Tagged: Bob Feller

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.

Da Bears
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.

Rose HOF
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.

Dale Murphy
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

D-Day, June 6, 1944

D-Day, June 6, 1944

Operation Overlord.  The push for Berlin was no longer an if, but a when.  When would the Allied Forces reach Berlin and defeat the Third Reich?  In a single day, over 150,000 Allied soldiers either stormed the beaches of Normandy or were dropped behind enemy lines.  More than 5,000 of these soldiers were either killed or wounded before nightfall.  This extraordinary sacrifice was felt across the homelands of the Allied Forces, as so many sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers never made it home again.  Bob Feller, the first professional athlete in the United States to volunteer for military service during World War II, doing so days after Pearl Harbor, put it simply and perfectly, “The heroes didn’t come back”.  The sacrificing of one’s self in order to rescue others from the grasps of evil is true heroism.

The Greatest Generation, so aptly named by Tom Brokaw, fought Nazi Germany and won.  The men and women who served their country in the military, both on and off the battlefield, did so selflessly.  It did not matter who you were.  You could be a young man from tiny Allatoona, Georgia and had only been to three counties in your entire life before leaving for the Army (my maternal grandfather).  You could be a newlywed from Stone Mountain, Georgia who after being told he was not physically fit for the military, moved with his new bride to Mobile, Alabama so he could work as a welder in the shipyards (my paternal grandfather).  You could be a kid from St. Louis, Missouri playing in the Class D Virginia League for the Norfolk Tars, who would go on to win 13 World Series Championships as a player and manager (Yogi Berra).  You could be a four-time All Star pitcher with 107 career wins in only six seasons (Bob Feller).  It did not matter; you gave of yourself for your country.

Heading towards the beaches of Normandy. (www.people.com)

Heading towards the beaches of Normandy. (www.people.com)

D-Day saw plenty of scared young men going into battle, many for the first time.  There was, nor is, any shame in their fear, something is probably wrong if they were not scared.  If ever there was a time for fear it was during the storming of the beaches in Normandy.  The Atlantic Wall was formidable, and the Nazi’s hoped it would repel any attempted invasion, which it failed to do.  However, despite their fears they knew they had a job that had to be done, and they did it.  These sentiments resonated from the top of the Allied Forces:

“This operation is not being planned with any alternatives.  This operation is planned as a victory, and that’s the way it’s going to be.  We’re going down there, and we’re throwing everything we have into it, and we’re going to make it a success.”

~General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Every man who risked, or gave, his life on and around the beaches of Normandy put their hopes and dreams aside to be a part of something greater than themselves.  All of them had a different story that made them the man they had become prior to June 6, 1944.  Each and every one of them would have their own story from that day.  Thousands and thousands of stories from that single day.  Among the thousands of young men were Larry “Yogi” Berra and Leon Day.  Both men would go on to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but on this day they were just men with a mission to complete.  Berra was aboard a LST (Landing Ship, Tank) and later a rocket-launching boat, during the landing.  Day was landing on Utah Beach with an Army amphibious unit.  Both men did their jobs and helped gain a foothold for the Allies in Normandy.  Both their heroism was normal on June 6, 1944, a day filled with extraordinary heroism.

Soldiers did not want to stay on the beaches for long, they needed to reach cover as quickly as possible. (www.blogs.va.gov)

Soldiers did not want to stay on the beaches for long, they needed to reach cover as quickly as possible. (www.blogs.va.gov)

Berra and Day were not the only baseball players at Normandy that day.  Many soldiers that day would return home after the end of World War II to play on a diamond, from the Major Leagues down to local sandlots.  These soldiers were not treated any differently than the other soldiers.  Everyone was relying on one another to make it into France safely.  It is for that reason, that it does not seem proper to fully recount the actions of these soldiers, who also happen to be baseball players, because it could in some way suggest that the actions and sacrifices of the other soldiers on D-Day, and beyond, are somehow less important.

D-Day was the overwhelming response needed to help end the suffering and killing at the hands of the Nazis.  There are no words to adequately thank those brave men who stormed the beaches or were dropped behind enemy lines in Normandy 71 years ago today.  We are all forever indebted to them for the actions and their sacrifice.  To those who did return home, regardless if you returned home to an office, factory, or baseball diamond, we will never be able to properly express our gratitude.  To those who did not return home, your sacrifice was not in vain, and we seek to honor your sacrifice every day as best we can, knowing that it will never be enough.

D