Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reggie Jackson is right, there should be two Halls

I actually agree with Reggie Jackson about something.

Reggie and Ian O’Connor of ESPN-New York where having an otherwise nonsensical conversation about whether Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte would have a clear path to Cooperstown if he would beat Cliff Lee in the ALCS game that night, which, of course, he did not.

O’Connor’s a Jeter-obsessed Yankee hack of the highest order, and it’s laughable that Pettitte would be in the Hall of Fame with his 3.88 career ERA, steroid confession, a mere three All-Star Game appearances and complete lack of awards.
And this goofy discussion included this line:

“But Jackson also believes there should be a second Hall of Fame for the real Hall of Famers. In other words, he believes there are too many ballplayers enshrined in Cooperstown, men who were too mortal on the playing field to be sculpted into bronze baseball gods.”

The problem is, Yankee hacks think all of their players – at least those deemed “True Yankees” -- are fit to be enshrined, even Derek F. Jeter! And because some of these hacks actually hang around long enough to get BBWAA ballots, a number of unworthy players have found themselves with plaques.

Reggie’s right. There should be two parts to the Hall of Fame. One would be for the Seavers, Aarons, Robinsons and the rest of the greatest players. The other would be for Yankees who are otherwise undeserving, but were enshrined anyway.

Reggie, the career leader in strikeouts, his underwhelming .262 batting average, and his abuse of a fan’s glorious Hall of Fame autograph ball, would be in the latter.

Alas, he’s hardly alone. When the Hall curators decide that they are too busy planning the Mike Piazza exhibit and need me to help sort out this new wing, here’s who I’d start ripping off the wall:

Phil Rizzuto: Let’s get this one out of the way. Rizzutto has 38 career home runs, just 1,588 career hits and a weak .272 average. Plus he’s got just 149 career steals. So he wasn’t fast, couldn’t hit for power and couldn’t hit for average. That must be why it took 38 years after his career ended before the Yankee hype machine could convince enough people on the Veterans Committee that Rizzuto was something more than a just an average player on a stacked team.

Joe Gordon: Gordon’s stats are even more pedestrian than Rizzuto’s. He retired in 1950, but he must have done something to make the numbers more convincing over the next 59 years to get him elected in 2009. That’s impressive, considering he died in 1978. And his plaque is among the most confusing. Sometimes the Hall lists the player’s nickname after his formal name, like “The Franchise” following George Thomas Seaver. But this one reads Joseph Lowell Gordon, “Joe,” “Flash.” Did the Hall really need to add “Joe” after a guy named Joseph?

Tony Lazzeri: Lazzeri played between 1926 and 1939. He was added to the Hall in 1991. If you have to wait 60 years before you think someone is worthy, he’s probably not worthy.

Earle Combs: A centerfielder, Combs is another guy the Vets snuck in 30 years after he stopped playing. He played only 11 years – just one over the minimum to be considered – because he was injured crashing into a wall in 1934 and into a teammate in 1935. Guess that’s good news for Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran.

Red Ruffing: Ruffing’s an unusual Yankee enshrinement because it took only 20 years for him to be elected. About the best you can say about his 3.80 ERA is that it’s slightly better than Andy Pettitte’s.

Rich Gossage: If Gossage was so good, then why did he bounce around to eight other teams? Oh, and so you wouldn’t be confused, the Hall noted that this guy named Richard also went by “Rich.”

Bill Dickey: The Yankees retire everyone’s number. I’m sure Boone Logan’s already planning his number retirement ceremony. But it took so long for the team to retire Dickey’s No. 8 that they had already given it away to Yogi Berra, who went on to glory as a Met.

Waite Hoyt: Typical Yankee induction, meaning that it took 32 years for mystique and aura to convince enough Veterans Committee that his .359 ERA and lackluster .565 winning percentage were something worthy of keeping company with Walter Johnson and Cy Young.

Herb Pennock: Pennock has 241 wins, which at least is one more than Andy Pettitte. And his 3.59 ERA is the same as Waite Hoyt’s. Guess that makes him your typical undeserving Yankee.

Lefty Gomez: Amazingly, it took only until only recently for the Hall of Fame to take action against a Veterans Committee that seemingly never met a Yankee it didn’t like. Gomez doesn’t even have 200 wins, and was slipped into the Hall after 29 years.

Whitey Ford: Like Pettitte, Ford’s a confessed cheater. From his Wikipedia entry – and you know Wikipedia is never inaccurate: “After his career ended, Ford admitted to occasionally cheating by doctoring baseballs in various ways, such as the "mudball," which could only be used at home in Yankee Stadium: Yankee groundskeepers would wet down an area near the catcher's box where Yankee catcher Elston Howard was positioned; pretending to lose balance on a pitch while in his crouch and landing on his right hand (with the ball in it), Howard would coat one side of the ball with mud. Ford would sometimes use the diamond in his wedding ring to gouge the ball, but he was eventually caught by an umpire and warned to stop; Howard then sharpened a buckle on his shinguard and used it to scuff the ball. Ford admitted in several interviews to doctoring the ball in the 1962 All Star Game at Candlestick Park to strike out Willie Mays.”

Mickey Mantle: Look, Mantle and Ford were known to be inseparable. If Ford was a confessed cheater, Mantle was, at best, an aider and abettor. Perhaps, when sober, Mick was the mastermind behind all the cheating. Mantle took those dark, dark secrets to the grave, so we'll never know for sure. I'll just assume the worst.

I’ll concede that Lou Gehrig was a decent enough player, and Babe Ruth gets in, no doubt on the strength of his fine seasons with the Red Sox and Braves. Manages McCarthy and Huggins are in because, well, you have to let an occasional manager in or they all get a little cranky. DiMaggio had a nice little hit streak that he parlayed into a lot of positive pub.

Casey Stengel was probably furious that there’s a Yankee cap on his Hall plaque cap instead of his properly glorious Mets cap. You can’t see Yogi Berra’s cap logo, so I’m assuming it’s the properly interlocking orange NY.

So that leaves, what, five legitimate Yankees in the Hall? At least Reggie – and possibly Pettitte and Jeter – will have plenty of company in their new wing.


Monday, October 04, 2010

The booing of Derek Jeter

You have to realize that since my time covering Mickey Weston, I don’t boo athletes.
Except for two, that is.

Chipper Jones has simply inflicted too much damage on the Mets over the years to go without some sort of recognition, and we can’t exactly cheer him. But Chipper’s been broken down for the past several seasons, and it been a decade since he’s had Met blood on his hands.

The other, of course, is Derek F. Jeter.

Usually this booing occurs in the relative quite of my home. But Will and I had the rare opportunity to voice our displeasure to Jeter in person on Frank Thomas Day, and this is the final report of that adventurous afternoon.

Chipper earned his boos for doing his job, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jeter, however, is an on-going insult. He’s not just your basic Yankee, Jeter is Mr. Yankee, and truly is reflective of everything that is wrong with the franchise in the Bronx. Over-hyped, over-paid, over-exposed, over-credited and over-privileged.

We all know that the best shortstop on the Yankees is playing third base because it would be unthinkable to ask the Captain to change positions, despite the very obvious fact that Jeter has the range of a fire hydrant.

Yet there are scribes like Ian O’Connor who give Jeter a complete pass. I can only assume O’Connor Tweeted this with a straight face: “Despite all the sabermetrics, there is a hell of a value in Jeter's ability to turn every ball hit right at him into an out. #yankees”

I pointed out to the brilliant folks at the Crane Pool Forum that a Major League shortstop is supposed to be able to turn every ball hit right to him into an out. Several posters noted that, in fact, minor-league shortstops also are expected to field the ones hit right at them.

Upon further thought, I realized that all players at every level are expected to turn routine plays, even people on my champion coed softball team.

Yet, Jeter has apologists like ESPN’s Joe Morgan, who watch him turn a routine six-bouncer into an out, and proclaim nonsense like “Jeter’s so good, he makes that play look routine.”

Witness the reaction to Jeter’s recent incident of shame against the Rays. A pitch came inside, Jeter leaned back and the ball hit the bat, obvious to all. That would be called a strike on most batters. Yet Jeter started carrying on as if he had not only been hit, but that the ball pounded his hand into hamburger. He was awarded first base, and the next batter hit a home run.

Replays indicated that Jeter is better actor than a shortstop. Exposed as a liar and cheat, Jeter told reporters after the game that it’s his job to get on base any way possible. Funny, but I don’t remember alleged Yankee greats like Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mattingly flopping around and calling for the trainer when they wanted to get on first base. Usually they hit the ball.

But the fawning New York media again gave Jeter a pass, citing his “intangibles.” Imagine how different the reaction would have been had the faker been Carlos Beltran.

Yes, Jeter has five rings. He’s also surrounded in the lineup by at least five All-Stars. Let’s see him take is legendary intangibles to Pittsburgh and take the lowly Pirates to the World Series. That will never happen.

So all of this pent-up angst had built up by the time Jeter stepped into the box against Sox starter Gavin Floyd in the first inning.


It was a long, heartfelt display that seemed to take the other people in the section by surprise. Frankly, I expected more people to join in. Sox fans were more interested in voicing displeasure toward Nick Swisher, a former under-achieving South Sider now over-achieving with the Yanks.

Jeter meekly popped out the right. This was followed by cheers, followed by Cousin Tim’s legendary “O-ver RA-ted, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap” taunt, which generated a far-greater response at Shea in 2008.

This scenario was repeated in the third and fifth innings, and involved Jeter strikeouts. They were swinging strikeouts, of course, since no umpire is bold enough to call Derek Jeter out on strikes.

We were started to get some cranky looks from a group sitting to our right, all clad in ugly Yankee T-shirts. I did not fear them because, like in a libel case, truth is the best defense and deep down all Yankee fans must know that the emperor isn’t wearing any pinstripes.

I actually missed Jeter being announced in the eighth inning, and the delayed booing at Will’s prompting resulted in Jeter walking, and then advancing to second on a wild pitch.
The scoreboard flashed this international call for mass booing.

Luckily we were afforded one last chance in the top of the ninth, when Derek the Menace strode to the plate with two out.

I let loose with the much-deserved booooooo when the Yankee fans to the right hatched an obviously pre-meditated defense. They were attempting to drown out my boo with cheers. It was six on one.

I would not, could not lose this battle.

I produced a deep, dark, loud boooooooooooooo that arose from the depths of my blue-and-orange soul. It was cathartic. Every injustice endured at the hands of Yankee fans and their media fawners seemed to be set loose, released from my heart and through my cupped hands.

Everything from the McKenna Junior High taunts of 1977 and 1978 through the bat-tossing, Timo-jogging fiasco that was the 2000 Subway series and the Castillo pop drop of '09 had broken loose.

This was, without a doubt, the longest, most resonating booooo I've ever produced. Philadelphia fans strive to create a booo this loud and long. And yet it was purifying all at the same time.

The weak cheers of the T-shirted gang of six were no match for my disgust and suffering. This boo rose from our perch in the upper deck to hover over U.S. Cellular Field like a fog.

This was a boo intended to envelope Jeter in self-awareness and shame. I was expecting him to return to the Yankee bench, plop down – and see his teammates all slide away, disgusted.

I started to feel pity for Jeter. Deep down, he knows the truth. Hype doesn't outlast history.

I’m confident that all 10,000 of the Frank Thomas bobbleheads handed out that day nodded in agreement.

I easily outlasted the Yankee posers. Cleansed of decades of Yankee hurt, I could have continued into extra innings.