Saturday, January 31, 2009

More Updike

If you've read and enjoyed John Updike's fantastic essay "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," you have to read this analysis by David Margolick at Huffington Post. It's almost as worth savoring as Updike's essay.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

RIP: John Updike

John Updike, the great American writer, died today at age 76.

Why mention this on a baseball blog? If you've ever bought an anthology of baseball writing, you probably know why: “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” the marvelous essay Updike wrote in 1960 originally for The New Yorker magazine.

The essay describes the last game in Ted Williams's career, a day that was “overcast, chill, and uninspirational” but that nevertheless produced one of baseball’s most remarkable moments: the home run hit by Williams, aka “The Kid,” in his last major league at bat. Updike viewed the action from a box seat with the eyes of a loving fan, not as a cynical sportswriter sitting in press row. The result is a much-recommended piece full of beautiful prose and surprising turns.

You can read the article in its entirety here at Baseball-Almanac.

Goodbye, John Updike.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Farewell, Jeff Kent

Jeff Kent is announcing his retirement tomorrow after 17 years in the big leagues. Last June, I assessed his Hall of Fame credentials. I predicted that eventually he'd get in to the Hall in the class of 2024, but that was just a guess without knowing when he'd retire. Now that he's retiring and will be eligible for the Hall in 2015, I'm going to change my prediction to say that he'll be enshrined in 2020.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Don Larsen's perfect game re-broadcast

I haven't written anything about the MLB Network's broadcast of Don Larsen's perfect game on New Year's Day because, unfortunately, I have Dish Network and it doesn't carry the network. Hopefully they'll work that out soon enough. But in the meantime, I wanted to direct you to an LA Times story about Vin Scully's memories of that game. Scully, only 28 at the time, called the second half of the game. Check it out.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Congrats to Rice and Henderson

Jim Rice and Rickey Henderson were just elected to the Hall of Fame, so they deserve congratulations. Here are some random thoughts:

- It's a travesty that Henderson received not quite 95% of the vote. If he's not a guaranteed unanimous selection, then no one is. Those 5% of voters who didn't include Henderson should be ashamed of themselves.

- Rice was a very good player, even great for a couple of seasons. But his induction opens the floodgates for outfielders/DHs with solid but flawed credentials. I mean, how can you say yes to Rice (.298 BA, .352 OBP, .502 SLG, 128 OPS+, 382 HR) but no to these guys:

* Dale Murphy (121 OPS+, 398 HR)
* Andre Dawson (119 OPS+, 438 HR)
* Dave Parker (121 OPS+, 339 HR)
* Fred Lynn (129 OPS+, 306 HR)
* Albert Belle (143 OPS+, 381 HR)
* Dick Allen (156 OPS+, 351 HR)
* Reggie Smith (137 OPS+, 314 HR)

And when these guys come up for the honor, how can you say no:

* Andres Galarraga (118 OPS+, 399 HR)
* Ellis Burks (126 OPS+, 352 HR)
* Fred McGriff (134 OPS+, 493 HR)
* Juan Gonzalez (132 OPS+, 434 HR)

Will they all make it? No, but they all have a solid case now that that Rice is in. Of course, Hall voting is totally inconsistent and unpredictable. For borderline cases like these, it usually requires some passionate advocates in the media to beat the drums for them. Rice has the powerful Boston media behind him, so that really helped. These other guys don't seem to have the advocacy. Check out Joe Posnanski's post about Dale Murphy for his take.

- Bert Blyleven and Tommy John got screwed again this year. Blyleven still has a few years left on the writers' ballot, but now it's up to the Veterans Committee to take up John's cause. Talk about inconsistent voting patterns. If they follow their usual brilliant timing, they'll wait until after John is dead before realizing he should be inducted.

- Mark McGwire. When he retired, he was talked about as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Now he struggles to get 25% of the vote. I wonder what he has to do to rehabilitate his image. Maybe if he admits taking steroids, explains why, and starts campaigning against steroid use, that might do it. But so far, he seems content to keep quiet and let the cloud hang above him. Maybe the Hall of Fame just doesn't mean much to him, which is fine by me. But it is interesting to watch.

- Tim Raines. I loved watching him play and I hope he makes the Hall someday. He was a great player and deserves it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hall of Fame, Part 2: Blyleven

Reader Steven makes some good points about the Hall of Fame in his comment about my last post on Rickey Henderson, which is totally worth reading.

Choosing to make the case for Henderson in the Hall of Fame wasn't exactly a controversial stand. Steven is right that Henderson should be a unanimous selection, but I'm sure some sportswriters -- who (a) stupidly don't believe a player should be inducted on his first try, and/or (b) were slighted or offended by Henderson sometime during his career -- will conspire to keep Henderson from achieving the magical 100% mark. Bill James once said that you could split Henderson in half and each half would be worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame.

I want to tackle a more controversial subject: Bert Blyleven. The hard-core baseball historian community really wants him to finally get the recognition he deserves. Joe Posnanski has a very good explanation of why Blyleven belongs, and I can't argue with any of it. Based on the numbers, Blyleven certainly belongs. The guy was excellent. I will add that his curveball is routinely named as one of the best of all time.

Here's the opposite argument. Blyleven played when I was growing up a baseball fan, and I can't recall anyone ever touting him as a future Hall of Famer when he was toiling for the Indians and Twins. Was he ever truly great? And do non-greats belong?

Lots of people say no. And I might have said no, too, at least before I really took a look at the people in the Hall of Fame. When lots of people think of the Hall of Fame, they think of the inner circle: Mays, Mantle, Ruth, DiMaggio, and so on. But that's not the standard for the Hall. The standard is more like Gabby Hartnett and Dazzy Vance, Duke Snider and Al Kaline. Players who excelled at their positions for many years. To believe in the first standard would mean the Hall would have about 30 members. It actually has over 280.

Does Bert Blyleven belong among those 250+ players? Of course he does.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Hall of Fame ballot: Rickey Henderson

The Hall of Fame will announce its new inductees, if any, on Jan. 12. One of the best evaluations of the players on the ballot comes from superblogger Joe Posnanski, and I suggest you check out his HOF post.

As for me, I'm going to take a few moments to talk about the top players on the ballot. Today we'll focus on the sure-thing lock for the Hall, Rickey Henderson.

Henderson combined power, speed, strike zone judgment, and high-average hitting like no player in history, easily earning him the title of greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history. In his prime during the 1980s, he could steal 80 to 100 bases, smack 10 to 20 homers, score 100+ runs, and draw enough walks to give him an on-base percentage over .400. He’s one of the few lead-off hitters to win an MVP Award, and he holds career records for both runs and steals.

He was a great player, a first-ballot Hall of Famer who probably deserves even more accolades than he gets. But he was almost equally famous for me-first escapades such as playing cards in the clubhouse while his Mets teammates lost in extra innings during the playoffs, or holding out in spring training for a bigger salary with the A's.

So how do we factor in that extra stuff in our evaluation of him as a player? In the case of an unparalleled talent like Henderson, we don’t. Sure, he made good copy for sportswriters, and he created a few headaches for management. But his antics never seemed to distract his teams from winning. And win they did. He played in the post-season eight times and won two World Series. Even with the baggage, you’d be crazy not to want Henderson on your team.

I'm very eager to hear his Hall of Fame induction speech.