Tagged: Baseball Hall of Fame

Here Comes The Pain!!!

People naturally try to avoid things they know will cause them pain. You only touch a hot stove once to understand it is not something you want to experience again. Getting hit by a baseball is not something people enjoy, it hurts. Baseballs can leave nasty bruises and broken bones if they hit a person just so. A batter’s natural reaction is to jump out of the way of the baseball when they believe the pitch is going to hit them. This is part of the reason most people have difficulty hitting a curveball. Your mind is telling you of the impending danger, yet you also know you need to hit the ball. The vast majority of people are never able to conquer this fear, stay in the box, and drive a curveball.

Baseball is a hard game played by hard people. It takes a toll on your body. Among those who are able to withstand the fear induced by curveballs is an even more select group, these players are those who turn getting hit by a pitch into an art form and a weapon. A run counts the same if you hit a home run or if you get hit by a pitch and then come around to score. These brave souls sacrifice their bodies to get on base. They are sacrificing themselves for the good of the team.

The official rule governing the hit by pitch (HBP), 5.05(b)(2), states:

“(b) The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when:

(2) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.”

It is the second part of the rule, “The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball”, which often leads to heated debates about whether a batter attempted to avoid being hit by the pitch. Ultimately it is a judgement call by the umpire. This has lead to some players becoming creative in an attempt to be hit by the pitch. Some players are not afraid to be hit by a pitch and will subtly go out of their way to get hit.

The hit by pitch king is Hughie Jennings. He was hit by a pitch 287 times during his career. Jennings led the National League in HBP five consecutive seasons, 1894-1898. He was hit 51 times during the 1896 season, which remains the single season record. Jennings followed up his record setting season by being hit 46 times in 1897 and 1898, which are still the third and fourth highest single season HBP totals. Career record require longevity, Jennings played in the majors in 18 seasons, his last was in 1918 at the age of 49. However, he appeared in six or fewer games during his final six seasons, during which he had only one HBP. Jennings averaged 36 HBP per 162 games. All those bruises from being hit raised Jennings’ career OBP from .357 to .391. Was it all worth it? It is hard to judge but Jennings is forever enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. You be the judge.

The art of the HBP was not a weapon only during the dead ball era, it is alive and well today. Baseball could be in its Golden Age of the HBP. Eight of the top 20 in the career HBP rankings have played in Major League Baseball since 2002. The art and weaponization of the HBP was championed by Craig Biggio and today continues to be carried on by Chase Utley and Anthony Rizzo.

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Chase Utley will take a pitch to the shoulder if it means getting on base. (Jenny Goldstick and Gemma Kaneko/ MLB.com)

Craig Biggio made a career out of doing whatever was necessary to win a baseball game. He willingness to transition from catching to the outfield to second base to help the team with his defense skills wherever they were needed on the diamond. When it came to the offensive side of Biggio’s game he understood his job was to get on base ahead of teammates like Jeff Bagwell. Driving the ball and hustling out of the box or using his elbow guard, and the rest of his body, to reach first base did not matter to Biggio. During his 20 year Major League career, Biggio was hit 285 times, just two behind the all time record. He led the National League five times in HBP. He was hit by a pitch 16 times per every 162 games played during his career. This durability and toughness are what helped Biggio be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The same sort of durability and toughness Biggio displayed throughout his Hall of Fame career is seen in Chase Utley. Utley is playing his 16th Major League season and has been hit by a pitch 200 times. He is the active leader in HBP, he ranks eighth all time, and first all time among left handed batters. Utley’s willingness to use hit body to get on base has seen him lead the National League three times in this painful category. Averaging 17 hit by pitches per 162 games played, Utley has put together a career that will get him some serious consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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It hurts, but Anthony Rizzo uses hit body to get on base. (www.sportsonearth.com)

The old guard of players like Biggio and Utley have shown the younger generation of players the value of using their body to reach first base. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is positioning himself to make a legitimate run at the upper echelons of the record book. In his eighth Major League season, Rizzo has already been hit by 106 pitches, which ties him with Barry Bonds for 74th all time. He is currently ranked 22nd all time for left handed batters. Rizzo could threaten to break into the top 50 all time by the end of this season. He is averaging 18 hit by pitches per 162 games played, and as he enters his prime Rizzo is demonstrating his durability and toughness. Rizzo will turn 29 in August, he should have many more seasons of practicing this painful art ahead of him.

There is an art to getting hit by a pitch. Sometimes it is unavoidable, other times a batter attempts to avoid a fastball to the head. Some players willingly stick a leg or shoulder out on a hanging curveball to reach first base. No one enjoys unnecessary pain. However, baseball is a hard game played by hard people, at every levels. The willingness to endure pain to help the team win is a skill few possess. There are a select few who are willing and able be hit by a pitch if it means helping the team. Rizzo and the next generation of HBP artists need to remember one thing. Whatever you do, do not rub it.

DJ

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2017 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

The Winning Run will be turning five years old this year, which means we should technically be halfway to receiving an official Hall of Fame vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). Instead of waiting until we are voting for real, why not get some Hall of Fame voting practice in to work out the bugs.

There are 34 former players listed on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot this year. 15 players are returning to the ballot after receiving at least 5% of the vote during last year’s balloting. There are 19 new players appearing for the first time. Trimming the vote down from 34 players to no more than 10 is not an easy task. Some players are easier to exclude than other but there are about 15 players who demand a hard look and who are not easily removed.

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Will Lee Smith finally be elected in his final year on the ballot? (www.si.com)

As I have stated previously, I despise the use of PEDs in baseball and all other sports. Players, like Manny Ramirez, who have tested positive for these banned substances made my job a little easier to cull the list to just 10 players. On my ballot you are removed from consideration when you are suspended. Players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were also quickly removed from my list due to their own PED connections. Yes neither player ever failed a test, but the evidence of their use of PEDs is too great for me to consider their candidacy.

The process of reaching my list of ten players meant looking at players who sustained greatness. Having a few great seasons and a decade of mediocre seasons does not mean you get into Cooperstown. Players also had to have an impact on the game, such as redefining a position or raising a team’s profile. The National Baseball Hall of Fame should only enshrine the best of the best.

X

Jeff Bagwell Jeff Kent

X

Ivan Rodriguez
Casey Blake Derrek Lee Freddy Sanchez
Barry Bonds

X

Edgar Martinez Curt Schilling
Pat Burrell

X

Fred McGriff Gary Sheffield
Orlando Cabrera Melvin Mora

X

Lee Smith
Mike Cameron

X

Mike Mussina Sammy Sosa
Roger Clemens Magglio Ordonez Matt Stairs
J.D. Drew Jorge Posada Jason Varitek

X

Vladimir Guerrero

X

Tim Raines Billy Wagner
Carlos Guillen Manny Ramirez Tim Wakefield

X

Trevor Hoffman Edgar Renteria

X

Larry Walker
Arthur Rhodes

Tim Wakefield would receive an honorary vote this year because we love the knuckleball, the longevity of his career, and he was the topic of the first ever article on The Winning Run.

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Will Fred McGriff and his 493 home runs make it to Cooperstown? (www.espn.com)

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the saddest cases concerning Hall of Fame voting and the steroid era. Both players had the talent and skill to be Hall of Famers without the chemical assistance of PEDs. Bonds is truly one of the greatest hitters to ever step into a batter’s box and Clemens is arguably one of the greatest pitchers ever, often compared to Walter Johnson. They would undoubtedly be in Cooperstown now if they had chosen to stay clear of PEDs. They were able to sustain their peaks and lengthen their careers through unnatural means, but at what cost? Players like Sammy Sosa, also on the ballot this year, did not have the talent to ascend to the Hall of Fame without PEDs.

Voting for the Hall of Fame, even if unofficially, is a difficult process. Many players deserve consideration for enshrinement in Cooperstown through their accomplishments on the diamond. The cases for enshrining many players who are not in the Hall of Fame are valid. However, the case that a player elected to the Hall of Fame is undeserving means the bar for gaining election to Cooperstown must remain high. Many players come close, but only the best earn admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

DJ

The 1%

One of the many reasons I am not a big football fan is due to the lack of games. I understand why there are so few games each year, but the lack of action leaves plenty to be desired. The dead time between games results in hours and days of continuous talking about what happened in the last game and the matchups for the next game. There is only so much anyone can talk about a game before or after it is played until you begin to repeat the same thing over and over again. There is no justification that I can find to spend more than 30 minutes discussing the upcoming Week 6 football game between the Chicago Bears and the Jacksonville Jaguars unless it is to recreate the Saturday Night Live Bill Swerski Superfans skits. Sadly, dozens of hours will be spent discussing a game that will most likely be forgotten in the not so distant future. In baseball you might spend 30 minutes before and after each game discussing the match up and what happened, but even that can be a stretch.

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Not much to do between games but talk about DA BEARS. (nbc.com)

Football kills time between games by talking in circles about the same thing week after week. The beauty of baseball is once the post-game armchair manager talk is wrapped up, the discussion may continue to the future by looking at the minor leagues or reframe the present with a look to the past. Sometimes a quirky event about the game warrants a focused look on the great players in baseball history for an interesting connection.

I was invited to attend a talk by Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, by my fiancée’s work colleague. The talk was at the Green Diamond Gallery, which is the largest privately held baseball collection in the world. The talk centered mainly on the Hall of Fame and its current efforts to preserve baseball history and educate the fans. After the talk, Jeff Idelson began answering questions from the audience. Several of the questions had to do with the election process and potential changes to the induction process. The standard Pete Rose questions were asked, as the Green Diamond Gallery is located in Cincinnati. Finally someone asked “Who do you [Jeff Idelson] think should be in the Hall of Fame that is not?” He did the appropriate tap dance around the question so as to not give a definite answer. Then he gave the best possible answer.

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Is the Reds Hall of Fame the closest Pete Rose will ever get to Cooperstown? Probably (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)

There are 312 individuals enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame; 28 executives, 22 managers, 10 umpires, 35 Negro League players, and 217 Major League players. There have been over 18,700 individual players in Major League history. This means only the top 1% of players are eventually enshrined. You can argue that every player that is in Cooperstown belongs there, plus many more who are not. However, there is little to be argued that the players enshrined do not deserve to be there.

There are plenty of players for whom the argument can be made that they should be enshrined in Cooperstown, but more is not always better. The NBA and NHL both have 30 teams and 16 of those 30 teams (53%) will make the playoffs. The Houston Rockets made the playoffs this year with a 41-41 record, why is a .500 team going to the playoffs? Yes there have been some dreadful divisions in Major League Baseball, the 2005 National League West was won by the San Diego Padres with an 82-80 record, but those are rare. The more slots you have in the playoffs, the worse the competition. It is better to leave a good team at home than to have a terrible team advance, although this is tough to say when the team you root for is that good team. The same is true for the Hall of Fame. Admitting more players means detracting from the significance of the honor. This only serves to muddle the difference between greatness and the very good.

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The Green Diamond Gallery is an amazing collection of any and everything that is baseball. (www.greendiamondgallery.com)

Eliminating the players who are known or highly suspected of using steroids and those who are on the permanently ineligible list, there are several players for whom a convincing argument can be made that they belong in Cooperstown. These are player who are no longer on the ballot for election by the baseball writers. Don Mattingly, Tim Raines, Gil Hodges, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy, Roger Maris, Bret Saberhagen, Maury Wills, Thurman Munson, and the list goes on.

Would the Hall of Fame be better with these players enshrined, I would say so. Is the Hall of Fame seen as incomplete without these players, I do not think so. The Hall of Fame is reserved for the top 1% of players. Every generation has players who were spectacular on the field, yet begin to fade with time.

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Multiple MVP Awards failed to get Dale Murphy enshrined in Cooperstown. (mlb.com)

Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo, Mo Vaughn, and Brett Butler were all outstanding players in the early to mid 1990’s. Were they as emblematic of baseball excellence as Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, Randy Johnson, or Greg Maddux? Those enshrined in Cooperstown should be the players who can be compared against players from every generation and hold their own. Joe DiMaggio was not the best or most powerful hitter, but his skills and statistics hold up against players from every generation.

Records and awards are designed to recognize greatness, not designed to settle debates. Ichiro now has more hits in professional baseball than Pete Rose. However, Rose got all of his hits in the Majors while Ichiro has split his time between the Majors and Japan. Who is the better hitter? It would be easy to insert Tony Gwynn, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Miguel Cabrera into the debate. Is Cy Young the greatest pitcher of all time because he has the most wins or Nolan Ryan because he has the most strikeouts? I doubt you will find many people so easily convinced. What about Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux, Bob Feller, or Old Hoss Radbourn?

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What could Bob Feller have done on the mound had his service in World War II not cost him nearly four full seasons early in his career. (http://vanmeteria.gov/)

Jeff Idelson repeatedly pointed to the democratic way that players are elected to the Hall of Fame. He understands that the process is not perfect, but ultimately gets it right. The recent changes to the voting process, revoking the voting rights of writers who have not actively covered baseball in the past 10 years and reducing the number of years on the ballot from 15 to 10, should help to reduce and then prevent a backlog of worthy players getting the look they deserve. This is not to say they will be elected, but that they will get a fair shot. The top 1% of players will rise to the top during voting as they did during their playing careers. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.” Players and their accomplishments are never cast aside regardless of how short or long their careers. Thousands of players have taken the field and many have made a case for their inclusion with the legends of the game. However, those enshrined in Cooperstown leave no doubt about their worthiness in the history of the game. It is those who came so close to joining this exclusive club, yet have come up just short, that allows the debate to flourish over what makes a Hall of Fame player.

DJ

The First Player Taken

The First Year Player Draft, better known today as the Major League Baseball Draft is upon us once again. Every team is searching for the next great player and every player believes they can become that player. Unlike the other major North American sports, especially basketball and football, the players drafted this week will not have an immediate impact on their new team. Instead the best players will spend several years in the minor leagues before they reach the Majors.

The path to the Majors has not always started with the draft. Before 1965, every team was able to sign any amateur player they wished. This allowed teams like the Yankees in the lead up to their run in the 1950’s to sign the best players through better scouting, and in some cases simply offering more money to a player than another team could offer. This not only stockpiled the Yankees farm system, but kept these players away from other teams.

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Rick Monday, the first player every selected in the MLB Draft. (www.asuwebdevilarchive.edu)

Major League Baseball created the First Year Player Draft in 1965 to create a more level playing field. Since then, the draft has gone through several changes through the years to its current configuration. However, the story behind these changes and tweaks are for another post on another day.

The draft is an inexact science which makes drafting well seem like winning the lottery. Ken Griffey Jr. was the first overall pick in the 1987 Draft and, to date, he is the only first overall pick to gain election to Cooperstown. Griffey should be joined shortly by Chipper Jones and potentially Alex Rodriguez; although I am not sure the voters are ready to welcome Rodriguez with open arms. It took 23 drafts before any team with the top pick was able to land a super star that was worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. If drafting was so easy, every team with the top overall selection would always turn out to be the next Bryce Harper, Adrian Gonzalez, or David Price instead of Steve Chilcott, Brien Taylor, or Matt Bush. Predicting the future is never easy.

Brien Taylor
Brien Taylor never played higher than AA due to a shoulder injury that derailed his career. (Star-Ledger)

The Kansas City Athletics held the top overall selection for the 1965 Draft after finishing the 1964 season with a record of 57-105. Kansas City selected Center Fielder Rick Monday out of Arizona State. Monday was selected ahead of Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver. Although he is not enshrined in Cooperstown, Rick Monday did enjoy a solid career. He played 19 seasons with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs. Offensively, Monday was a solid player, posting a career line of:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
1986
7162
6136
950
1619
248
64
241
775
98
924
1513
.264
.361
.443

Defensively Monday played primarily Center and Right Field, and sparingly in Left Field and at First Base. Again, Monday was a solid player in the field throughout his career, with a defensive career line of:

G Inn Ch PO A E DP Fld%
1742 14267.1 4177 3978 118 81 45 .981

However, Rick Monday did not have the Hall of Fame caliber career the Athletics were hopeful for when they drafted him. Fortunately, Kansas City did not strikeout with their first selection. Monday received two votes (0.5%) in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame and then was removed from the ballot. Plenty of players have long careers, yet never receive any votes for enshrinement in Cooperstown. A single or double is always better than an out.

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Chipper Jones is one of the greatest switch hitters of all time, and he will soon join Ken Griffey Jr. in Cooperstown. (Curtis Compton/AJC.com)

The most memorable moment of Rick Monday’s career occurred on April 25, 1976. The play had nothing to do with baseball, yet is remembered as perhaps the greatest play in baseball history. Monday and the Cubs were playing the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Two fans jumped on the field in the middle of an at bat, ran into left Center Field and knelt down beside an American flag they had brought with them. The flag was doused in lighter fluid and the two people were attempting to set the flag on fire. Monday ran from his position in Center Field and snagged the flag away from the fans turned protestors and continued to run with the flag until he reached Dodger pitcher Doug Rau. Monday gave Rau the flag for safe keeping. The protesters, who turned out to be a father and his 11 year old son, were arrested, the father was charged with trespassing, placed on probation, and fined. The exact reason for the attempted flag burning remains unknown, though many theories exist. When Monday came to the plate for his next at bat he received a standing ovation from the Dodger crowd and the message board inside the stadium flashed, “Rick Monday…You Made A Great Play.” Many would argue the greatest in baseball history.

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Rick Monday’s dash prevented the American flag from being burned on the field at Dodger Stadium. (James Roark)

Rick Monday was the first baseball player ever drafted. Thousands of hopeful amateur players have followed in his footsteps. Every player who has followed Monday has sought to fulfill their potential on the diamond and reach to pinnacle of the sport. Only a select few have made it to the top, and only a select few of those select few have impacted the game in such a way that they are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Kansas City Athletics did not swing and miss with Rick Monday. The ability to project a player’s development several years down the road is no easy task. Players fail to reach the Major Leagues due to injuries, lacking the ability to continue to develop like a team projected, personal issues, and a million other reasons. Surviving the minor leagues and reaching the top of the sport is no easy task.

Monday had a long and productive Major League career. He was not the best player to come out of the inaugural Major League Baseball Draft, but he also was not a disappointment. The most memorable moment of his career occurred on the baseball field, but had nothing to do with baseball. Whether it was due to his time with the Marines, his sense of national pride, or simply doing what was right, Monday left an indelible memory in his dash to prevent the burning of an American flag. When asked about his dash for the flag and it being what he is remembered for Monday responded, “If I am remembered only as a guy that stood in the way of two guys trying to desecrate an American flag at a Major League Baseball game, and protect the rights and freedoms that flag represents for all of us, that’s not a bad thing to be remembered for.” I could not agree more.

DJ

Baseball Lifer: Connie Mack

Baseball lifers are bridges that connect different eras and players to each other. The majorifoty of players, coaches, and managers spend just a few years in the Majors before their time is over. Not everyone walks away from the game willingly, often due to injury or poor performance. Then there are those that spend their lives living, breathing, and working in baseball. These baseball lifers come to the game young and leave when they are old. One such baseball lifer is Connie Mack and we may never see a lifer of his significance ever again..

Cornelius McGillicuddy, shortened to Connie Mack in childhood, spent 65 years in baseball as a player and manager. He played for 11 seasons from 1886 to 1896 with three different teams: the Washington Nationals, the Buffalo Bisons of the Players League, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. A career .244 BA, Mack was primarily a catcher during the days when catchers truly took a beating. He logged 5,186 innings behind the plate and an additional 985 in the field. Mack led the Majors in a statistical category only three times during his playing career: two he would have rather not (1890- 20 HBP and 1887- 76 Passed Balls) and one he should be proud of accomplishing (1892- 47% CS (base stealers were 136 for 257)). While not a remarkable playing career, Mack parlayed his career on the field into one in managing.

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Connie Mack saw it all in his life in baseball. (www.baseballhall.org)

Late in the 1894 season, Connie Mack was named the player-manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates went 149 and 134 under Mack, with a winning record each season, but fell short of ownership expectations. He was fired following the 1896 season. Retired as a player and recently fired from his Major League managing job, Connie Mack went to the minor leagues to manage and occasionally catch for the Milwaukee Brewers over the next four seasons.

In 1901, Connie Mack embarked upon his legendary career as the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics. He began managing the A’s in 1901 at the age of 38 and finally retired in 1950 at the age of 87. During Mack’s 50 years managing in Philadelphia, the A’s record was 3,582 and 3,814, a .484 Winning Percentage. The A’s won nine American League Pennants (1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1929, 1930, and 1931) and five World Series titles (1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, and 1930). Mack’s Winning Percentage can be misleading, as many agree he managed for 18 years too long. In his first 32 seasons in Philadelphia, the A’s went 2,517 and 2,253 with a .527 Winning Percentage. In the final 18 seasons of his career, the A’s went 1,065 and 1,561 with a .406 Winning Percentage. As he got older, Mack was unable to keep pace with the tactical and financial changes in baseball. The financial changes also meant that the A’s were no longer viable in Philadelphia, and by 1955 the team moved to Kansas City. Mack did not know when to walk away from the game. Like a player hanging on for too long, managers also have to know when their skills have declined and when it is time to call it a career.

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Connie Mack wanted to win baseball games and build better men. (United States Library of Congress)

Connie Mack saw the development of baseball through the good times and the bad. From the early rough and tumble years in the late 1800’s to the Black Sox Scandal to the rise of Babe Ruth and the Yankees to integration. Mack saw it all from the dugout. He demanded from his players that they play to the best of their abilities, but he was not overbearing. Mack let his players be who they were, but he wanted them to be smart and make intelligent decisions when they were on the field. Unlike the other hardened men of the time, Mack went beyond the results on the diamond; he wanted his players to be better people. After the 1916 season, Mack created a Code of Conduct for his players.

  • I will always play the game to the best of my ability.
  • I will always play to win, but if I lose, I will not look for an excuse to detract from my opponent’s victory.
  • I will never take an unfair advantage in order to win.
  • I will always abide by the rules of the game—on the diamond as well as in my daily life.
  • I will always conduct myself as a true sportsman—on and off the playing field.
  • I will always strive for the good of the entire team rather than for my own glory.
  • I will never gloat in victory or pity myself in defeat.
  • I will do my utmost to keep myself clean—physically, mentally, and morally.
  • I will always judge a teammate or an opponent as an individual and never on the basis of race or religion.

Mack’s rules came at a time when the Major Leagues excluded African-Americans. While not necessarily pushing for the reintegration of baseball, the Code of Conduct helped change baseball from a game played by rough men to a game that families could enjoy.

Connie Mack’s career has left an indelible mark on baseball. He was ahead of his time with his attitude about race, religion, and playing customs in baseball. He disliked small ball and would rather play for the big inning instead of sacrificing for a single run. The rise of playing for the big inning became more common when home runs became more plentiful. Mack however decided his team had a better chance to win when putting multiple runs in an inning rather than a single run here or there. In the first 35 years of his managerial career, few could argue otherwise.

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Connie Mack is forever immortalized in Cooperstown. (www.phillymag.com)

In 1937, Connie Mack was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame even though he was actively managing. He would conclude his managerial career with the most wins (3,731), losses (3,948), games managed (7,755) for any manager in baseball history, and tied for second for most Pennants (9 with Joe McCarthy). He won 968 more games than John McGraw, who is second on the list for most career wins. Mack managed 2,658 more games than second place Tony LaRussa. If he had retired after the 1932 season, Mack’s .527 Winning Percentage would be higher than that of fellow Hall of Fame managers Tommy Lasorda, Red Schoendienst, Dick Williams, and Casey Stengel among others. If Connie Mack had only know when to walk away.

Understanding Connie Mack’s impact on the game of baseball goes beyond the numbers. He was with baseball during the good times and the bad. His story connects modern baseball to its historical roots. In 1886, 34-year-old Cap Anson was playing his 16th season of professional baseball and 31-year-old Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn was still pitching, just two seasons removed from winning 59 games for the Providence Grays. In 1950, Duke Snider was a fourth year outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Whitey Ford won the American League Rookie of the Year award with the Yankees. Connie Mack was the commonality between those events that took place over nearly a lifetime apart. This week marks the 60th anniversary of his death. Connie Mack saw just about everything there was to see in baseball. By connecting us to the past, let us not forget the baseball lifers in the game today who are important in helping maintain our perspective where the game has come from and where the game is going.

DJ

Monte Irvin: More Than A Ball Player

We lost an important bridge to our collective past last week. Monte Irvin played in the Negro League for the Newark Eagles, in the Major Leagues primarily for the New York Giants and also served in World War II. Irvin, like Dr. King, helped positively transform the society we live in today.  

Debuting at the age of 19 in 1938, Monte Irvin became one of the best players in the Negro Leagues. He spent nine seasons with the Newark Eagles, interrupted by a single season with the Veracruz Azules of the Mexican League in 1942 and military service from 1942 through 1945.  After his discharge from the military, Irvin returned to Newark and continued playing for the Eagles until his contract was purchased by the New York Giants in 1949.

Monte Irvin

Monte Irvin made up for lost time when he was signed by the New York Giants in 1949. (www.cnn.com)

Monte Irvin debuted for the Giants in 1949, when he was already 30 years old.  Despite this late start, Irvin still enjoyed plenty of success over his eight seasons in the Majors.  Irvin hit 99 HR, 443 RBI, .293 BA, .383 OBP, .475 SLG, and .858 OPS.  He finished third in the 1951 National League MVP voting and was elected to the 1952 All Star game.  The true career stat line for Irvin has been lost to history, but spending just over half of his career in the Majors gives everyone an understanding how special of a player Monte Irvin was.

Continuing to make an impact after he finished his playing career, Irvin worked as a scout for the New York Mets for two seasons, 1967 to 1968.  In 1968, Irvin was named an MLB Public Relations Specialist for the Commissioner’s Office for then Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. In his role under the Commissioner, Irvin was the first African-American executive in professional baseball, outside of the Negro Leagues. Irvin’s accomplishments on and off the diamond paved the way for so many other who would follow behind him.  

“Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team,” said Hall of Famer Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles. “We all agreed, in meeting, he was the best qualified by temperament, character, ability, sense of loyalty, morals, age, experiences and physique to represent us as the first black player to enter the white majors since the Walker brothers back in the 1880s. Of course, Branch Rickey lifted Jackie Robinson out of Negro ball and made him the first, and it turned out just fine.”

It was with this belief and understanding of how great a player and person Monte Irvin was that he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Negro League Committee. Irvin was enshrined due to his play in the Negro Leagues. While MLB has not been perfect on recognizing the contributions of Negro League players to the development of the game of baseball, it has attempted to correct past wrongs.

Monte Irvin HoF
Monte Irvin was a Hall of Fame player, but his impact on baseball and society went far beyond the diamond. (www.baseballhall.org)

Respect is something that is earned over a lifetime. Monte Irvin had the respect of his peers and executives while he was still playing for the Newark Eagles and for the New York Giants. This respect carried over after Irvin retired from playing as he was brought back to baseball as a scout by the Mets and quickly hired by the Commissioner’s Office. The ability to be away from the game for nearly a decade, and then return and quickly have an impact speaks volumes about the respect people in baseball had for Irvin, and Irvin’s own ability and power to deliver.  

At the age of 96, Monte Irvin was the oldest living former Negro League player. In the same way we as a nation are losing our direct connection to the past as more and more World War II veterans pass away, so too are we losing our connection to the Negro Leagues. The necessity of the Negro League will always be a sad experience in our nation’s history. While some efforts have been made to correct the wrongs of the era, the unfortunate truth is history cannot be rewritten and we must learn from our mistakes.  The ability for us as a society to stop making the same mistakes and to move forward together depends on individuals such as Monte Irvin. His career was hindered simply due to the color of his skin. Irvin put any animosity he harbored, which would have been justified, aside and worked tirelessly to play the game he loved. He continued this after his playing days were over as he was a trailblazer for African-Americans, and other minorities, as he worked as a scout and an executive. Monte Irvin understood his opportunities and knew he would help lay the groundwork for those following behind him. Every day we are losing the men who played in the Negro Leagues, and with them the stories of those games. While it is sad that this chapter in our collective history ever existed, and that much of it has indeed been lost to history, we must remember how these men and women, working under difficult circumstances, tore down a bastion of institutionalized racism in baseball. The game of baseball has long been the forerunner to social change in America.  Men like Monte Irvin, Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Hank Thompson, and Sam Jethroe helped move the United States towards recognizing that all men are created equal by displaying their talents on the baseball diamond. The passing of Monte Irvin is a loss for baseball and America. His contributions to both will continue to reverberate for decades to come.  

Happy belated Martin Luther King Day. Let us always remember those who have come before us and righted the wrongs of society, and let us continue their work every day.

DJ

Hall of Fame Class of 2016

Congratulations to Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza on their election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Both players are deserving of this, the greatest honor that a baseball player can have bestowed upon them. While the destination was the same, the path to Cooperstown could not have been more different.

Ken Griffey Jr. is the son of three-time All Star, Ken Griffey Sr.  He was drafted first overall in the 1987 MLB Amateur Draft. Griffey reached the Majors on April 3, 1989, less than two seasons removed from playing in high school. Griffey’s swing was beautiful, pure grace, often imitated but never duplicated. His combination of speed and power seemed to be effortless. The smile of Griffey’s face never waned. Ken Griffey Jr. was the face of baseball for a generation.  He was cool, and he brought swagger to the batter’s box. His love for the game made him loved by his fans and respected by his rivals. Ken Griffey Jr. will be the first player selected with the first pick in the Draft and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Griffey was an almost perfect baseball player, and his 99.3% of votes (the highest of all time) means he was almost the perfect candidate to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Seattle Mariners

Ken Griffey Jr. was nearly the perfect baseball player, his spot in Cooperstown is deserved. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Mike Piazza was and is tough. No player has ever made it to Cooperstown without being tough, but Piazza practically wrote the book on being the toughest. Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round (1,390th overall) of the 1988 MLB Amateur Draft. The Dodgers selected Piazza only after Mike’s father asked his childhood friend Tommy Lasorda to draft Mike as a personal favor. Piazza finally made it to the Majors on September 1, 1992. During his career, Piazza displayed his toughness by catching 1,630 games (13,555 innings); there is nothing easy about playing catcher in the Major Leagues. Piazza had power. His swing was muscle-driven and unique yet it could send a baseball into orbit. He was unwilling to back down from anyone. Even when Roger Clemens sawed Piazza’s bat off then threw the barrel of the bat back by him. The whispers about PEDs use have remained that, just whispers. The moment Piazza stepped on a Major League diamond, he proved that he belonged. For me, that goes a long way towards silencing those whispers. Mike Piazza seized the opportunity to play professional baseball through toughness and hard work. He went from being a draft pick the Dodgers took only to fulfill a personal favor to a Baseball Hall of Famer.

Mike Piazza Swing

Mike Piazza’s toughness took him from the 62nd Round to the way to Cooperstown. (www.espn.go.com)

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will welcome two new members in the summer of 2016.  Their paths to Cooperstown could not be more different, but that is what makes baseball so wonderful. A player whom everyone believed in and a player whom no one believed in can both forge careers then deservingly be enshrined among the greatest players to ever play the game.

Congratulations Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza! Thank you for everything you did on the diamond. Welcome to Cooperstown.

DJ