Cleaning out Super Bowl XLIX notebook

From: ESPN Boston

Super Bowl 49 logo

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called receiver Julian Edelman “one of the toughest players I’ve ever had a chance to coach.” Added receiver Danny Amendola, “He’s the toughest player I’ve ever played with; a warrior.” Receiver Brandon LaFell said of Edelman, “He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever been around, right next to Steve Smith.”

Belichick was pretty witty after the game when asked if he’s ever seen a catch like the 33-yarder that Jermaine Kearse made on his back. “Yeah,” he responded. “I’ve seen two of them.” Of course, he was referring to David Tyree’s on-his-helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII.

Defensive end Chandler Jones‘ initial reaction to Malcolm Butler‘s interception? “I immediately started crying right there on the field,” he said.

The Patriots are the first team in Super Bowl history to trail by 10-plus points during the second half and win the game. Teams trailing by 10 or more points entering the fourth quarter had been 0-29 in Super Bowl play.

What was Belichick doing the morning of the game? Still watching film of the Seahawks, of course. Specifically, he said he was watching Seattle’s 27-24 win over the Buccaneers from last season. The Seahawks had trailed 21-0 in that game before roaring back. This is another reminder to the level of detail that coaches take when preparing for a game.

Tom Brady‘s 37 completions were a Super Bowl record, passing Peyton Manning‘s 34 from last season.

The Patriots are the youngest team to ever win a Super Bowl, with an average age of 25.2 years.

Vereen’s 11 receptions tied a Patriots’ postseason record (Deion Branch in Super Bowl XXXIX and Wes Welker in Super Bowl XLII).

Asked about undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler, Belichick reflected on how he first came to the team. “He was a rookie tryout guy. We had already had our draft. We had already signed our free agents after the draft [so] he was part of what we like t call, ‘the few, the proud, the free.’ He came in and did a great job in that rookie minicamp [and] we created a roster spot by juggling some other guys around, signed him, and he had a good training camp. That’s a big jump from West Alabama to the NFL but Malcolm competes hard.”

LaFell on Brady: “I feel like when we’ve got Tom with the ball in his hands, we always have a chance. When you’re nervous, you look over there at Tom and he’s just all calm. It’s like, ‘If he’s this calm, we’re going to win this game.'”

Nomar: the Hall of Fame career that wasn’t

From: The Boston Globe

Pedro HOF PresserThe drumbeat of Pedro Martinez’s Hall of Fame candidacy resounded with the same air of anticipation and inevitability that accompanied a two-strike count when he occupied his stage at Fenway Park. The opportunity to reflect on his career is as much visceral and emotional as it is statistical; to remember Martinez on the mound is to recall a spectacle rarely matched, the unusual experience in which all parties – fans, hitters, the pitcher himself – knew that greatness and artistry were transpiring.

Yet for a time, as brilliant as Martinez was, he did not stand alone inRed Sox Spring Training Boston atop a baseball Olympus. For a time, Martinez enjoyed a peer whose performances nearly matched the pitcher for brilliance. Yet the fact that Nomar Garciaparra once occupied the same rarefied air as Martinez is now a largely forgotten footnote to a pre-championship era in Red Sox history.

Indeed, on a day when Martinez garnered more than 91 percent of votes from eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for a landslide first-ballot election, Garciaparra just barely gleaned the 5 percent of votes needed to stay on the ballot beyond his first year of eligibility. In the late-1990s, the idea that Garciaparra wouldn’t even sniff the Hall of Fame seemed unfathomable.

He was as iconic a presence in many ways as Martinez, the stands at Fenway Park blanketed in equal measure by fans wearing No. 5 and 45, a shared tribute to the pitcher with boundless self-confidence based on an unmatched pitch mix and the shortstop with a million superstitions and quirks, who winged the ball across the diamond with a signature cross-body, sidearm delivery and who displayed a preternatural ability to hit the snot out of the ball.

Number 5

Garciaparra was a force like few others in the game’s history. Between 1997 and 2003 – when he amassed a Rookie of the Year trophy, finished in the top five in AL MVP voting five times (topping out at second in 1998), made five All-Star teams, won consecutive batting titles with marks of .357 and .372 in 1999 and 2000 (becoming the first righthanded hitter to win back-to-back batting titles since Joe DiMaggio) – he donned the mantle of greatness.

“From 1997 to 2003, Nomar offensively, in the batter’s box, was just a different animal than most. It screamed Hall of Famer,” said Garciaparra’s former teammate and current WEEI radio host Lou Merloni. “In 2000, I’ve never seen anyone barrel up balls on the consistent basis he did that year. That was the most legit .372 I’ve ever seen in my life.

Nomar on SI

“He would go 2-for-5 with two lineouts. It was ridiculous. As far as the barrel-up rate, it was probably more like 75 percent of the balls he hit were on the barrel. It was just preposterous what he did that year. Everybody watching him would say the same exact thing: ‘I’ve never seen a guy barrel up the ball more than him.’

“I’ve seen his bats. He’s very superstitious, but I’d see him go for a year with two or three bats. You’d pick one of them up, his gamer. The ball mark – he used brown maple – the ball mark, there wasn’t anything on the label and there wasn’t anything on the end of the bat. Everything was within probably three inches of the barrel, every single mark that the ball made on contact. You could tell he used it for about two months. … It was unbelievable.”

It was the sort of skill set that permitted Garciaparra to commune with baseball legends. Ted Williams was mesmerized by the shortstop, believing that he possessed the skills to become his successor as a .400 hitter, a player who hit for average, displayed 30-homer power and a skilled baserunner who often delivered double-digit stolen base totals.

Nomar Turn Back the Clock“Nomar was a uniquely gifted player, a six-time All-Star and two-time batting champ. He followed another great righthanded hitter, Joe DiMaggio. That’s an extreme, unique combination, plus he played a skill position at shortstop,” recalled Orioles GM Dan Duquette, who occupied the same role with the Red Sox for most of Garciaparra’s big league tenure in Boston. “He had all the skills [to be a Hall of Famer]. He got to the big leagues quickly, won the Rookie of the Year, won a couple of batting titles early in his career. It was just a matter of whether he could stand the test of time.”

He couldn’t, of course. Though Garciaparra came back in startling fashion from a 2001 season lost largely to wrist surgery with a pair of All-Star campaigns in 2002 and 2003, he suffered an Achilles injury during spring training in 2004 that set in motion both the end of his Red Sox career and represented the starting point of a late-career crumble.

Still, on a day that could have marked a formal closing of Cooperstown’s doors to him, it’s worth remembering a time when it seemed like Garciaparra was going to knock on the Hall’s gates, to remember a Hall of Fame-caliber peak that lacked the requisite longevity for enshrinement.

Garciaparra had an .882 career OPS, the best of all-time by a shortstop who spent at least half his career at the game’s most demanding position with at least 5,000 career plate appearances. How good is an .882 OPS for a shortstop? It’s better than Hall of Fame shortstops Arky Vaughan (.859), Honus Wagner (.858), Joe Cronin (.857), Barry Larkin (.815), Hughie Jennings (.797), Lou Boudreau (.795),Cal Ripken (.788) and Robin Yount (.772). Derek Jeter achieved an .882 OPS in just three of his 20 seasons.

Top shortstop career OPS
Based on minimum 5,000 plate appearances and more than 50% games played at shortstop.
Nomar Garciaparra                                                   0.882
Hanley Ramirez                                                         0.873
Arky Vaughan                                                             0.859
Joe Cronin                                                                   0.857
Honus Wagner                                                            0.853
Derek Jeter                                                                  0.817
Barry Larkin                                                                0.815
Vern Stephens                                                             0.815
Joe Sewell                                                                    0.804
Carlos Guillen                                                              0.798
DATA: baseball-reference.com

Of course, league context is important, since Garciaparra thrived during the Nintendo Numbers era. But even relative to his league, he stood out from most of the Hall of Fame pack as measured by OPS+ (OPS relative to the league average, adjusted for parks, in which a 100 OPS+ is average). Among Hall of Fame shortstops, Garciaparra ranks only behind Wagner (151 OPS+) and Vaughan (136 OPS+), well ahead of Larkin (116), Jeter (115), Yount (115), Ripken (112) and Alan Trammell (110).

Nomar The Cub

The crux of Garciaparra’s irrelevance in the Hall of Fame conversation is the brevity of his stardom. He was a singular force from 1997 to 2003, but while he remained a passably productive hitter after that peak, posting a .291/.343/.446 line with a roughly league-average OPS+ of 102, he averaged just 84 games over the last six years of his career from 2004-09.

Nomar the Dodger

He fell off a cliff rather than enjoying a gradual decline, and ended his career with just 6,116 plate appearances. There are position players in the Hall of Fame with fewer plate appearances, but none who played after 1957 (the last season of three-time MVP Roy Campanella’s career). His 44.2 career WAR (as tabulated by Baseball-Reference.com) wouldn’t be the lowest ever by a position player with a plaque in Cooperstown, but no position player who has played since Bill Mazeroski (retired in 1972 with 36.2 WAR) has been enshrined.

Nomar the Athletic at Fenway

Still, the cavalier dismissal of his Hall of Fame case (particularly in light of the 10-vote limit at a time when a PED-era traffic jam has created an electoral mess) belies the time when Garciaparra clearly represented one of the game’s greats, when he and Pedro represented the same sort of first-name luminaries in Boston and the game.

Nomar Garciaparra“I knew when I was playing against a Hall of Famer or playing with one. It was just a step above. And there’s no question that he was that,” said Merloni. “If he had two more Nomar-type years and maybe a couple more after [2003], or three more years, I don’t think there’s a question that he’s a Hall of Fame-type of talent. There’s no question that he was a Hall of Famer in his heyday. He just wasn’t there long enough.”

The fact that his career won’t conclude in the Hall does not diminish the idea that Garciaparra enjoyed a historic start to his career. And at a time when Martinez rightly will take his bows, it’s worth remembering the teammate whose career once merited an almost-equal measure of awe, and whose not-quite-Hall-worthy career now stands as a monument to the great separator of durability and longevity.

Almost Teammates….

From ESPN: Boston

Toots and DiMaggioThere’s an old story that in April of 1947, over maybe a few too many drinks at Toots Shor’s restaurant in New York, Yankees owner Dan Topping and Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey had agreed to the biggest trade in baseball history: Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams. DiMaggio would get to play in Fenway Park with its inviting Green Monster instead of cavernous Yankee Stadium (457 feet to deep left-center back then) and Williams would get to move to Yankee Stadium with its short right-field porch.

Yawkey woke up the next morning and came to his senses, telling YawkeyTopping that his people in Boston wouldn’t do the trade. The Red Sox had just won the pennant in 1946, Williams was four years younger, Boston already had an excellent center fielder in Joe’s brother Dom and Joe had undergone offseason surgery on his heel. There wasn’t a good reason for Boston to consider such a move. In checking biographies on both Williams and DiMaggio, this story appears to come from a Dave Anderson column from the New York Times in 1980 (both Yawkey and Topping were dead by then) and not from contemporaneous newspaper accounts. Anderson’s column also suggests Yawkey, after turning down Williams for DiMaggio, asked Topping to include his “little left fielder” — a rookie named Yogi Berra.
The Splendid Splinter and The ClipperThe Berra part sounds a little apocryphal to me — for one thing, Berra had only played a few games in right field in April of that year, not left, and had hit .225 with no home runs. It doesn’t seem likely that Yawkey would have viewed Berra as the difference-maker to swing the trade. While the Red Sox never won another pennant with Williams, it would have been a terrible deal for them: DiMaggio would play just five more seasons and 625 games while Williams would play another 1,556 games (not to mention the time he missed in 1952-53 to resume military duty for the Korean War).

What I didn’t know until recently reading Richard J. Tofel’s book “A Legend in the Making: The New York Yankees of 1939” is that DiMaggio and Williams could have been teammates if not for the twists of fate. Imagine a Yankees outfield with DiMaggio and Williams side by side. Not that the Yankees struggled without Williams.

DiMaggio had first starred with his hometown San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League as an 18-year-old in 1933, hitting .340 with 28 home runs in 187 games, including a 61-game hitting streak. Major league teams attempted to purchase DiMaggio — the Yankees reportedly offered $75,000 — but Seals owner Charley Graham elected to keep his prized asset for 1934. Remember, back then most of the minor league teams were independent of the majors, selling players to big league teams or even making trades.

Dimaggio Seals
In May of that year, DiMaggio hurt his knee climbing into a car. In his autobiography, DiMaggio said he had been visiting his sister, took a cab home and slipped on the climb out because “my left foot must have fallen asleep from the awkward position in which I was sitting.” Richard Ben Cramer’s biography of DiMaggio, “Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life,” reports that the San Francisco Examiner at the time reported DiMaggio had slipped in the early hours of the morning at Fourth and Market — an area full of bars and nightclubs. Cramer’s insinuation that DiMaggio may have been “loaded” is speculative, but DiMaggio’s own account certainly isn’t true.

Anyway, DiMaggio missed some time, attempted to play through the injury and didn’t hit as well when he returned. He still managed to hit .341 with 12 home runs in 101 games but Graham, who had been hoping for $100,00 for DiMaggio before the injury, now saw interest wane in his young star.

The Yankees, however, remained interested. West Coast scout Joe Devine had loved DiMaggio and he had a local scout named Bill Essick check into DiMaggio’s knee. According to Cramer’s book, the Yankees paid for an orthopedic specialist to examine DiMaggio and the surgeon reported that the 19-year-old should be able to recover from the injury. Essick told Yankees general manager Ed Barrow, “Don’t give up on DiMaggio. I think you can get him cheap.”

He was right. With other teams out of the running or short on cash during the Depression, the Yankees got DiMaggio for $25,000 and five prospects, with the caveat that the Seals could keep DiMaggio for one more year and the Yankees could get their money back if DiMaggio’s knee didn’t hold up. He hit .398 with 34 home runs in 1935 and joined the Yankees in 1936. DiMaggio was an immediate star, hitting .323 with 29 home runs and 125 RBIs, and the Yankees won the first of four consecutive World Series titles.

* * * *

Williams was another California kid, from San Diego. While DiMaggio was tearing up the American League in 1936, Williams was playing at Hoover High School that spring. Tofel writes,

For the Yankees, Williams was the one who got away. Bill Essick, the same Yankee scout who recognized late in 1934 that DiMaggio was still worth $25,000 despite his knee injury, failed to sign Williams eighteen months later. Essick offered a $500 signing bonus but refused to meet Williams’s mother’s demand for $1,000.

Did the Yankees really lose Williams over $500? I had never heard that story before. I checked out Ben Bradlee Jr.’s comprehensive Williams biography — “The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams” — that came out in 2013 for more detail. As Williams was finishing up at Hoover, Bradlee reports that scouts had been tracking Williams for some time, with a local bird dog named Herb Benninghoven, who worked for the Cardinals, Williams’ “most ardent suitor.” Also interested in Williams was a bird dog named Elmer Hill, who worked for Essick. After Williams hit a long home run in an American Legion game, Hill and Essick showed up at Williams’ house.

Bradlee quotes Williams’ autobiography:

Essick was as anxious as anyone to get me. I’ll never forget what he said: “Ted, if I didn’t think you were going to be a New York Yankee, I’d never sign you.” Maybe he said that to everybody, but that sure impressed me. I think he offered me $200 a month and a $500 bonus if I made the team at [Class A] Binghamton, New York, but the story is my mother asked for a $1,000 bonus and Essick refused.

Note carefully the wording. Williams isn’t exactly saying that he didn’t because his mother asked for more money, but seems to be repeating a story that had been told by others.

Still, the Yankees remained interested, later offering $250 a month or $400 a month if he made the Yankees’ Pacific Coast League affiliate, and Hill apparently believed that an agreement in principle was in place once Williams finished high school. The Tigers also scouted Williams but area scout Marty Krug deemed Williams too skinny. The Los Angeles Angels of the PCL tried to sign Williams, but Ted’s father didn’t like the team’s manager. Benninghoven, still interested in Williams, invited him to a Cardinals tryout in Fullerton, where Branch Rickey would be present. Bradlee writes, “At the tryouts, the speed-conscious Rickey required recruits to run race after race with numbers pinned to their backs. But the day before the tryout, Ted was hit by a pitch on his thigh, just above the knee. Slow anyway, Ted was made even less mobile by the injury, and he largely went through the motions. Rickey showed no interest in him.”

Williams articleBenninghoven did finally get the Cardinals to make an offer, but Williams figured St. Louis wasn’t the quickest way to the majors. Sam Williams, Ted’s father, reportedly asked the Yankees for another $25 a month. In a 1957 letter, Hill wrote that he agreed to this with Williams and his mother. Ted’s parents had a strained marriage, often living apart, and it appears Sam Williams was working in Sacramento at the time. Williams ended up signing on June 25 with the San Diego Padres, a new team that year in the PCL, for $150 a month. For the cash-strapped Williams family, apparently the fact that the Padres had agreed to pay him for the entire month of June was a crucial factor, along with Ted’s mother liking the club’s owner.

Williams played sparingly the rest of the season for the Padres, The Splinterhitting .271 with no home runs in 107 at-bats. In 1937, at the age of 18, he hit .291 with 23 home runs. Now, just about every major league team wanted Williams. The Yankees were still interested as were the Tigers and New York Giants. Casey Stengel, who had been hired as manager of the Boston Bees (Braves) for 1938, had been out of baseball in 1937 but saw Williams when he played in Stengel’s hometown of Oakland and liked the kid’s potential. The Bees made an offer.

 
The Yankees fell out of the bidding, perhaps because of Joe Devine’s scouting report that said Ted “is a very slow lad, not a good outfielder now, just an average arm. There is no doubt Williams will never be a fast enough to get by in the majors as an outfielder. His best feature now is that he shows promise as a hitter, but good pitching so far has stopped him cold.”
Ted for the Padres
And then there were the Red Sox, who had closely watched Williams all season and had discussed a deal with Padres owner Bill Lane. Lane held off during the season but told other teams that he had promised Red Sox general manager Eddie Collins the right of first refusal. At the winter meetings that year, however, Yawkey suddenly seemed reluctant to spend the money, saying he was tired of buying other teams’ players and that Boston was trying to develop its own farm system. Collins insisted they needed to make an exception for Williams.
Williams with LaneLane was about to give up on the Red Sox and sell Williams to another team when the two sides finally agreed on a deal: $25,000 and four players for Williams. The Red Sox were so lacking in minor leaguers at the time that Collins had farm director Billy Evans quickly acquire four players he could then trade to the Padres. The Tigers ($30,000) and Giants ($31,000) had reportedly offered more money, but Williams belonged to Boston.

Ted Williams.Williams spent 1938 at Minneapolis, where he hit .366 with 43 home runs. He joined the Red Sox in 1939 and would spend much of the next 12 years chasing DiMaggio and the Yankees. While both players were active, the Red Sox would win just that one pennant in 1946, five times finishing in second place.

* * * *

How close did Williams come to signing with the Yankees? It’s difficult to say with any degree of accuracy all these years later. Certainly, dealing with Williams’ parents was difficult. The family was poor — Williams wrote that he was embarrassed to bring scouts to his house — and strapped for cash, thus wanted some sort of signing of bonus. Williams’ autobiography makes it appear as if he was willing to sign with the Yankees; when Boston finally purchased him from the Padres, he wrote that he was disappointed. “The Red Sox didn’t mean a thing to me. A fifth-, sixth-place club [the Red Sox had finished in sixth in 1936], the farthest from San Diego I could go. I certainly wasn’t a Boston fan.”
The scout Elmer Hill seemed to blame Williams’ mother for reneging on an agreement, but that could be some re-imagining of the facts years later. Or maybe the Yankees really did just cheap out in the end.

One more thing, however. Williams didn’t actually graduate from high school in the spring of 1936. He still had one more semester to go. Doesn’t it make sense that maybe Williams’ mother wanted him to finish school? He could sign with the Padres, get the family a little money in the short-term, play for them that summer and then finish his last semester of school in the fall. Also, Lane had apparently promised the Williams family a percentage of any sale in the future, so May Williams would eventually get her bonus money.

In fact, when Williams was sold, the Williams family asked for $5,000 from Lane, who now refused to give the family anything. The Williamses said Ted was a free agent and could sign with any team. All winter, reporters wrote on the squabbles going on with the Williams family, the Padres and the Red Sox. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis ordered Collins to make sure he got Williams to sign a Red Sox contract.

He eventually did, but not until mid-February, and not until the Red Sox finally gave May Williams $2,500.

(Most of the information here was gathered from the books by Ben Bradlee Jr. and Richard Ben Cramer. I recommend both.)

It’s a New Year! Maybe it’s time to elect some starting pitchers to Cooperstown?

Schilling takes a bowCurt Schilling appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time a year ago with overwhelmingly strong credentials for election: The 216-game winner ranks 26th all-time in wins above replacement for pitchers (17th-highest total since the live ball era began in 1920) and 15th all-time in strikeouts, including three 300-strikeout seasons; he’s got the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of any pitcher ever (well, not counting a guy named Tommy Bond who was 5-foot-7, born in Ireland and began his career with the 1874 Brooklyn Atlantics) and three 20-win seasons; and he led the league twice in wins, twice in innings, three times in starts, four times in complete games (his 15 complete games in 1998 is the highest total in the majors since 1991), twice in strikeouts and five times in strikeout-walk ratio. Schilling never won a Cy Young Award but finished second in the voting three times.
Of course, Schilling was also one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever, going 11-2001 Co MVP2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts. His October legacy includes his iconic Bloody Sock Game in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees, a win in the World Series that year that helped end the long suffering of Red Sox fans, plus his dominant performance throughout the 2001 postseason when he allowed six runs in six starts as the Diamondbacks won the World Series. He helped the Red Sox win another title in 2007. His career 3.46 ERA in a hitters’ era gives him an adjusted ERA equal to Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson and higher than Hall of Famers like Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal and Bob Feller.
Schilling was great, he has the advanced metrics that scream Hall of Famer, and he was an iconic figure in the game while active. What more do you need to get elected to Cooperstown?
More than 60 percent of voters didn’t check Schilling’s name on their ballot.
Then there’s the pitcher who finished with the same career adjusted ERA as Schilling. His best ERAs, all in seasons where he pitched more than 210 innings, were 1.89, 2.38, 2.39, 2.58 and 2.69, all coming when offensive totals were exploding. The worst of those seasons had an adjusted ERA+ of 150. Since 1920, only five other starters had five or more seasons with at least 200 innings and an ERA+ of 150 or higher: Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Lefty Grove, Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay. This pitcher had another season where he went 18-9 with a 3.00 ERA and another where he went 21-11 with a 3.32 ERA while leading his league in innings pitched. He won more than 200 games. He had a 16-strikeout game in the postseason. His career pitching WAR of 68.5 is higher than Palmer, Carl Hubbell or Don Drysdale.
Kevin Brown MarlinsKevin Brown got 12 votes in his one year on the ballot, not close to the 5 percent needed to remain on the ballot, and he was kicked to the curb alongside Raul Mondesi, Bobby Higginson and Lenny Harris. Thank you for your nice career, but your case has no merit. Heck, Willie McGee received twice as many votes. I mean, Willie McGee was a nice player, and even a great one the season he won the MVP Award, but he had about half the career value of Brown.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America treats starting pitchers like they’re infected with the plague. They’ve elected one in the past 14 years: Bert Blyleven in 2011. And Blyleven, despite winning 287 games and ranking 11th all-time in WAR among pitchers, took 14 years to finally get in. Meanwhile, the BBWAA has elected three relief pitchers in those 14 years, so it’s not an anti-pitcher bias; it’s an anti-starting pitcher bias.
What’s happened here? How come no starting pitcher who began his career after 1970 is in the Hall of Fame? Leaving aside the case of Clemens, who would have been elected if not for his ties to PEDs, there are several issues going on.

Saberhagen in Sox
   1. The 1980s were barren of strong, obvious Hall of Fame pitchers. The BBWAA ignored the cases of borderline candidates like David Cone (pictured below), Dave Stieb, Bret Saberhagen (pictured above) and Orel Hershiser, and instead embraced Jack Morris, a lesser pitcher than those four but a guy with more career wins.

David Cone Red Sox
   2. Comparison to the previous generation of starters. Including Blyleven, there are 10 “1970s pitchers” in the Hall of Fame. Here they are, listed in order of election year along with each pitcher’s 10-year peak period:
Bert Blyleven (2011): 1971-1980 Nolan Ryan (1999): 1972-1981 Don Sutton (1998): 1971-1980 Phil Niekro (1997): 1970-1979 Steve Carlton (1994): 1972-1981 Tom Seaver (1992): 1968-1977 Fergie Jenkins (1991): 1967-1976 Gaylord Perry (1991): 1967-1976 Jim Palmer (1990): 1969-1978 Catfish Hunter (1987): 1967-1976
These pitchers aren’t merely just great pitchers but products of their generation. The late ’60s and early ’70s produced the lowest-scoring seasons in the major leagues since the dead ball era. The average team in 1968 scored 3.42 runs per game, the lowest total since 1908. That was the notorious pitchers’ year, but 1972 didn’t see much more offense at 3.69 runs per game. This was also the period when pitchers were worked harder than they had been in decades, making more starts and pitching more innings. The 15-year period from 1963 to 1977 saw 62 different seasons where a pitcher threw 300 innings. The previous 15 seasons saw it happen just 13 times (six by Robin Roberts); the ensuing 15 seasons saw it happen just three times, two of those by knuckleballer Niekro.  This period was the perfect time to ferment long careers with lots of wins. More starts and more innings gave pitchers the opportunity to get more wins. It’s no coincidence that the peak seasons of the above pitchers all occurred in roughly the same time span.

Tom Seaver in Red Sox
   3. Speaking of wins … Hall of Fame voters love wins like Yasiel Puig loves driving fast. Morris has 254, a main reason he earned 67.7 percent of the vote last year despite his 3.90 career ERA. Schilling has 216 and Brown 211. The fixation on career wins — and 300 in particular — is the result of a unique generation of pitchers; it’s a standard previous pitchers weren’t held to. Bob Gibson won 251 games, Juan Marichal 243, Whitey Ford 236, Don Drysdale 209 and Sandy Koufax 165. Focus on the entire résumé, not just the win total. Schilling didn’t win 254 games, let alone 300, but he’s a far superior Hall of Fame candidate to Morris.
Let’s compare Tom Glavine to Mike Mussina, both appearing on the ballot for the first time. With 305 wins, Glavine appears to be the much stronger candidate than Mussina, who won 270 games.

Here’s what one voter, Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe, wrote:

Glavine and Maddux were 300-game winners. Those are magic plateaus … unless you cheated.
The rest of the list of players I reject are good old-fashioned baseball arguments. (Craig) Biggio got 68.2 percent of the vote last year, but I don’t think of him as Hall-worthy (only one 200-hit season). Same for Mussina and his 270 wins (he always pitched for good teams) and (Lee) Smith and his 478 saves (saves are overrated and often artificial).

There you go. Glavine won 305 games, Mussina won 270, so Glavine is the easy choice. As an aside: I love the bit about Mussina pitching for good teams. As if Glavine didn’t pitch for good teams? Since when is pitching for good teams considered a demerit?

Mike Mussina Baltimore

Plus, as Jason Collette pointed out, “Mussina pitched for Baltimore for 10 years — and Baltimore had losing records in five of those ten seasons. Yet, Mussina had a .645 winning percentage and won 147 of his 270 starts with the Orioles. The Yankees never had a losing record when Mussina pitched there and he had a .631 winning percentage with them. Mussina’s .645 winning percentage as an Oriole dwarfed the team’s .510 winning percentage in that same time.”

(Also, Shaughnessy is apparently voting for Morris because he won 254 games, which I believe is less than 270.)
Anyway, when you examine the numbers a little deeper, Glavine and Mussina compare favorably:
Pitching WAR

  • Glavine: 74.0
  • Mussina: 82.7

ERA+

  • Glavine: 118 (3.54 career ERA in the National League with great defense behind him)
  • Mussina: 123 (3.68 career ERA in the American League with often bad defenses behind him)

5+ WAR seasons

  • Glavine: 4
  • Mussina: 10

Postseason

  • Glavine: 14-16, 3.30 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
  • Mussina: 7-8, 3.42 ERA, 1.10 WHIP

The point here isn’t to detract from Glavine, but that Mussina has every bit the case Glavine does — or 95 percent of it, giving Glavine some extra credit if you wish for his two Cy Youngs. Glavine hung on and won 35 more games; Mussina retired after winning 20. That doesn’t make Glavine a superior pitcher.
   4. Stingy voters. To a certain extent, the BBWAA voters have become tough on all candidates — not just starting pitchers and PED users.

As Joe Sheehan wrote recently:

Consider the recent history of Hall voting. The average number of players named per ballot declined steadily up until just last year. In 1966, which was the first vote in the modern era of BBWAA balloting (that is, in which there have been no years in which the BBWAA did not vote), there were 7.2 names listed per ballot. Ten years later, that figure was 7.6. By 2000, a year that featured two players voted in and a ballot with five others who would eventually be voted in (plus Jack Morris, still kicking around), the number was down to 5.6. There were more baseball players than ever before becoming eligible for the Hall, but the voters were becoming much more difficult to impress. That would remain the case for most of this century:
2001: 6.3 2002: 6.0 2003: 6.6 2004: 6.6 2005: 5.6 2007: 6.6 2008: 5.4 2009: 5.4 2010: 5.7 2011: 6.0 2012: 5.1 2013: 6.6

Remember, that downward trend is occurring despite an increasingly crowded ballot due to the split opinions on what do about the PED candidates. With as many as 15 to 20 legitimate Hall of Fame candidates on this year’s ballot it will be interesting to see if that 6.6 players per ballot increases further.

Pedro at Fenway
   5. Timing. The starting pitching problem will be abated somewhat in upcoming elections. Maddux will get in this year, Glavine this year or next. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez (pictured above) and John Smoltz (pictured below) then join the ballot next year. Johnson is a lock, and Martinez has the Koufax-esque peak value thing going for him, although with 219 wins he’s not a first-year lock. Smoltz is similar to Schilling in many ways, down to the career win total (213) and postseason heroics, so odds are he’ll face the same uphill climb.

Smoltz Red Sox
I believe most Hall of Fame voters have the same goal: Elect the best players to the Hall of Fame, or at least the best ones they believe to be clean from PEDs. That issue is still stuck in the mud, the Hall itself refusing to give guidance to the voters. But electing Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina is simply an issue of understanding their greatness. They are among the very best pitchers in the history of the game. They deserve to be elected this year, alongside Maddux and Glavine.

Alex Rodriguez: What If..?

In Comic Books they are known as ‘What If?’ (Marvel) issues or ‘Elseworld’ (DC) tales, taking the established character out of their established norm and seeing what would have or could have happened if….

What If 31

A decade later, we revisit called-off engagement between Rodriguez and Boston

From: Gordon Edes

They rank among the great what-might-have-been stories in Red Sox history.

What if an organization with a history of racial intolerance had given more than a sham tryout to Jackie Robinson or listened to the urgings of a scout named George Digby to sign a young outfielder named Willie Mays?

Jackie Robinson Red Sox

What if Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey had, in the cold light of morning, decided to follow through on the trade arranged over drinks the night before with Yankees co-owner Dan Topping, one in which the Sox would have swapped Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio? (Note: This deal also was scuttled due to the Yankees reluctance to include a young catching prospect named Yogi Berra.)

Teddy and Joe D

And what if the Red Sox had succeeded in their audacious effort 10 years ago to acquire Alex Rodriguez, generally acknowledged as the best player in the game at the time, from the Texas Rangers?

Ten years ago Monday, Rangers owner Tom Hicks declared that effort “totally, totally dead.” He would soon send a letter to Rangers season-ticket holders pledging that Rodriguez would be the team’s shortstop on Opening Day 2004. Then, on Valentine’s Day, he traded him to George Steinbrenner’s Yankees.

A-Rod dissapointment

With A-Rod now shamed and a shell of his former self, a player who went from being championed by the game’s ruling class to pariah, it is easy to regard Boston’s failed courtship as a blessing, a disaster averted.

But that’s with the benefit of hindsight. At the time, the Sox — and A-Rod — were bitterly disappointed that it did not come to pass, this deal first proposed by Hicks to the Red Sox within days of their crushing Game 7 loss to the New York Yankees in the 2003 ALCS.

A-Rod Texas presserHicks was looking to get out from under the game’s biggest contract, a $250 million, 10-year deal that in its first three years had not lifted the Rangers out of mediocrity. He asked for Nomar Garciaparra in return. The Sox countered by offering Manny Ramirez, whom they had placed on irrevocable waivers only weeks before without any takers.

With that deal in play, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein made another at the winter meetings, arranging to trade Garciaparra to the White Sox for slugging outfielder Magglio Ordonez. That second trade was contingent on the A-Rod deal being approved, but when Epstein entered the hotel room of his new manager, Terry Francona, and rattled off a prospective lineup that included Johnny Damon, A-Rod, David Ortiz and Ordonez, on knees made unsteady by multiple surgeries, Francona climbed onto his bed and did an impromptu dance.

That same night, Epstein slipped out of the meetings in New Orleans and flew to New York to meet with Rodriguez and his then-wife, Cynthia. Owner John W. Henry had already met with the couple in Miami, granted extraordinary permission to do so by commissioner Bud Selig, who had run into Rodriguez at Sammy Sosa’s party in the Dominican Republic and listened to A-Rod earnestly express his desire to play for the Sox.

I was working for the Boston Globe at the time, and I, too, went to Miami to meet with Rodriguez. I liked him. He was smart, engaging and gracious. I believe he really wanted to play for the Sox. I had seen him when he’d made his major-league debut at Fenway as an 18-year-old from Miami, and I was impressed with his appreciation of Boston and what it would mean to his legacy if he would be the one who led the Sox to a World Series title after 86 years without one.

The deal was complicated and ultimately collapsed under its own weight. The Red Sox, for luxury tax reasons, wanted to reduce the value of Rodriguez’s contract by $4 million a year, a total of $28 million over the remaining seven years of his deal. That was a nonstarter for the union. Any reduction, the union lawyers said, would require “added benefits” from the Red Sox — like the Mets gave Mo Vaughn when they added two more teams to the no-trade provisions in his contract in exchange for a $500,000 reduction. The Sox tried to sell the union on an “added benefit” of allowing A-Rod the chance to opt out of his contract after two years and become a free agent, a proposal ridiculed by the union, which argued that A-Rod, because his contract was so much more than anyone else’s, probably would have been looking at a pay cut. They made a counteroffer the Sox deemed unacceptable.

Hicks, meanwhile, was seeking some immediate financial help and not only wanted the Sox to assume A-Rod’s contract, but pay a portion of Ramirez’s deal so that he could pursue some pitching in free agency. That was not going to happen. But on his own, A-Rod contacted Hicks and offered to pay, out of his own pocket, the $15 million Hicks wanted from the Sox. That’s how badly he wanted to come to Boston.

By the end of talks, there were bruised feelings on all sides. Henry was upset that Nomar comes HomeHicks had made little effort to keep negotiations quiet. Hicks was furious with Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, to the point that Tom Werner became the Sox point man with the Texas owner. Lucchino and union lawyer Gene Orza took whacks at each other. Garciaparra never recovered from the shock of learning that the Sox had sought A-Rod, even as Henry later explained he initially thought that they could have co-existed. And A-Rod resigned himself to remaining with the Rangers.

The upshot, of course, is that the Sox won two World Series in the next four seasons without A-Rod, and won their third in the 10 seasons in which Rodriguez has been a Yankee. And A-Rod alienated his longtime friend Derek Jeter, the first of many soap operas that would mark his time in New York. And then came the PED revelations.

Ortiz A-RodThat part of the story, sadly, would have been no different had he played for the Red Sox instead of the Yankees. But the rest of it? Ten years later, I still believe it could have gone a different way for A-Rod in Boston. Instead of a wary Jeter, he would have been embraced by David Ortiz, who remains one of his good friends in the game. He also was very close with Ordonez, who would have combined with A-Rod to more than compensate for the loss of right-handed power Ramirez represented.

He would have remained at short, where his value to the club would have been greater than it was to the Yankees at third.

In his first five seasons with the Yankees, through the 2008 season, Rodriguez hit 208 home runs. No one in baseball hit more. And Fenway is much kinder to right-handed hitters than Yankee Stadium. He was one of 10 players who had an on-base percentage greater than .400 in that time. He averaged 6.8 in WAR in that time.

Call me naïve, but I think Boston would have brought out the best in him, and he would have been loved for it.

A-Rod befuddledWe’ll never know, of course. And in this town, I am well aware, that’s hardly a popular thought. But there’s a part of me that has never forgotten the shining promise of that 18-year-old and laments that it has ended the way it has.

 _____

On a personal note: I was at that same game, just a few rows up and sitting between home and the visitors dugout (best seats I ever scored) for that Fenway game where an 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez debuted for Seattle.  I sat close enough to see all the awe and wonder on the face of a kid who was walking out into a Cathedral to take his first big league swings.  My how times changed as he was on his way to Texas!

Before the PED’s, before the even more inflated ego and sense of entitlement, I was not a fan of the proposed trade.  I was a Nomar guy.  I didn’t dislike A-Rod at that point, I just disliked the perceived greed and the monster contract and the handcuffs that came with it.  How could you as a team hit the free agent market for pitching and additions under those circumstances?  Yeesh!  Sure the Yankees did it and eventually put a World Series ring on A-Rod’s finger, but we won two in the same amount of time and of course just added the third.

A-Rod TekWould or could any of that have happened if we found A-Rod under the tree for Christmas of 2003?  Maybe a ring… two at an outside chance?  Luckily, this is one of those Scarlett Hose / Bronx Bombers hypotheticals we don’t have to put too much emphasis on… after all, we came out for the better.

Kevin Youkilis wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to play closer to the Pacific Ocean….

Kevin Youkilis, who just recently rebuffed the Bronx Bombers in talks of playing another season in New York due to ‘wanting to play closer to his home on the West Coast’, has agreed to a one-year contract with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan for the 2014 season, his agent confirmed Friday.

Youkilis will have a $4 million base salary and can earn $1 million in bonuses — including some based on walks, a provision not allowed in major league contracts.

“He’s looking at this as a terrific life experience for his family,” agent Joe Bick said. “There were a number of opportunities and inquiries and conversations that took place here [in the U.S.]. But in the final analysis, this is what the family decided they wanted to do.”

Youk Sox RoadYoukilis, 34, is a three-time All-Star and a .281 career hitter in 10 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees. His best season came in 2008, when he hit .312 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs with the Red Sox and won the Hank Aaron Award.

Youkilis underwent back surgery last June and appeared in only 28 games with the Yankees. He’s expecting to play first and third for Rakuten, the defending Japan Series champion.

Bick said Youkilis, his wife, Julie, and their two children, ages 7 and 1, plan to spend the 2014 season together in Japan.

“Kevin’s intent is to play one more year,” said Bick, although he wouldn’t rule out Youkilis playing beyond the 2014 season.

At Rakuten, Youkilis may become teammates with star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who went 24-0 last season, While Tanaka wants to join the major leagues, Rakuten is reluctant to make him available in the new posting season, and the 25-year-old right-hander can’t leave as a free agent until after the 2015 season.

“We were talking with eight or nine other clubs over here,” Bick said. “In the final analysis, he said the right thing for my family and me is to go do this. It will be a wonderful life experience.”

MLB’s Hot Stove spending could eclipse $2 billion

No sport incites salary rage like Major League Baseball, so for those who bellyache the money is too big, consider this a fair warning to gulp a handful of Tums before reading the next sentence.Daisuke Matsuzaka Lions

Teams are barreling toward $2 billion spent on free agents this offseason.

Now, they may fall short of that nice, round number and still absolutely obliterate the previous spending record: around $1.75 billion in the 2006 offseason, a number that includes major league free agents as well as the posting fees for Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa.

Already teams have lavished approximately $1.543 billion on players, the latest a $130 million investment by the Texas Rangers for seven years of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. He is the third nine-figure player of the offseason, joining Jacoby Ellsbury ($153 million) as an offset diamond around the center stone, Robinson Cano ($240 million).

Masahiro TanakaThere is plenty more to come. If Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka gets posted – his status remains in limbo – the $2 billion threshold is certain to be obliterated. Between his contract and the $20 million posting fee, teams expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $120 million for Tanaka. Beyond him are three pitchers who reason says will cash in for around $60 million each (Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza), an outfielder worth the same (Nelson Cruz), a shortstop a notch down from that (Stephen Drew), another starter sure to get multiple years (Bronson Arroyo), a bevy of relievers who will get papered (Fernando Rodney, Grant Balfour and Jesse Crain, among others) and the dregs of the class, who can fetch $5 million here, $3 million there and add up quickly.

For those surprised, don’t be. Baseball’s economic system, as presently constituted, guaranteed free-agent salaries ballooning to unfathomable levels. A number of factors conspired to turn it into even more of a money booth than in the past.

First are the revenues. Back in 2006, a year before the recession started, baseball’s revenues were around $5.5 billion. Today, they are nearly $8.5 billion. And only now is free-agent spending catching up; over the previous three offseasons, it fell somewhere in the $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion range.

More than that are the mechanisms in place that more or less force teams to spend their money on free agents. Simply put: They can’t spend it anywhere else. The league capped how much teams can spend on the draft and international free agents. Many of the best players in the game don’t even make $1 million a season because the system artificially depresses salaries for the first three years of a career. Plenty of the best would-be free agents forgo the open market by signing long-term extensions, which can be for big money, sure, but almost every time represent a discount against what the player would receive with his services available to all 30 teams.

Ells tries it on

For those, then, with the patience to wait for free agency and the luck to do so coming off even a decent walk year, the rewards are massive – enough so to make you wonder if there will be some sort of a market correction in which pre-free-agency extensions start to inch closer to the open market or players who might’ve been locked up opt instead to chance free agency.

Kershaw deliversThere is an expectation within the industry that at least a couple of the monster class of free-agent pitchers next offseason will sign extensions. The group includes Clayton Kershaw (who will command the first deal for a pitcher over $200 million), Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields, Homer Bailey and Justin Masterson. If each went to free agency, there’s a good three-quarters of a billion dollars among the six, more than making up for a hitting class that includes Hanley Ramirez and a group that is best referred to as Et Cetera.

It’s one of the biggest reasons the Rangers went so hard after Choo, giving him more years and money than they wanted: the outfield market next year is paltry, and they’ve got goo-gobs of TV money from local and national sources to cover it. Give the Rangers this much: They’ve long made a habit of being ahead of other teams in how they spend their money. They went bigger in Latin America than any other team before the spending cap, then blew by it when the penalties weren’t as severe as they are now. This offseason, they’ve committed more than a quarter billion dollars to Choo and Prince Fielder and helped spearhead the spending that left the American League West as baseball’s most munificent division and the AL spending nearly three times as much as its National League counterparts.

Cano presser

The five AL West teams have combined to heap $466.6 million on free agents – Cano and Choo account for 79.2 percent of that – while the AL East is at $399.25 million (with the Yankees at 79.1 percent of that). Next is the AL Central ($268.75 million), followed by the three NL divisions: East ($182.98 million), West ($148.25 million, not including the Hunter Pence or Tim Lincecum deals because they signed before free agency) and Central ($77.95 million – and, without Jhonny Peralta, less than $25 million combined).

Thirteen players by themselves have signed for $25 million, and another seven have exceeded the $20 million mark. It’s almost exactly like 2006, with 15 at $25 million-plus and 20 at $20 million-plus. With the five starters, Cruz and Drew left to go, this year’s numbers should dwarf ’06 in all respects.

Welcome to baseball in 2014, which rewards free agency more than ever. Ask Robinson Cano. Ask Jacoby Ellsbury. Ask Shin-Soo Choo. Ask any of the middle relievers cashing in for $6 million a year, the back-end starters and utilitymen getting four-year guarantees, the fourth outfielders getting paid what used to be All-Star wages. The union sought free agency with such fervor 40 years ago because the brilliant men leading it saw this day, when owners would make money hand over fist and give players their fair share.

Even those brilliant men could not fathom just how big that number would be: $2 billion or bust.

Recent MLB Contracts That Became Nightmares…

With free agents cashing in big this off-season, it’s wise for teams to revisit some of the horrible contracts of the past. From extensions for franchise players to ill-advised free agent deals, there have been countless misfires by Major League Baseball general managers and owners in recent years. Here are seven contracts that quickly turned into nightmares for the teams in question.

Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies

Ryan Howard downThough critics were horrified by the deal, Ryan Howard was all smiles when the Phillies offered him a five-year contract extension worth $125 million. Instead of waiting until the end of his contract, which expired after 2011, the Phillies locked up their aging slugger early in 2010.

This move became a case of how not to manage a franchise’s money. Age and injury caught up with Howard quickly, making the deal a major black eye for Phillies GM Ruben Amaro. Philadelphia still owes Howard $25 million per year through 2016 for what is likely going to be average production.

A.J. Burnett, New York Yankees

BurnettAs a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, A.J. Burnett made mincemeat of mighty Yankees lineups. When it came time for Burnett to hit free agency, it coincided with the Yankees opening their new stadium after missing the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. The Yankees pounced, inking the right hander to a five-year, $82.5 million deal.

Aside from a successful 2009 campaign — which culminated in the Yankees’ 27th World Series title — New York and Burnett were a disaster together. The Yankees eventually pawned off the right hander to Pittsburgh for a few no-name prospects, eating much of the remaining cash owed to Burnett in the process.

Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants

Zito farewellThe signing of Barry Zito may have sounded good in theory, but few baseball minds thought the southpaw was worth $126 million over the course of seven years. The Giants were dismayed early and often by Zito’s performance, though the lefty did contribute to one World Series win for San Francisco. Now that his contract has ended, we’re able to see what he delivered to the Giants for $126 million: In 208 appearances, Zito went 63-80 with an ugly 4.62 earned-run average.

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

PujolsToo early to call? It’s possible, but it looks as if the Los Angeles Angels have an albatross on their hands with the 10-year, $240 million contract they handed to Albert Pujols after the 2011 season. Pujols has had the two worst seasons of his career thus far for the Angels, with his 2013 campaign enough to depress even the most optimistic of fans. At $24 million per year, 17 home runs simply won’t do the trick. This may turn out to be the worst contract of all time when it terminates after the 2021 season.

Carl Pavano, New York Yankees

PavanoFour years for $40 million doesn’t sound like an awful contract. However, the Yankees got next to nothing from the underachieving, tabloid-starring whipping boy that was Carl Pavano in pinstripes. Pavano was victimized by one curious injury after another while under contract for New York, with a buttocks injury keeping him out of the rotation at one point.

In terms of sheer uselessness, it’s difficult to top the Pavano contract. The right hander pitched just 145 innings in 26 appearances over four seasons for the Yankees. That amounts to $273,972 per inning.

Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels

Hamilton frustratedHitting Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton behind Mike Trout sounds like the makings of a new murderers’ row, but it hasn’t panned out that way for the Angels. After signing a contract worth $125 million over five years, Hamilton hit a career-worst .250 with just 21 home runs in 2013. At $25 million per year, those numbers simply don’t cut it. The Angels will need both Hamilton and Pujols to return to form for the franchise to right itself.

Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees

Alex Rodriguez poutingAt 10 years and $275 million, there was really no way the Yankees could have gotten their money’s worth from the ill-advised contract they dished out to Alex Rodriguez at age 32. A-Rod went from MVP to PR nightmare for the Yankees, who have watched the once-epic player become an embarrassment to the organization, sport, and himself.

Both sides would benefit from a swift resolution to the pending lawsuits, suspensions, and other legal affairs hanging over Rodriguez. Once upon a time, he seemed destined to be one of Major League Baseball’s all-time greats.

Jack Clark Boston

I’m sure if went a little further back in the time machine, we’d find a good number of Tom Yawkey and later Lou Gorman inspired nightmares for the Sox of the 1970’s through the early 1990’s.  Jack Clark ring a bell?  Let’s not even get into Carl Crawford.

Swing and a Myth…

Finding the Real Ted Williams

The Kid in color

By: Scott Conroy

For a sports-obsessed kid like myself, growing up in what is arguably the nation’s most sports-obsessed city, Ted Williams’ very name conjured a mythic quality.

In the pantheon of historical significance, he placed somewhere between Joan of Arc and George Washington — and was just as unknowable.

I never saw more than a few seconds of archived footage of the legendary Red Sox left fielder in action, but I knew a few facts about the man, which were as ingrained in my mind as my own date of birth.

Williams was the last player to achieve a .400 batting average, which he pulled off during the 1941 season — a singular accomplishment in a sport that venerates individual statistics.

He hit a home run in the last at-bat of his 19-year career, every inning of which he played in a Red Sox uniform.

And, most importantly, Ted Williams was “the greatest hitter who ever lived.”

The Kid and The Babe

This laudatory and unnuanced appraisal was regarded — in my world, at least — as a matter of undisputed fact. Any peer who might have argued otherwise during an elementary school recess or a backyard Whiffle ball game would face ridicule as biting as if he had claimed that 1 + 1 = 3.

The Kid is the culmination of a decade-long effort by longtime Boston Globe reporter and editor Ben Bradlee Jr. to provide a comprehensive look at the man whose posters adorned his bedroom walls as a Boston-area child in the 1950s.

The result, an engrossing and exhaustively researched biography, applies plenty of ink across its nearly 800 pages in documenting Williams’ Hall of Fame playing career — the facts of which back up most of the legends about him.

While Bradlee eagerly touts Williams’ peerless attributes as the player who could hit for both power and average better than anyone in baseball history, he also engages in some welcomed myth-busting.

The Kid eyes itAmong the Ted Williams “facts” that youth baseball coaches like to trumpet in batting cages up and down New England: his vision was so phenomenal that he could actually see the seams of the ball as it hurtled toward him at upwards of 95 miles per hour.

As it turns out, Naval doctors determined that Williams’ vision was 20/15 — an excellent mark that put him in the top 95 percent of young men his age, though not quite in the realm of superhero acuity.

Though Bradlee’s recounting of Williams’ career is candy for any baseball fan, The Kid shines brightest in detailing the paradoxical character, cinematic life and sad circumstances surrounding the death of the Splendid Splinter.

That Williams spent much of his life either hiding or downplaying his half-Mexican heritage is perhaps unsurprising given the biases that permeated his southern California upbringing and the segregated sport in which he became a star.

But the extent to which his ethnic background has remained obscured is striking. If one were to gather a roomful of passionate baseball fans today, I’d confidently wager that more than half would have no idea that Teddy Ballgame was among the first great Hispanic ballplayers in the big leagues.

Bradlee is at his most compelling when detailing the circumstances surrounding Ted InductedWilliams being drafted into the Navy in World War II, just months after his .406 season — and a time when he was entering what should have been the prime years of his career.

After originally being granted a Class 3-A deferment, on account of being the sole economic provider to his mother, Williams quietly asked his attorney to challenge the U.S. government’s decision to change his draft status to Class 1-A (available for unrestricted military service) — an appeal that the Selective Service rejected.

Williams’ initial attempts to avoid leaving the batter’s box for the cockpit were catnip for Boston’s aggressive newspaper reporters in the post-Pearl Harbor patriotic melee.  In the months before he reported for duty, he received a bevy of letters in support of him and more than a few that questioned his courage.

One unidentified heckler mailed the All-Star left fielder two sheets of blank yellow paper — a message intended to remind Williams of the color of cowardice.

“I’ve noticed that the mud-slingers border on the illiterate side,” the famously prickly Williams, who often viewed himself as a victim of  overly aggressive media, said at the time. “The encouraging letters come from well-bred persons.”

Once he reported for duty, Williams took the hard road — becoming a commissioned second lieutenant in the Marines Corps. He did not see combat over the Pacific — a disappointment for a man who, once he was on active duty, envisioned “downing a Zero” (a Japanese fighter plane) as something of an all-time life achievement.

Instead, Williams spent the last months of the war as the U.S. military’s most famous flight instructor in Pensacola, Fla., where he was somewhat of a ringer while playing for the base’s recreational baseball team.

After returning to baseball and eventually entering the latter stage of his playing career, he did not mask his fury over what he considered unfair treatment: He was recalled to fly combat missions over North Korea in 1952.

Ted in Korea

During his very first engagement of the Korean War, Williams’ fighter jet was hit by small arms fire. He considered ejecting, but fearing that a crippling injury would make his return to the diamond impossible, he made a daring emergency landing.

In all, Williams lost five of his prime playing years to military service — a fact that makes his final stat sheet all the more remarkable and that has long been a centerpiece in any discussion of his greatness.

After all, who could imagine a pro athlete in the modern era giving up all of the money and privileges of sports fame to serve his country?

Well, Pat Tillman may not have been a star approaching Williams’ caliber when he left the NFL to join the Army Rangers after the 9/11 attacks, but the $3.6 million contract the Arizona Cardinal safety turned down in favor of fighting in Afghanistan, where he gave his life, dwarfed Williams’ 1941 salary of $30,000.

That’s not to say that Williams’ wartime service was any less honorable, but Bradlee details the extent to which it was initially reluctant.

A hallmark of Williams’ post-playing career was his generous charity work on behalf of the Jimmy Fund, Boston’s leading foundation for cancer research support — time and money  that he insisted not be accompanied by media attention.

Bradlee’s painstaking efforts to recount the macabre details of the family struggle that led to Williams’ body being cryonically preserved after his death in 2002 are difficult to digest but nonetheless serve as an essential postscript to this “immortal life.”

Bill Weld and Ted open the tunnelIn 1993, Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld was tasked with naming the long-awaited tunnel that would connect South Boston to Logan Airport — a major component of the epically over-budget Big Dig project that would finally modernize The Hub’s traffic-plagued highway system.

After determining that there were already enough public infrastructure projects named after politicians, Weld decided to honor one of Boston’s sports heroes.

There were several more-decorated local candidates from which to choose.  No athlete in the history of sports, after all, is more synonymous with the words “winner” and “dynasty” than Bill Russell, who led the Celtics to an astounding 11 NBA championships during his 13-year career. And three-time consecutive NHL MVP Bobby Orr revolutionized the defenseman position during his 10 seasons with the Bruins and  scored one of the most memorable goals in hockey history in clinching the 1970 Stanley Cup.

Ted Williams, on the other hand, slumped his way through his Red Sox’s only World Series appearance, in 1946, and never won the fall classic.

But then again, neither did Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, or any of the other Red SoxTed and Yaz greats who graced Fenway Park during the team’s infamous 86-year World Series draught.

Despite never having brought home the big one, no sports hero’s legend shines brighter in Beantown than the man who liked to be called The Kid. And so the cane-wielding 77-year-old was granted the honor of opening The Ted Williams Tunnel in 1995.

Even if that landmark must one day share valuable downtown real estate with Larry Bird Drive, The David Ortiz Parkway, or Tom Brady Bridge, Ted Williams’ mystique will remain unparalleled in Boston lore — and The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams is now the definitive biography.

The Kid book cover

Boston native Scott Conroy is the national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. Follow on Twitter @RealClearScott.

Nieves & Pierzynski share Sox…

Although the Red Sox made their one-year deal with A.J. Pierzynski official on Dec. 4, it seems the free-agent catcher’s interest in Boston began much earlier than that.

Juan Nieves BostonHow early? According to Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves, about five weeks earlier — when the team was on the verge of winning the World Series.  “We spoke in St. Louis because he was there [working as a television analyst],” Nieves said Saturday. “He mentioned the fact, ‘I would love to come here and be with this group,’ because he saw the atmosphere in the locker room.

“The seed was planted there.”

Indeed, Pierzynski worked as an analyst during the 2013 postseason for Fox, his Juan Nieves Chicagothird year doing so. However, it was the five years Pierzynski spent working closely in Chicago with then-bullpen coach Nieves that led to the conversation the two had in October.

“He’s going to bring a lot of energy, a lot of will to win,” Nieves said. “It’s going to be exciting to see how he manages our pitching staff.”

Pierzynski served as the Chicago White Sox’ primary catcher from 2005 to 2012 before signing with the Texas Rangers a month after Nieves left Chicago to join the Red Sox staff as pitching coach. Pierzynski hit .272 with 17 home runs and 70 RBIs for Texas last season.

“When you see A.J. as an opposing player you don’t like him, but when you see him on your team you’re going to see a guy that comes in every day and plays hard,” Nieves said. “He wants to be in that big situation.”
AJ riled up
Pierzynski spent the first five seasons of his major league career on the Minnesota Twins, playing with current Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz; he caught pitcher Jake Peavy with the White Sox from 2009 to 2012.
Jake and AJ
“For the experience and for the type of player he is, I think he will be a nice fit on the team,” Nieves said. “We’re going to embrace that, but that will start right after the beginning of January.”

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