Tagged: Tony Gwynn

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.

GDG-18.jpg
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?

Bob-Feller-in-the-Navy_zps51ec0e24
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

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Skip and Pete

The Professor is gone.  Pete Van Wieren recently passed away after a long battle with cancer.  I love baseball, and the death of Tony Gwynn was sad for everyone associated with baseball in any manner.  However, the death of Pete Van Wieren hit home for me and made me genuinely sad.  Just as Braves fans were celebrating the inductions of Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, they were hit with the news of Van Wieren’s passing.  Each one connects back to the run of 14 straight division titles for the Braves.  As a kid growing up in suburban Atlanta they were all a part of my childhood. 

Listening to Cox cheer on the players or get in the face of an umpire to protect one of his players.  Watching Maddux and Glavine pick apart opposing batters, often getting borderline calls which other pitchers with less impressive resumes would not get.  Through it all there were Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren calling the games.  These men were the voices of my obsession with baseball when I was growing up.  The nasally voice of Caray with his one liners, countered perfectly with the precise information of Van Wieren.  They were amazing on their own, but together they were golden. 

Pete Van Wieren (www.grhof.com)

Pete Van Wieren (www.grhof.com)

 

I have no doubt that both Skip and Pete had their faults but to a boy so in love with baseball and rooting hard for the Braves every night, they were saints.  Every team has their own voices. Some even share these voices with the rest of baseball.  The Dodgers share Vin Scully, the Tigers shared Ernie Harwell, the Cardinals shared Jack Buck, the White Sox share Hawk Harrelson, and the list goes on.  However, Skip and Pete always seemed to not garner the same national recognition as the others, despite the Braves being on television nationally nearly every night thanks to owner Ted Turner and TBS.  I have personally met die hard Braves fans from Rochester, New York (Van Wieren’s hometown), Billings, Montana, and other cities which should be far outside the reach of the Braves.  In some way this has made me love Skip and Pete even more, they were the Braves treasure to enjoy.  We did not have to share them with the rest of baseball, they were ours. 

Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS is the proof that Skip and Pete were ours.  The call by the national broadcasters is as foreign to me as speaking Russian.  However listening to Skip and Pete call the game continues to give me Goosebumps.  Skip talking about “alotta room in right center” and Sid Bream’s mad dash home from second on Francisco Cabrera’s single to left field and Barry Bonds’ throw being too late.  I had just turned six when that play happened but I can remember jumping up and down then and when Marquis Grissom caught the final out of the 1995 World Series.  These calls by Skip and Pete will forever be the sound track of my childhood.   

Skip Caray (twonateshow.wordpress.com)

Skip Caray (twonateshow.wordpress.com)

Every broadcast for the Braves with Skip and Pete began the exact same way.  The camera would come on in the broadcast booth and Skip would say “Hello everybody”.  It always made you feel like he was talking to you and your family.  In the same way in which Red Barber, Jon Miller, and Tim McCarver in my mind have a full name because they are broadcasters, Skip and Pete only have one name each because they are family.  They were not working, they were simply telling you what was happening in their opinion, often times with a pro-Braves slant because they too were cheering for the Braves.  Most people want a neutral announcer, not me, I want someone who will celebrate an important win or be angry when an umpire blows a call or will laugh when a player does something funny.  I want to watch the game with family and friends and this is exactly what Skip and Pete gave you and me every night. 

Skip carried on the family business from his father Harry Caray, while he could be just as entertaining as his father, he could also be serious in his own manner.  This has passed on to his own son Chip Caray, who broadcast with the Cubs for a while but has found a home with the Braves now.  Chip is his own man but you can definitely tell there is Carey blood in him. 

Pete sought to change his family name, as chronicled in his autobiography Of Mikes and Men.  His father abandoned him and his mother when he was young, so he sought to reclaim the dignity of the Van Wieren name.  I view Vin Scully as a grandfather figure, Harry Caray as the fun uncle, Bob Uecker as the crazy cousin, Skip as the wisecracking older brother, and Pete as the smart friend who never ceases to amaze you with his vast knowledge of the game and his humility.  You will be missed by me and everyone who ever heard you call a game, and you played such an important role in my life and the lives of thousands of others who you never met.  Job well done Pete and thank you.

D

Tony Gwynn- Gone Too Soon

Arguably the best hitter of the last 30 years has left us far too soon.  Tony Gwynn passed away at 54 from cancer.  For 20 seasons, Tony Gwynn put on a clinic for what it meant to be a professional hitter.  He always had the ear-to-ear smile that many, including myself, fell in love with from the first time you saw him play.  Gwynn hit .289 in 1982, after he was called up from AAA in July.  This was the only season in which he would bat below .300 in his 20 year career.  A career .338 hitter, Gwynn won the National League Batting Title eight times.  He flirted with .400 in 1994, when he finished the strike shortened season with a .394 average.  Gwynn collected 200 or more hits five times.  It would have been seven if not for the 1994 players strike.  He has 165 hits through 110 games in 1994 and finished the shortened 1995 season with 197 hits in 135 games.  There could have been more if not for injuries which reduced his playing time during his 30’s.

Mr. Padre at work (http://thunderbird37.com/)

Mr. Padre at work (http://thunderbird37.com/)

What Gwynn lacked in power he made up with always being on base.  He hit 135 career home runs, topping out at 17 in 1997.  He walked 790 times against 434 strike outs in his career.  His career 1.82 walks per strike out is unimaginable today.  In 1987, Gwynn struck out a career high 82 times; both Upton brothers, BJ and Justin, of the Atlanta Braves have already surpassed this make this season.  This “high number of strike outs” for Gwynn was an aberration, he would not strike out more than 59 times in any other season in his career.  Despite his “high” strike out total, the 1987 season was not a down year for Gwynn, he still hit .370.  during his career, Gwynn won seven Silver Slugger Awards, five Gold Gloves, elected to 15 All Star games, was the recipient of the 1995 Branch Rickey Award (in recognition for his exceptional community service), the 1998 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (awarded to the player who best exhibits the character of Lou Gehrig both on and off the field), the 1999 Roberto Clemente Award (player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual’s contribution to his team), and was elected by the BBWAA to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, with the seventh highest vote total ever (97.61%) in his first year of eligibility.

Captain Video at his finest. (latimesblogs.latimes.com)

Captain Video at his finest.
(latimesblogs.latimes.com)

Michael Young, who holds the record for most hits for the Texas Rangers, reacted to the sudden and sad news of Tony Gwynn’s death simply, “Ted Williams gets to talk hitting again.”  This sums up the relationship between Williams and Gwynn perfectly.  Listening to both men discuss their approach to and the science of hitting are both legendary and a fascinating listen.  Both possessed the skills which went well beyond simply see the ball, hit the ball.  They were students of the game who worked hard at their craft.  The 1999 All Star Game at Fenway Park was a showcase for Ted Williams, and through the entire memorable evening Tony Gwynn was his trusty sidekick.  When the rest of the All Stars crowded around the golf cart Williams rode around Fenway in, the camera seemed to always have both Williams and Gwynn in the frame together.  The ceremonial first pitch left these two Hall of Fame hitters and friends in front of the pitcher’s mound together and alone.  When Ted Williams asked “where’s he at?” referring to the catcher, Gwynn pointed and showed his friend and mentor the way while flashing his famous boyish smile.

Forever a San Diego man, Tony Gwynn returned to his alma mater San Diego State in 2002 as a volunteer coach and in 2003 as the Head Baseball Coach for the Aztecs.  Gwynn remained the Head Coach of the Aztecs until his death.  Even when his playing career was over, Gwynn was not through with baseball.  Under Gwynn the Aztecs won one regular season Mountain West title, two Mountain West Tournament Championships, and made three appearances in the NCAA Tournament.  The transition from playing to coaching is often difficult for the greats, but Gwynn seemed to thrive on the challenge and was building a successful program.  Unfortunately we will never see what he could have built with more seasons as a Head Coach either at San Diego State or even with the Padres.

Gwynn with his friend and mentor Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game. (www.nytimes.com)

Gwynn with his friend and mentor Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game. (www.nytimes.com)

Tony Gwynn lived a full baseball life.  He was and always will be Mr. Padre and Captain Video.  Despite the hours of hard work looking to get every last once of talent out of his body, Gwynn never stopped smiling.  That smile we all fell in love with, the smile that exuded the boyish pleasure Gwynn got from playing the game.  That smile is gone too soon due to cancer.  Cancer which Gwynn himself admits was caused by decades of using chewing tobacco, usually more than a can a day.  All the smiles and laughter that made Tony Gwynn also had a protruding lip stuffed with dip.

Gone too soon.  Thank you Tony Gwynn for reminding us all that you can be a contact hitter, trying to go through the 5.5 hole, one of the true legends in the history of the game all without the power to hit 500 foot home runs which became so common place during his career.  Tony Gwynn was a great hitter, a great all around baseball player, but he was an even better person.  Mr. Padre will be missed in San Diego and anywhere people play baseball.

D