Monday, December 08, 2014

Minnie Miñoso Belongs in the Hall

Circa 1995, I was on a work trip to South Bend, Indiana. One evening, I was in a retail store of some kind when an employee's voice came over the loudspeaker announcing a giveaway contest. They were awarding a prize to the customer who could produce evidence he or she had come the furthest to shop in their store.

South Bend is in western Indiana, bordering Michigan to the north and not far from Illinois to the west, so another customer was understandably convinced being from Ohio would prove good enough to win. That is, until I unearthed my New York driver's license with Albany address. (I suppose the fact I was from New York was enough, as I could've been from Jamestown and still won by a landslide.)

The prize was two tickets to a South Bend Silver Hawks game the following night. At the time, South Bend was the Class A Midwest League affiliate of the White Sox.

I don't recall if I successfully recruited a co-worker to accompany me to the game. In fact, my hazy memory is of going to the game solo, which is something I've done countless times without reservation.

I also don't remember much about Coveleski Stadium, the home of the Silver Hawks, which is named after Hall of Famer and 55-year South Bend resident Stan Coveleski.

What I do remember is that Minnie Miñoso was there signing autographs, for free. I've never been much of a memorabilia collector, but every once in a while I decide to seize an opportunity. This, of course, was one of those occasions.

I quickly popped into the nearest souvenir store and purchased a cheap Silver Hawks ball which, with Mr. Miñoso's gracious assistance, became this souvenir:

Of course, none of this, in any way, has anything to do with Miñoso's Hall of Fame case, which I admit I've come around on in recent years. That is to say I've gone from thinking he's borderline to believing he definitely belongs in Cooperstown.

Miñoso's chances of getting in seemed pretty close to zero after he fell short on the 2012 Golden Era ballot, receiving nine of 16 possible votes, three short of election. This came after he was passed over by the 2006 special election of the Negro Leagues Committee, which inducted 17 former players, pioneers and executives of black baseball.

Miñoso's Hall of Fame case is borderline at first glance, but when his late start in the minors due to segregation is factored in, I believe a strong argument can be made in his favor.

Cuban-born Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Minoso played his first professional baseball in the United States in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That year, Minnie signed with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League.

Minnie was signed by the Indians in 1948, but he was already 22, unproven at the highest level, and his road to the majors blocked by several veterans. So, he toiled in the minors for 2+ seasons, playing nine games at the major league level in 1949 and none in 1950, before being traded to the White Sox in early 1951.

In Chicago, he became an instant star, homering in his first at bat and finishing the year with a .326/.422/.500 triple slash line, a 151 OPS+ and leading the league in triples (16), stolen bases (31) and HBP (16), while scoring 112 runs. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and fourth in MVP voting that season.

Miñoso averaged 5 WAR per year from 1951 to 1959, 4.1 per year through 1962, his age 36 season. His 1963 season was a -1.7 WAR disaster, signalling the end of his career. I've said before I think 4 WAR per year over 15 years is a Hall of Fame career. Miñoso's productiveness falls three seasons short of that, but what do we make of his late start?

I normally don't cut a guy any slack for a late arrival to the major leagues, but the fact of the matter is Miñoso was already 21 years old when Jackie Robinson made his major league debut. Obviously, the majors didn't become fully integrated overnight, and we can't fault Miñoso for not being the guy Branch Rickey hand-picked to be the first.

So, it stands to reason that, given the opportunities white ballplayers had, Minnie would have been drafted younger and potentially would have fully broken into the majors 2-3 years earlier than he did.

Would this have been enough to make his Hall of Fame case that much clearer? I think so.

A lot of people my age know Minnie more for his distinction of being one of only two players in history—-Nick Altrock being the other—-to play in five different decades. Brief appearances with the White Sox, in 1976 at age 50 and 1980 at age 54, helped him achieve that notoriety. But, Minoso did put together what should be considered a Hall of Fame career.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Council Rock and the Hall

If you're still reading, you've certainly noticed this blog's output has dropped off quite a bit this year. I don't expect that to change anytime soon, but I'm still going to try to keep writing about what I consider the essential subject matter. 

To that point, I'm a little (as in way) overdue for an update on my annual trek to Cooperstown for induction weekend. 

Hall of Fame weekend was the last weekend in July, and we spent Thursday through Sunday in Cooperstown. Here are some highlights. 

A Thursday evening visit to Council Rock Brewery, a relatively new place on the outskirts of town. I wasn't expecting to be blown away, and I wasn't, but I was pleasantly surprised. 

I enjoyed a flight of five 5-oz. samples for $8.50, which included a few guest taps as well. In fact, I was just as impressed with the offerings from Hamilton, New York's Good Nature Farm Brewery (Bavarian Dream Hefeweizen and American Brown Ale). 

The Council Rock beers (Full Nelson Pale Ale and Vienna Lager) were very good as well, leaving me to wonder if this isn't already the second best Cooperstown brewery. More on that at a later date, hopefully. 

I was a little less enthusiastic about the one guest beer from a brewery I was already familiar with (Captain Lawrence Kolsch). 

Of course, this and future vacations will surely have an increasing emphasis on Little Chuck's entertainment, so this year seemed like a good time to check out the Farmer's Museum for the first time. 

Considering he still talks about it, I'd say the Farmer's Museum was a hit, although at one point we realized he thinks a farmer is what you and I refer to as a barn. We haven't really bothered to correct him—well, we've tried, but it hasn't worked—so we're leaving this as one of those cute toddlerisms that will correct itself eventually. 

Here's another reason the Farmer's Museum was a big hit. As I said earlier, I hope to eventually get around to writing something about the Cooperstown beer scene, including the area's history as a hop producer. 

Of course, there was Saturday night's parade of Hall of Famers down Main Street. No acknowledgement from Eddie Murray this year. He's still a family favorite, but Rollie Fingers is now LC's favorite player. Because of the mustache, of course. 

Last, but certainly not least, here are the induction ceremony high—and low—lights:
  • Greg Maddux made a fart joke.
  • Dumb Braves fans started the tomahawk chop/war chant (or whatever it is) during Tom Glavine's speech. 
  • Many dumb Braves fans left after Glavine's speech. Honestly, I suspect that's what the Hall of Fame wanted. Why else would they schedule Maddux, Bobby Cox and Glavine as the first three speeches. 
  • I missed most of Tony LaRussa's speech waiting on line to use the porta-johns. 
  • Frank Thomas cried. A lot. It was fantastic. 
  • Dumb Braves fans booed when Joe Torre referenced the 1996 World Series—his first in a career that spanned 18 years as a player and 16 as a manager to that point—during his speech. These are the first boos I've EVER heard at a Hall of Fame induction ceremony, except those directed at Bud Selig.
Obviously, not all Braves fans are dumb, but the notion that only Yankees and Red Sox and Phillies fans are idiots has been out the window for many years, as far as I'm concerned. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Four for My Personal Hall

When we collaborated on our Personal Hall of Fame project last year, my (mostly) High Heat Stats pals and I never discussed if it was something we'd be updating on an annual basis, but that always was my intention.

Since there's a ton of Hall of Fame discussion surrounding the time of year the BBWAA voting is announced, I decided I'd unveil my "inductees" just prior to the actual induction ceremony. Since that's this weekend, I'd say it's about time to reveal my fairly predictable selections for the class of 2014. 

Greg Maddux
No big surprise that the pitcher who's 8th all-time in Wins and pitching WAR is the easiest choice here. 

Frank Thomas
Thomas will become the first Hall of Famer to have fielded a position in less than half his career gamesPaul Molitor came close, but still played the field more than he didn'tyet Edgar Martinez continues to be considered as less than a complete player. Perhaps The Big Hurt will mention Edgar in his speech. Don't count on it. 

Tom Glavine
Well, that wasn't much of a tribute to Thomas there, was it? No offense intended. I am putting him in my personal Hall, after all, so it should be pretty clear what I think of him. The same goes for Glavine, but, as with Thomas, his induction reminds me of another slight, this one perhaps even bigger than Martinez...

Mike Mussina
Mussina compares pretty favorably to Glavine. Sabermetrically speaking, he's actually a superior candidate (82.7 to 74 WAR over 850 fewer IP, 161 to 147 Hall Rating), while falling a little short by traditional standards (270 to 305 wins, 0 Cy Young awards to Glavine's 2). Glavine may very well be more Hall-worthy than Mussina, but this little comparisona compromise of sorts between old school and new schoolshows how truly close they are.

In my opinion, Glavine is perceived more as a Hall of Famer because he combined a couple dominant (i.e. Cy Young caliber) seasons with considerable longevity. I suppose Mussina is thought of as a guy who was just consistently very good, but the rate statsand those that consider contextshow he was a better pitcher than Glavine, just over a shorter period of time. 

Don't misinterpret this. I think Glavine is a no-doubt Hall of Famer. But, so is Mussina.

Of course, a bunch of guys who fell short on the actual 2014 ballot are already in my Personal Hall, but there are a few who I'd like to consider further, most notably Jeff Kent. However, I'm not dropping anyone from consideration. It's just that most of the rest of the eligible players won't be very high on my radar moving forward. 

Friday, June 06, 2014

The All-Yankees-Who-Never-Won-A-World Series Team

I've been working on the next entry in my All-Time Teams series for quite some time now. Actually, "working off and on" would be more accurate than "working on." Of course, since the last entry was the New York Mets, it should be pretty obvious who's up next.

However, at least partly inspired by Replacement Level's recent naming of The All-Never-Won-A-World Series Team, I'm going to allow myself to be sidetracked a little here.

This wasn't an easy exercise as it's pretty difficult finding significant Yankees who never won a World Series with the team. In fact, because of this, I decided not to hem and haw over the reserves and just go with a starting lineup, five-man rotation and relief pitcher.

Not surprisingly, the lineup is dominated by players from the deadball era, the pre-Steinbrenner years and the early-'80s to mid-'90s drought.

C - Mike Stanley
Stanley provided the Yankees with some good offense (134 OPS+) in a mostly full-time capacity from 1992-1995, but was let walk as a free agent, in favor of Joe Girardi, prior to their first World Series of the Jeter era. In August of 1997, the Red Sox traded him back to the Yankees, and he played a part-time role on their only late-'90s team that didn't win the World Series.

1B - Don Mattingly
Easily the most celebrated Yankee who never won a World Series, Mattingly also earned the most WAR for the franchise among players who fit the distinction. Of course, everyone knows Donnie Baseball played in his first postseason in 1995 and then retired fairly young, missing out on the 1996 celebration. He probably has a World Series ring earned during his time as a spring training hitting instructor, but otherwise his coaching and managing career has been similarly frustrating in terms of World Series victories. He became hitting coach in 2004 and left just prior to the 2008 season.

2B - Jimmy Williams
Williams was the franchise's original second baseman and served as the starter at the position from 1901-1907, providing good offense (116 OPS+) and solid overall play (20.7 WAR). He's also the only position player on this roster who played for the team before they were called the Yankees (1901-02: Baltimore Orioles, 1903-07: New York Highlanders).

SS - Roger Peckinpaugh
Peckinpaugh joined the team the year they became known as the Yankees (1913) and was a fixture at shortstop for most of that year and the eight seasons that followed. He played in the franchise's first World Series appearance, in which they lost 5-games-to-3 to the New York Giants in 1921. Following that season, he was part of a blockbuster deal between the Yankees and the Red SoxRip Collins, Jack Quinn, Bill Piercy and Peckinpaugh for Bullet Joe Bush, Sad Sam Jones and Everett Scottbut was subsequently traded to Washington three weeks later. In 1924, he was a member of the Senators' first and only World Series winning team.

3B - Home Run Baker
He had his best seasons with the Philadelphia Athleticswho won it all in 1910, 1911 and 1913 while he was therebefore being sold to the Yankees following a contract dispute over which he sat out the entire 1915 season. Like Peckinpaugh, he played on the World Series losing team of 1921. Unlike Peckinpaugh, he was also a member of the World Series losing team of 1922, his final major league season.

LF - Rickey Henderson
Henderson actually played more games in centerand reasonably wellfor the Yankees than in left, but the latter always seemed like his natural position. The mid-to-late '80s weren't as bad as most people remember, with 1989 being the only year they won less than 85 games. In fact, in Rickey's first and best year in pinstripes (1985), the Yankees won 97 games, but finished two behind the Blue Jays. Henderson played in 60 postseason gamesand won World Series in Oakland and Torontoin his career, but none of them were with the Yankees.

CF - Bobby Murcer
Getting back to our hard-luck stories, Murcer was with the Yankees from 1965-1974 and 1979-1983. You probably know what happened in the intervening four years...three trips to the World Series, two of them victorious. He never quite lived up to expectations (i.e. Mickey Mantle comparisons), but he enjoyed a fine career nonetheless.

RF - Dave Winfield
Little did anyone know when Winfield was dubbed "Mr. May" by George Steinbrenner following a 1-for-22 performance in the 1981 World Series loss to the Dodgers, it would turn out to be his last postseason appearance in pinstripes. He would, however, go on to deliver the game-winning hit in the Blue Jays' 1992 World Series clinching Game 6 victory.

DH - Jason Giambi
Giambi was on the 2003 team that lost the World Series to the Marlins, and I have to admit I didn't remember that he didn't play at all in the 2004 postseason. Judging by his seasons stats, he was injured and/or deemed ineffective when healthy, and I certainly recall watching Tony Clark and John Olerud play, but the Giambi circumstances aren't coming back to me.

RHP - Mike Mussina
Mussina, of course, began his Yankee years on the 2001 team that lost in seven games to the Diamondbacks, then retired following the first 20-win season of his career (2008). He surely could have been an integral part of the 2009 championship team, especially considering they tested the nerves of Yankees fans by getting through the entire postseason with a three-man rotation that included A.J. Burnett.

LHP - Tommy John
TJ's timing wasn't so great either, as he pitched for the Dodgers during their 1977 and 1978 World Series losses to the Yankees, then switched sides to be a member of the 1981 team that lost to the Dodgers. Those three losses would be the extent of John's World Series experience despite a 26-year career.

Mel Stottlemyre and deadball era pitchers Jack Chesbro and Russ Ford, all right-handed pitchers who might bump John if they were southpaws, round out the rotation.

RP - Dave Righetti
Rags never had a breakthrough season as a starter, but the decision to move him to the bullpen at age 25 epitomizes the team's mismanagement during the years between the two successful portions of the Steinbrenner era. I'm not saying letting him remain as a starter would've made the difference, but we never got to find out, did we?

Who did I miss?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Josh Beckett's Newest Fan

For as long as I can remember, every time I've been to a ballgame, the first thing I root for is a no-hitter. This, of course, means I'm rooting for both pitchers until they yield their first hits, but is only 100% true when I don't have a horse in the race. When my team's involved, I'd have a tough time rooting for them to get no-hit, but honestly that's never been an issue.

I can't really pinpoint when this personal tradition began, but my best guess is it started after I witnessed my first no-hitter in 1983. But, I do remember promoting this personal strategy of rooting for pitchers rather than teams to friends with whom I've attended games. 

As I alluded to in the first paragraph, I've been lucky that all the no-hitter flirtations in games involving the Yankees have been by Yankees pitchers: from Dave Righetti's no-no in 1983 to Mike Mussina's near perfect gem in 2001 to Chien-Ming Wang's 7 1/3 perfect innings in 2007. So, it pretty much goes without saying I'd be rooting for those pitchers to not allow hits or other base-runners. 

On Sunday, my neutral-game philosophy came to fruition for the first time. On the tail end of a Pennsylvania mini-vacation that included two days at Sesame Place with Little Chuck, KJ and I decided we'd visit Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia for the first time. It was also LC's first major league game and my first new park31st overall, including 20 currently in operationin five years.

It also happened to be IBEW Local 98 Ryne Sandberg Louisville Slugger Bat day, so the little guy came away with this nice souvenir:

Ryne Sandberg autographed bat
Don't worry, it's made of plastic.

I'd joked at every possible opportunity leading up to this game about how frustrating it was, as a Yankees fan living in Boston, that the pitching matchup we drew was Josh Beckett vs. A.J. Burnett. I had also decided, considering Burnett is relatively more likeable in my opinion, this was as good a reason as any to root for the home team.  

But, Burnett gave up a hit to Dee Gordon to lead off the game, so I quickly shifted allegiances.

It's at this point that most people start talking about when they began thinking about a no-hitter. I can honestly say it was on my mind throughout the entire game. However, I recall looking at the MLB At Bat app during the 5th inning and seeing Beckett was sitting at 73 pitches through 4 1/3 innings. That was actually mid at-bat, and one pitch later he got the second out of the inning. Still, 74 pitches through 4 2/3 projects to 143 to get the full 27 outs. Needless to say, I was convinced there was little chance he was going the distance, and combined no-hitters don't quite have the same luster.

It was a hot and sunny day, and we were all covered thoroughly with 30-50 SPF sunscreen, but I'll admit protecting my son's skin from the sun is one of my major neuroses as a parent. We also had a 3 1/4 hour drive (if we were lucky)through New Jersey to my Dad's place in New Yorkahead of us after the game and the boy's sleep schedule was already completely annihilated by our vacation.

So, I had it in my mind we were probably leaving early. Of course, I was also hoping I could rationalize I was doing it for my 2 1/2 year old son, not because I'm one of those guys who likes to leave early to beat the traffic. Besides, even if Beckett completed the job, leaving early wouldn't negate the reality my son's first major league game was a no-hitter. 

I feel like the beauty of the no-hitter has been torn down somewhat by the sabermetric community. Sure, it requires a certain amount of BABIP luck, and walking five or more batters can really detract from it. But, it's still a pretty special accomplishment and, honestly, short of a postseason series clinching game, I don't think there's a more exciting moment to witness live.

So, I was really torn between rooting for Beckett to give up a hit and stop teasing us already, and pulling for what seemed like a very outside chance of witnessing a little bit of history.

We left our seats after the 6th inning to get out of the sun and walk around the park a little. At that point, Beckett had thrown 90 pitcheswhich projects to 135 for the gameand the wife and I began to discuss whether or not we would stick it out.

After the Dodgers scored three in the top of the 7th to extend their lead to 6-0, Beckett's next two innings went by pretty quickly and economically, with him needing only 10 pitches to get through each. It was at this point that KJ eased my mind by emphatically stating, "We HAVE to stay!"

LC kind of wanted to leave, but other than a couple hat-throwing incidents, he remained well behaved, as he did for most of the trip. By now, you surely know the outcome. I'm hoping and expecting Little Chuck will better appreciate in the future that, at his first major league game, he witnessed a no-hitter.

Dodgers celebrate Beckett's no-hitter.
Yeah, I regret not pulling out the good camera for this one.