Al Leiter for a broken down Jesse Barfield. And then in the following offseason they traded Hal Morris (who would establish himself as a career .300 hitter over the next 11 seasons) for Tim Leary.

Looking back on those free agent acquisitions and trades is a study in the futility of that philosophy. The result of this indifference to “unproven” talent and thorough undermining of the developmental system turned those yearly contenders into the doormat of the American League East. The team’s plunge in the standings was accompanied by the usual disarray and dysfunction that often surrounded the Yankees in the old Steinbrenner days, with various scandals and reports of infighting torturing the remaining faithful fans from the back pages of the newspapers. In 1990, they hit bottom, winning only 67 games. Their .414 winning percentage that year was the lowest in franchise history since 1908, when the team was still called the Highlanders and Babe Ruth’s New York debut was more than a decade away.

But for once their dysfunction served them well; in the middle of that terrible 1990 season, meddling owner George Steinbrenner was banned from baseball and forced to relinquish control of the team. And the Yankees were lucky enough to have a highly competent general manager in Gene Michael who was ready to take over the reins. With the freedom to rebuild the farm system without interference from the owner, it only took Michael several years to construct the best minor league system in MLB. His work during that period – top-rate scouting and drafting, nurturing that young talent into a an all-star core that would become heart of the team for years to come and having a solid stable of veteran role players in place as they emerged – yielded nothing short of the greatest postseason dynasty of the last half-century.

Steinbrenner’s lifetime banishment lasted three years, though even he couldn’t deny Michael’s success in his absence and the glory years of the middle and late 1990s came and went before he eventually settled back into the old way of doing business. During the championship run, signing and trading for veteran players such as David Cone, Tino Martinez, David Wells and Roger Clemens seemed like reasonable measures to maintain the team’s dominance. The young core was in place and producing at the highest level and the future was now. But Steinbrenner’s old tendencies and the annual ritual of chasing top established stars at the expense of developmental talent became the norm again and eventually took its toll.

Admittedly, the renewed disregard for player development of this decade didn’t appear to have the same detrimental effect that we saw in the 1980s. Thanks to the new big money era, 2/3 of MLB teams don’t have the budget to make competitive offers to top free agents or to make trades in which they would take on large salaries. Further, more and more small market teams began using trades for the purpose of dumping salaries and rebuilding from scratch, hoping the next crop of young talent will collectively blossom before they are eligible for free agency and mesh well with whatever marginal players they can afford to retain.

So thanks to the narrowed field of teams to compete with for established players, they managed 7 consecutive playoff appearances since the end of the glory years and the last World Series title, despite the active depletion of the developmental system. But in reality, the decline has just been slower this time around. Consider, the last World Series title was in 2000. The last World Series appearance was in 2003. The last time they won a playoff series was 2004. The last time they finished the regular season at the top of their division was 2006. And the record-breaking playoff streak that began with the Gene Michael-built team in 1995 was finally broken this October. Indeed, without a robust farm system to rely on as a source of developing young players, we watch a team that has become increasingly committed to aging and/or injury prone players with diminishing skills and ever more obscenely bloated contracts.

In September, ESPN’s Buster Olney chronicled the downfall of the Yankees’ amateur drafts of this decade. Money quote:

Consider that in the drafts of 1997-2005:

The Yankees produced a total of 10 position players who have appeared in a major league game; that is the fewest of any team in the major leagues, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The 10 position players drafted by the Yankees had accounted for a total of 888 career at-bats as of Sept. 9, which means that not only have the Yankees generated few major league position players, but they have produced no stars, and just a handful of journeymen. The draftees of the Toronto Blue Jays from the same time frame, by comparison, have combined for 27,427 big-league at-bats; the Mets, 11,469.

The Yankees drafted and developed 20 pitchers, which is tied for the 12th-most among the 30 major league teams. However, those 20 pitchers selected by the Yankees have amassed 1,852 2/3 innings in the majors — the fewest innings for any group of pitchers drafted by any team. The Oakland Athletics’ draftees rank first, at 9,686 innings, according to Elias.

Looking at the past decade more closely, the list of free agent signings since the last World Series title looks only a little better than the list from the late 80s: Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Steve Karsay, Rondell White, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantril, Jaret Wright, Tony Womack, Kenny Lofton, Carl Pavano, Kyle Farnsworth, Johnny Damon, Gary Sheffield and Roger Clemens (in 2007). And while the young players they traded away in this era haven’t proven to be significant sacrifices like we saw in the 1980s (largely because the Yankees’ developmental talent of the past decade has been so poor) the excessive contracts they took on to obtain players such as Javier Vazquez, Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Alex Rodriguez and Bobby Abreu have combined with those free agent signings to send the team payroll soaring to staggering levels, making their diminishing rate of return (in terms of playoff success) all the more plain to see.

As Olney noted in his column, things began to look up for the Yankee farm system in 2005 when GM Brian Cashman successfully negotiated in his new contract the freedom to run the team without interference from the Steinbrenner-controlled Tampa office. The surprise emergence earlier that year of second baseman Robinson Cano and starting pitcher Chien-Ming Wang (both players were called into action when “proven” talents Tony Womack and Carl Pavano showed themselves to be anything but) provided Cashman with the argument to convince the brass to allow him to restock the eroded farm system. In 2006, left fielder Hideki Matsui’s wrist fracture led to the emergence of fan favorite Melky Cabrera, who in the following year would take over centerfield from big-time 2006 free agent signee Johnny Damon, who’s declining defensive skills had become a noticeable liability by the end of the first year of his 4 year contract.

Cashman made good on his pledge to nurture the team’s developmental talent right away. Promising young players would not be used as trade bait to acquire aging stars. The #21 overall 2006 draft pick lost to the Red Sox for signing Johnny Damon was replaced by the #18 overall pick obtained from the Phillies when they signed Tom Gordon. Gary Sheffield was traded for a trio of minor-league pitching prospects. And with the exception of Damon and Kyle Farnsworth (for whom the Yankees lost their 2nd round pick in 2006) the Yankees did not commit to any more free agent signings that required the sacrifice of draft picks through the duration of Cashman’s 3 year contract.

But the commitment seems to have ended with Cashman’s last contract. He negotiated a new deal after the 2008 season but this time (following the Yanks’ first playoff absence since before the strike of 1994) with no promise of freedom from Steinbrenner (now George’s son, Hank Steinbrenner) and no pledge to commit to the farm system. The young pitchers whom Cashman refused to trade for stud starter Johan Santana last year were supposed to usher in the new era of home grown talent. But they proved still unready for the big show while Santana was traded instead to the cross-town rival Mets.

The remedy was not hard to predict. In the past week the Yankees awarded a record-breaking $161 million over 7 years to gifted but morbidly obese starting pitcher CC Sabathia and 5 years and $82.5 million to sometimes dominant but often injured starter, AJ Burnett. Both pitchers are listed as class-A free agents, which means the Yankees will sacrifice their 1st and 2nd round draft picks in the 2009 amateur draft. This news came in the same week that the Yankees lost 4 more minor league players in the Rule 5 Draft. 3 of them looked like they might have had some promise:

2B/SS Reegie Corona hit .274 and stole 24/28 bases in AA last year. He was the 2nd player taken in the draft, by the Mariners.
Lefty relief pitcher Zach Kroenke struck out 44 in 43.2 innings with a 3.09era in AA and was promoted to AAA at the end of the year, where he struck out 10 with a 1.80era in 10 innings. He was the 12th selection.
RHP Jason Jones was 13-7 with 91 Ks in 143.1 innings and a 3.33era for AA and was promoted to AAA at the end of the year where he was 0-1 with 11 Ks and a 2.38era in 10 innings. He went #14.

Further, the Yankees chose to not offer arbitration to Bobby Abreu, who’s contract ended at the close of the 2008 season. This means that if another team signs Abreu, the Yankees will not be compensated with their 1st round draft pick. Presumably the thinking was that they did not want Abreu back and wanted to avoid the unlikely event that Abreu might accept the one-year arbitration offer. This was unlikely because Abreu is 34 years old, coming off a solid offensive season and there is a market for him. He’ll be looking for what will probably be the last big contract of his career and it would be quite a gamble for him to put off free agency another year on the wrong side of 30. And even if he did accept arbitration, the Yankees would simply have had to eat a few million dollars to move him to the team offering the best package of prospects. For a team that just gave nine figures over 7 years to a player they’ll be lucky to get 4 good seasons out of, a $3m or so investment in developmental talent sounds like a bargain.

The Yankees also chose to not offer arbitration to class-a free agent Andy Pettitte and class-b free agent Ivan Rodriguez. The markets for these players are not at certain as that for Abreu, so those decisions are not quite as easily scrutinized.

At some point you have to look at the data as a whole and acknowledge that there are several very obvious trends. The most important being that the Yankees have a history of unparralled success when they keep their farm system stocked and healthy, and that the team faces a long slow decline when they neglect the farm and enter the ugly cycle they seem destined to loop themselves back into with this off-season’s activity: sign veteran free agents who don’t live up to their billing which depletes the farm system which leaves them desperate for talent in the short term which they appease by signing free agents who don’t live up to their billing which further depletes the farm system which will again leave them desperate for talent in the short term which they appease by… etc.

A close friend and fellow Yankee fan who disagrees with me insists that such is simply the Yankee way. The only “Yankee way” that I care about is winning. The established way to accomplish that has been triumphantly displayed like no other professional American sports team has ever managed: by building from within.

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Player Years on the Ballot 2008 Vote % 2007 Vote % 2006 Vote%
Jim Rice 15 72.2 63.5 64.8
Tommy John 15 21.9 22.9 29.6
Dave Parker 13 15.1 11.4 14.6
Bert Blyleven 12 61.9 47.7 53.3
Dale Murphy 11 13.8 9.2 10.8
Jack Morris 10 42.9 37.1 41.2
Don Mattingly 9 15.8 9.9 12.3
Andre Dawson 8 65.9 56.7 61
Alan Trammell 8 18.2 13.4 17.7
Lee Smith 7 43.3 39.8 45
Harold Baines 3 5.2 5.3 n/a
Mark McGwire 3 23.6 23.5 n/a
Tim Raines 2 24.3 n/a n/a
Jay Bell 1 n/a n/a n/a
Ron Gant 1 n/a n/a n/a
Mark Grace 1 n/a n/a n/a
Rickey Henderson 1 n/a n/a n/a
Greg Vaughn 1 n/a n/a n/a
Mo Vaughn 1 n/a n/a n/a
Matt Williams  1 n/a n/a n/a
David Cone 1 n/a n/a n/a
Jesse Orosco 1 n/a n/a n/a
Dan Plesac 1 n/a n/a n/a

Players need 75% of the vote to get inducted and 5% to remain on the ballot for next year. After 15 years on the ballot, they are dropped from consideration.

My ballot:

Rickey Henderson had the most impressive MLB career in my lifetime, hands down. Not only should he receive the honor of being inducted on his first ballot, but the vote should be unanimous. Let’s see whether the baseball writers will be able to put aside the man’s personality and keep it to baseball.

Jim Rice is in his 15th and final year of eligibility. It would be criminal if the man who spent a decade as the most feared hitter in the American League was shut out. Stringing him along all these years is cruel punishment for a surly attitude and the unlucky timing of playing during a pitcher’s era.

And it’s time to induct Lee Smith. He broke the career saves record before Hoffman’s and Rivera’s MLB careers began. He’s still 3rd behind only those two, with no one even close behind. Hopefully Goose opened the door for him in 2008.

Maybe next year:

Tim Raines will hopefully get a big boost this year, setting him up for induction in 2010 or 2011. He was easily the best leadoff hitter in the NL through the first half of 1980s, among a group that includes Vince Coleman, Lonnie Smith, Willie McGee and Steve Sax all in the primes of their careers. Then he was the second-best leadoff hitter in the NL through the later 80s, after Tony Gwynn, still better than all those other guys. 808 career steals is 5th all-time, 3rd among players who retired after 1930.

Don Mattingly. The responsible disclosure here is that I’m a Yankee fan. So in the eyes of most people reading this, that confirms that I’m a homer. Donnie Baseball was regarded as the best player in the game for about 6 years. Isn’t that all Sandy Koufax ever did? He also sports the highest fielding percentage in the history of the game. He’s at least a borderline player. Comparing career numbers, it’s simply insane that Kirby Puckett was a first-ballot guy and Mattingly languishes barely above the minimum % to stay on the ballot.

Blyleven is 5th in career strikeouts. I guess I’d say he’s a borderline case. Looking at his stats, he was usually among the top 6 or 7 pitchers in the league. He played in an historically favorable period for pitchers as his career ended just as the juiced-ball era began. He never felt like more than a middle-order workhorse type pitcher to me, rather than a guy you expect to dominate a lineup. I’m sure that’s a little unfair since I’m too young to remember him in his prime, but looking at his stats, he seems like a classic compiler to me, like Phil Neikro, who I don’t think belongs in the Hall of Fame despite his 300 wins.


Tommy John. Again, I have no sympathy for stats compilers. And the fortune of having Tommy John surgery named after him fails to impress me. I’m tempted to acknowledge a more personal bias against Tommy John and Phil Neikro. I remember well both players (along with Phil’s brother, Joe Neikro) starting for the Yanks on very competitive teams from 1984-1987 which always fell just short of the playoffs. The problem was always the lack of pitching and while John and the Neikros weren’t the problem, the vision of these old guys in their 40s who couldn’t fill out the seat of their pants seemed emblematic of the team’s narrow shortcomings of that era. Of course the real failure was in letting go of good young pitching talent like Jose Rijo, Doug Drabek and Bob Tewksberry before they blossomed. Anyway…

Andre Dawson. Just short of borderline. A player I remember well enough, I always thought he was a over-rated, Very inconsistent counting stats despite playing in decent enough lineups. More often than not he was a run-of-the-mill middle-order power-hitter.

Jack Morris. He’s one of the great World Series starters in recent history and he managed to hang around a bit longer than a lot of the other good pitchers of his day but there’s just a few too many mediocre years mixed in there.

Mark McGwire. 580 career home runs and shattering Maris’ single season mark (and briefly holding the record) shouldn’t be enough for a 1 dimensional slugger who’s career defines the juiced ball era. This line must be drawn. In two years, Rafael Palmeiro will become eligible. Two years after that, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds (if both stay retired). In my opinion, none of these men deserves enshrinement.

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Jets Destroy the Rams

It’s been a while since I’ve written any posts about sports. In fact, I think several months may have gone by where I didn’t write about anything that wasn’t in some way tied to the election. Now that the election is over, I might find that I still haven’t quite defined the extent to which I’ll cover non-political topics here. I don’t really know the answer, except that I’ll continue to write about what happens to be occupying my thoughts at the moment. Right now, they’re occupied by the greatest margin of victory in NY Jets franchise history, which I was lucky enough to witness first-hand from the very top of the north corner of Giants Stadium.


I was reminded of a hullabaloo from last season in which the Patriots were accused of unsportsmanlike behavior for unnecessarily running up the score late in blowout games in which the outcome had already been determined. The most offensive example came in the week 8 blowout against the Redskins. In that game, the Pats got the ball back with 2:02 remaining in the 3rd quarter and led the Skins 38-0. Any NFL fan knows that a head coach lucky enough to be in that position will normally play out the game as conservatively as possible. He’ll sub in as many of his reserve players as possible to eliminate the risk of key injuries. He’ll call mostly simple running plays, to keep the clock running and eat up as much of the remaining time as possible while he has possession of the ball, and to limit the likelihood of turnovers.

But this was not the approach that Coach Belichick employed in the 4th quarter of his week 8 game last season. Instead, the Pats ran an offensive assault with Tom Brady in at QB. They ran 10 passing plays, all of them from the shotgun. The drive took 17 plays and ate up 8 minutes because of two penalties called against the Pats, the fist of which sent them back to their own 13 yard line on the 6th play of the drive. On the 15th play, a 4th and 1 on the Redskins 7 yard line with 11:02 left in the game, they ran a QB sneak to get the first down! This set up the touchdown pass two plays later with 9:09 remaining. 45-0 Pats.

The Skins promptly went 3 and out and New England got the ball back at the Washington 45 with 8:30 to play. Would they now win graciously, let the clock wind down and go back to the locker room and celebrate another blowout? No. They ran it up to 52-0 with the backup QB on 6 plays (2 from the shotgun) including a pass on 4th and 2 from the Washington 37 with 7:16 left to play. The drive took all of 2:40 off the clock.

Compare that with the final 17 minutes of yesterday’s Jets/Rams game. The Jets also got the ball with just over 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter with a huge lead (40-3). They orchestrated an 8 play drive with 6 running plays that ended in a touchdown, eating up 5:30. The Rams then went 3 and out and the Jets got the ball back on their own 22 with 11:09 left in the game. The Jets brought in backup QB Kellen Clemens and ran 12 straight running plays, getting them 4 first downs and 70 yards and eating 9 minutes off the clock. So they came out of the 2 minute warning with first and goal on the Rams 8 yard line. With a cinch field goal and the opportunity for their second 50 point game of the season (not to mention Clemens’ first touchdown opportunity of the season) staring them in the face, he took a knee on three straight plays and let the clock run out. With a division showdown looming this Thursday against the hated Patriots, Coach Mangini made exactly the opposite statement that Belichick chose to go with 54 weeks earlier in almost exactly the same situation: a display of sportsmanship.

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Keeth Smart is flying to New York on Monday to begin his new life at Columbia Business School. He is carrying an Olympic silver medal for fencing.

In addition to winning the silver medal Sunday in men’s sabre, ending with a 45-37 loss to France, the United States won five other medals here. The women, among them Smart’s sister, Erinn, won a silver medal in foil, and they also won a bronze in sabre.

“This is the greatest performance in American fencing, and I am proud to be part of it,” Keeth Smart said.

In the first round of team competition Sunday, Smart went last, with the Americans trailing Hungary, 40-36. He then outpointed Zsolt Nemcsik, 9-4, to allow the United States to advance. In the semifinals, the Russians held a 40-35 lead, but Smart outpointed Stanislav Pozdnyakov, another experienced fencer, 10-4, to give the United States a 45-44 victory.

“Keeth Smart is our hero,” said James Williams, another American fencer. “He had those two losses in Athens, and he was so brave today.”

Smart, who turned 30 on July 29, is a graduate of St. John’s University. He grew up in Brooklyn and was attracted to fencing when his father, Thomas, read that Peter Westbrook, a 1984 bronze medalist, was running a program for city children. Erinn Smart, now 28 and a graduate of Barnard College, followed her brother into the sport, as New York became a magnet for young fencers.

The women have made more of a mark than the men. In 2004, Zagunis won the gold medal in women’s sabre, and Jacobson won a bronze. But Keeth Smart has been the leader of this generation.

“People don’t realize how much he brought to fencing,” said Tim Morehouse, another New York fencer who was part of the silver-winning team Sunday. “This is a coming-out party for U.S. fencing. We never did anything before.”

Congratulations Keeth and Erinn!

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