Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ford to Jeter: Drop Dead

Well, not quite.

But that famous Daily News headline is on display at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and Capt. Hype was properly dismissed in a new exhibit.

The museum here in Grand Rapids does a phenomenal job combining my two areas of interest. For the second time in the past couple years, the presidential museum has hosted an exhibit about baseball.

Created in conjunction with the George Herbert Walker Bush Museum, “Born to Play Ball” is intended to inspire debate.

The exhibit lists what someone has determined to be the top 50 players – five for each position, plus right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Then, there is a secondary list called “Best of the Rest,” which is kind of cheating.

Naturally there are some problems here. Some of the lists didn’t even include Mets. Each section had a little bio plaque and an artifact for each player – some of which were amazingly awesome. There also were displays for the Negro Leagues and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

But the coolest thing to me was a collection of signed baseballs – Richard Nixon and every president since, most of the first ladies, John McCain and Barack Obama and a host of world leaders. That’s something you just never see.

Using a coupon from the West Michigan Whitecaps program, I spent a lunch hour first paying respects to President Ford, then enjoying the exhibit. It’s here until January, which means there is time to make some, um, corrections.

OK, let’s get to the players:

Catchers: Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Roy Campanella and Ivan Rodriguez. Best of rest: Carlton Fisk, Mickey Cochrane.

Piazza and Berra are proud Mets, Campanella is kind of a pre-Met, at least according to our team owners and new ballpark. Bench swiped Jerry Koosman’s Rookie of the Year Award, but we like him anyway. Rodriguez is only a reluctant Yankee.

Yogi’s artifact, by the way, was a signed harmonica box. Phil Linz would be so proud.

Shortstop: Honus Wagner, Alex Rodriguez, Ernie Banks, Cal Ripken Jr. Robin Yount. Best of rest: Ozzie Smith and Arky Vaughn.

Yount is a clear Hall-of-Famer, but among the five best shortstops of all-time? And where’s Jose Reyes and Bud Harrelson? On the bright side, Derek F. Jeter is nowhere to be found, so I give them credit for recognizing the fraud that is the Jeter Hero Cult. But don't let Tom Verducci find out about this, or there will be a spleen-venting the likes of which we have never seen!

Left field: Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski. Best of rest: Joe Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Willie Stargell

Can’t argue with Teddy Ballgame or Stan the Man. Yaz is a good Long Islander. I was surprised to see Rose, given that he’s usually banned from such things. Then I saw Bonds, and I refused to read his bio plaque because all suspect that he doesn’t belong and that space can do to a more worthy player, like Cleon Jones or Endy Chavez.

Then things got even more problematic.

Right-handed pitcher: Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens. Best of the rest: Christy Mathewson, Tom Seaver , Bob Gibson

Ryan’s over-rated, but he was a Met so we cut him some slack. But to see Bat-chucker there in the top five and Tom Seaver delegated to also-ran status is just a travesty. Naturally, I got all weepy reading the Seaver bio plaque and had no interest in the Clemens puffery.

Left-handed pitcher: Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell, Steve Carlton. Best of the rest: Whitey Ford, Randy Johnson

Spahnnie’s a former Met. Koufax has enough Mets connections that he qualifies.

Right-fielders: Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente. Best of the rest: Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Paul Waner

It’s nice to see Mel Ott get the love, as he is usually overlooked, usually for a punk like Reggie Jackson. Clemente’s vest jersey was on display and just commands respect.

Third base: Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, George Brett, Pie Traynor Best of the rest: Ken Boyer, Wade Boggs, Ron Santo

OK, clearly David Wright, Edgardo Alfonzo and Wayne Garrett should be here. But check out the “Best of the Rest.” Neither Boyer nor Santo have been in enshrined in Cooperstown. So the sixth- and eighth-best third-basemen of all-time aren’t worthy? The museum gets it right, the baseball writers who vote on the Hall of Fame did not.

Second base: Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Joe Morgan, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Alomar. Best of the Rest: Ryne Sandberg, Nap Lajoie, Rod Carew, Bill Mazeroski

Alomar’s a former Met, Hornsby’s a former Mets coach and our new stadium is a Robinson tribute, so he counts.

But wait! Is that Joe Morgan the ESPN broadcaster? Joe played the game? You’d think he’d mention that once or twice or a hundred times during each edition of Sunday Night Baseball.

Centerfield: Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ken Griffey Jr. Best of the Rest: Tris Speaker

Willie obviously waves the Mets flag here. I’m stunned that they list only one player in the “Best of the Rest.” Former Met Duke Snider doesn’t even merit a mention?

First base: Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Eddie Murray, Harmon Killebrew and Willie McCovey. Best of the rest: Mark McGwire, Johnny Mize

Murray’s our Met here, but where in the heck is Keith Hernandez? It’s another glaring and stunning omission.

Now, I don’t hold McGwire in the same contempt that I do Bonds and Clemens, so I started reading his bio. And I was stunned to see a reference to him performing under suspicion of steroid use.

I thought, “They’re gonna out McGwire, yet let not call Bonds and Bat-chucker on the carpet for laundry list of alleged sins?”

So I scurried back over to the pitchers’ section and scanned the Clemens bio. Sure enough, there was a big note at the bottom saying that the exhibit was put together just after the Mitchell report had become public, and that Clemens was implicated.

Then I walked over to Bonds, and, again, a large portion of his bio covered the cloud of ‘roids suspicion.

Walking away, I was pretty impressed. While the Mets didn’t quite get as much love as they deserve, there was no Jeter to be found, and Bat-chucker was held accountable for his alleged cheating.

Then I went down to the museum store, which is usually well-stocked with cool things. There was a nice assortment of baseball books and ties and some Hall of Fame postcards.

Then I saw those Uno decks with the boxes in the shape of team jerseys. Staring right at me was the white Mets jersey version and the black jersey version.

And get this – the Mets were the only team represented! Do you know how long I’ve been looking for one of these for the basement baseball shrine?

Now I have no idea why they would only have Mets versions. Sometimes it’s best not to ask questions, at least not until finishing the “Yes-yes!” dance.

So let’s review: Piazza praised, Jeter denied, Clemens dissed, president-signed baseballs displayed and long-sought souvenir needs fulfilled.

It was a good day.


G-Fafif said...

Love for Mel Ott should be universal, indeed, but find a little for Ken Boyer, leading your New York Mets in RBI in the not-last place year of 1966 with a gaudy 61. In '67 he brought us J.C. Martin in a trade and without J.C. Martin's wrist, who knows where we'd be? (Also included in that deal, going to the White Sox, Sandy Alomar Sr.)

Anonymous said...

I'd love to talk to the Mets Guy in Michigan--I was the one who curated the baseball exhibit at the Ford Museum.

Anyway you can give me contact information?

Mets Guy in Michigan said...


And nice job on the exhibit! A tremendous work, well-enjoyed.