Sunday, December 15, 2013

2014 Hall of Fame 

Above is a link to the Hall of Fame ballot for 2014.

Here are my choices:

1. Greg Maddux. This should need no explanation.
2. Edgar Martinez. Just look at the swing. But, if we need to, the key to evaluating players from Martinez' time should be to look at the whole player, as always, but a useful stat would be OPS+. I think a whole view of Martinez shows him to be one of the top 5 or 6 hitters of his time. His weakness is in being a DH, but that is a position on a baseball field for 40 years, so its not really an issue. Martinez was a good enough 3rd baseman. I also offer one more argument: Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro Suzuki will all probably end up in the HOF, Arod will probably have to wait, but still, I would argue that Edgar Martinez was a better hitter than 3 teammates who benefitted greatly from having Martinez in the lineup.
3. Tim Raines. Tim Raines is the second greatest leadoff hitter of modern times, Ichiro Suzuki is third, Charlie Hustle and Lou Brock tied in fourth, Paul Molitor is fifth, Craig Biggio is sixth, Kenny Lofton is seventh. After that you get your variations who shouldn't be in the HOF: Johnny Damon, Brett Butler, Willie Wilson. Then guys who aren't even quite to that edge, but have their own unique, and excellent, just not HOF level, time in at leadoff: Alphonso Soriano (I know, I know), Tony Phillips, Bert Campaneris, Jimmy Rollins. But, c'mon, Tim Raines. The fact is Rickey probably could have been more helpful as a 3 hitter. After all, if you have both Tony Phillips and Rickey Henderson, its not an argument that Rickey is a better leadoff hitter, but what is the best way to arrange the available bats you've got. But, that's kind of stupid of me, because if you've got Rickey Henderson, arguably to me the greatest baseball player ever, you just put him up front and let him play. Anyway, Tim Raines.
4. Alan Trammell. Are the greatest baseball players really all at first base and right field? Of course not.
5. Tom Glavine. Nuff Said.
6. Lee Smith. I think durability is something valuable when we consider the Hall of Fame. The idea to me that Kirby Puckett is a HOFer and Ferris Fain isn't is, well, just wrong.  I think talent is only part of the HOF. A HOF player should have luck, resistance to injury, any number of things, as well as a transcendent level of talent that they use to achieve at a level higher than their contemporaries. Things must be measured in context. Lee Smith is one of the best closers in baseball history. He is also the model that we now have, and one of the reasons for that is Lee Smith. His talent changed the way a game was managed, and that approach, effective because of Smith's talent and willingness to actuate that talent, is now the model across all of baseball.
7. Jack Morris. Here's the rub: who should be in the Hall of Fame: Jack Morris or Curt Schilling? Jack Morris, for now, then Curt Schilling, then Pedro Martinez...., back to the point: pitched one of the great games in baseball history. I have a hard time differentiating that from the rest of his career, that impression colors the entire picture for me. Same with Edgar Martinez. I saw Edgar hit, he was a Hall of Famer. He did that at the conclusion of being, in my opinion, the best pitcher consistently for a decade. This is why my next one is
8. Roger Clemens. Who knows about the drugs. Roger, probably. He was already on the edge, and then BBWAA gives him 4 more Cy Youngs instead of being reporters. If they want to keep him out of the HOF now, I think its a bunch of hypocrisy on their part.
9. Barry Bonds. See Clemens, but the point is 4 MVPs. Lets say Canseco was right, and 80% of the players were using. What you got to see with Bonds was what happens when one of the all time greats, already, decides to use the same tools as a Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmiero. You could not pitch in the strike zone against Bonds anyway, and for a couple of years, it was really must-see-tv. It was the true spectacle of the game.
10. Craig Biggio. Judgment call. Let Bagwell wait another year. I think Biggio was a fantastic player, even with the taint on the clubhouse. My favorite part of Biggio's game was his immense talent at the game itself, put him anywhere on the field, he was a ball player. Also, his way of crowding the plate.

On the cusp: Frank Thomas. He has no steroids taint that I know of, but I say make em all wait a year. Besides, there's a backlog to sort through. But, I can see Thomas going in anyone's place except Maddux. Mike Piazza. I think Piazza and Thomas may get in, but they are just lower on my priority list. Palmiero. Overall, his career is an odd one, just under league leaders during times of specialization, and he didn't do himself any favors in Congress. But, I think one of the stupidest things ever is the idea that players need to be put in on the first ballot. Ridiculous. In fact, what we have developing here is a unique situation not seen since the early ballots, but also it may look like the 1960s. Look at the ballots in the 1960s: Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Joe Medwick, Stan Musial, Roy Campanella. Now that is a Hall of Fame.

Who among the batch of players measures up to that decade of elected? Well, Greg Maddux. If I could get the steroids issue out of my head, Barry Bonds. Lets face it, if Bert Blyleven can be in the HOF, then so can Jack Morris, but if Feller is the measurement?

What I would suggest is that the HOF needs several areas of improvement. For one thing, there needs to be greater parity among the defensive positions. There also needs to be a greater respect for the overall number of games a player plays in. Durability is, I think, the corrective. There have been many players who had an exceptional level of talent, and one thing or another prevents the sustained performance. I also don't think 10 years is a reasonable cut off. See Ferris Fain. Playing  3 games in another year, is that serious consideration for HOF? Yet, it would be. Also, I think "Fame" should be a consideration. There needs to be a certain amount of starpower for players we are considering for contemporary baseball.

Game 29, Seattle's youthful and brillian right hander, weakened in the seventh....

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Season, again.

Well, the baseball season has come and gone. For the Mariners, the season was an unremarkable one exceptional only in the short between hope and dismay. Of course, it could also be that its potential is only pushed farther out into the future. The team is young, as we are often reminded. Not at young as the little league players the majority of Mariners are not far removed from being, but rather young in terms of unrealized talent, one hopes. One of the major aspects of their potential improvement has been in the overall base production of the team. It is a slowly increasing trend, which still needs improvement in order for the Mariners to become a winning team. Roughly speaking, if the Mariners don't find a way to add 150 runs a year, it doesn't matter if they have five Felix's pitching.

At a certain point, the season was a distraction, if we can call hope such a thing. I do need to get back to transcribing the daily stories of the 1924 Indians. Lately I have been distracted by writing up a 'game biography' of the August 5, 1921 contest between the Phillies and the Pirates at Forbes Field. It was the first game broadcast on the radio. Also, and even more time consuming, has been the research into Pacific Northwest pre-professional baseball.

In regards to that, I think I may have found the Johnny Appleseed of Salish Sea krankdom. The guy I'm on the trail of was given the moniker John C. Keenan. He was from Ireland, born around 1830. He came to the US, eventually, via Texas, possibly being a Ranger, by the age of 20 to 21, he was in the gold fields by 1850. At some point he made his way to Sacramento, having founded one saloon and then another. The Fashion Saloon made money the old fashioned way, the oldest, and also sold alcohol. Probably a good bit of gambling as well. Keenan became involved with the Sutter Course, and presumably a hand in the betting on the races. He was also involved in the Sutter Rifles and when not involved in civil defense, bartending, prostitution, horse racing and gambling...oh, he was also a volunteer fireman.

By 1858, he was going back and forth somehow between Victoria and Sacramento. This can be gathered by reports in the Sacramento papers of Keenan being there, and census data places him in both locations. He was involved in a cricket club in Victoria by 1858, but is playing baseball in Sacramento by 1860. There was organized baseball in Sacramento by late 1858. In fact, there was probably a game in 1851. Finally in 1862, the Fashion Saloon of Victoria was the site of the organization of another cricket club, and then a team made up of players named for the Fashion played a group of cricket players in a game base ball, referred to then as being like rounders. Its a peculiar attribution, which may indicate the writer of such a story was familiar with Chadwick.

That game was in March 1863. The papers mentioned that Keenan provided instruction on the game to the other players, helping in develop their skills. Base ball was played intermittently, often against cricket players, in Victoria after that. In 1866, the Olympic club was organized, "under New York Rules". By then, Keenan had made his way back to San Francisco. In 1864 or 1865, his wife had closed up their business interests in Sacramento and was travelling to Victoria 7 or 8 young women to work at the Victoria Fashion Saloon when they all died in a shipwreck. By around 1868 Keenan had was living in San Francisco and he died. He left a will that wound its way through the court, disputed by a mother and another wife.

More to come.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Game 28, The Seattle Daily Times, May 8, 1924.

The Seattle Daily Times, May 8, 1924.
Sometimes I think we live in the age of constant memory. I would say real memory, but I doubt such a thing, and perhaps memory has as many off-white mixes as the salt and pepper beard of a fading man. I recall as a child a photograph being an incredibly and indelibly precious thing. Now I will hand off my digital camera to my kids and let them go crazy. Snap by the hundreds, delete whatever. Each photograph was a memory in another time, a composed action more often proposed than accident. We lived without much of our history, both personally and as a culture, as a result of decisions about what we would pay the expense of photographing and what was less important. What could be left to memory. Often that left behind matter was something that was so commonplace, why would it ever be committed to a photograph? I don't know if having a world where nothing seems to fade is such a good thing. History is obviously important to someone such as myself, and its important in many other respects. But these are always fragments of history, the best memory is nothing better than a half-tone. More likely it is an mp3, with an 11 to 1 compression ratio. It may be harmful, this lack of detail, or at least stagnating, in that we only see history with mostly broad strokes. I love picking through the past and finding these details in the brush marks, finding the dried peels and imagining the orange flesh, and further, imagining the sun under which it grew.

I also am amazed at how much we forget over time. Having transcribed many newspaper accounts of that appeared in newspapers from 1866 to just prior to World War II, I find it interesting to see how much of our modern language appears in the old news accounts, and at which times it appears. As one goes further into the daily past, the language changes, as you would expect. I think most of us think of the 1920s or the 1880s as a long time ago, and in a way it is, as thirty thousand yesterdays should be. After all, just imagine, fully, yesterday. But it is also merely the age of our grandparents or their own. In a way, this mystery is due to a lack of detail, and to truly tell a tale of any moment from history would require the immense connection of history. After all, again, imagine yourself today and your own connection to the world events of today. Today may be insignificant, or perhaps it may have an important moment that will be caught in the broad stroke of a later storyteller, a December 7, a September 11, but imagine the immensity of your today and how it dissipates in the flow of history, yet how important your own breath is to this very moment. Every aspect of history that is touched upon broadly is made up equally of such details. A death in World War 1, a man coughing from a 1917 gassing in 1924 as he sits in the Spring sun after a day shift, watching a double play. He is there, in the untold parts of the story, or on a train to Canada. That lack of detail also allows us to define that past, which is both bad and good. It is bad in that we will necessarily produce a definition that is different from a complete truth of accuracy, but we try to illuminate truth, maybe through an exegesis, or even an illumination of nothing related actuality. Especially as we examine a society that wasn't concerned with its history or was only beginning to really understand it was engaging in history. Now we have one that is obsessed with its daily archive. Its good in that we must always work on redefining what the past means to us, especially as we come to know it better.

The Seattle Indians played their 28th game of 1924 on May 7th, 1924 and the game was reported on May 8th. Forty years later, to the day, my older brother would be born on May 8th, and forty-eight and a half years from then we would have today. Thus, in the slightly off kilter numerical tendencies all far too avid baseball fans tend to auger into, a boy of eight years old who played on his school team, and also avidly followed the local pro team, in 1924, would be 48 in 1964. It is highly likely that if you found the right person, he could recall being at Dugdale Field the day he saw the beloved Indians get 17 hits. He could have been sitting with his 48 year old father, who could tell him about the day in 1884 he saw the local semi-pro team, since in 1884 Seattle didn't have fully professional baseball yet. So, what I mean is, it is a short chain of events really. A small amount of separation between us and the larger historical past that these events occur within. As a whole Earth, an amazing amount of things have gone on since 1924, but there's a slight chance there is someone somewhere who could still describe to youwhat it was like to be at a baseball game early May, 90 years ago.

I thought with this posting I would look at the larger picture of society illuminated by abstracted elements within the sports page of a given day. Here we have two teams made up of players drawn from across the country, half of whom have associations with other players and teams that can drawn you back into the earliest history of the game and the nation if you go down such a path. We have Mickey Cochrane as a young man for Portland coming in to play center field. Jim Bagby of Seattle was only a few years removed from winning a World Series. Most of the players would never see such a thing. Yet, on the same day, this baseball game was more than the one game in town.

In the same sports, naturally further down, we see the results of the grade school leagues. Many of these schools have long since dissappeared. But what this shows us is the value this particular social activity had in its community. The papers of the time were filled with each and every league. When you look across the breadth of activity, you get an idea of why baseball lived up to its reputation as the National Pasttime. From the grade schools to the high schools, organized baseball provided an outlet and activity. Kids would learn the game as it was taught then. Once they were out of school, only a few would go to college. The University of Washington had at least an unofficial 'University Nine' as early as 1880. Nonetheless, college was not the typical destination for most kids. Being good at baseball would, however, get you a better job, and better shifts on that job. If your future was as a coal miner, and you could play centerfield like nobody's business, then you got the early shifts, and the safer ones. If you were a kid in the city, and had starred in high school, you could make your way through any one of a number of semi-pro teams, and get a decent, well-paying job and a future. If Supply Laundry wanted to keep winning, they would actively recruit, and find those recruits jobs. Same with other businesses.

As we see when looking at the grade schools, their season was just closing, but the Commercial League season was in its nascent stages for the year. At this time and earlier, many of the greatest players would get their starts in these amatuer and semi-pro leagues, especially if they needed development beyond high school or were not lucky enough to play college baseball. A young Earl Averill, who has been to spring training to start this season, was found lacking by manager Wade Killefer. Averill was already 22 years old, and made his way back to Everett. It was another two years of semi-pro ball before he made his way to the San Francisco Seals, and another five before he hit Cleveland on his way to the Hall of Fame. Part of me always wonders what could have happened if he'd had a chance on the 1924 Indians. I think that also says something for the general quality of baseball across the semi-pro and minor leagues of the west. There were many PCL players who moved right into the majors and excelled. Anyway, the semi-pro's. Seattle's Commercial League teams actually played integrated baseball at the time. Maybe not on their teams, but with absolute certainty they had played other teams, such as the Asahi Japanese teams. Seattle had at least one Black baseball team by 1911, and probably further back than that.

By the end of the 1920s, Seattle had a Commercial League team that featured top company teams, neighborhood teams, as well as a top notch Japanese team made up of Nisei and Issei players, and a top Black baseball team. Seattle's public schools had always been integrated, so if you look at the rosters on Franklin High School, for instance, in 1919, you'll find Black, Asian, and the variety of White players from assorted backgrounds. Of course, one of the larger points of this blog is that you will not find Indian players, unless you know where to look. Sometimes they would visit, and they would be discernable by their nickname Chief, such as Chief Moses Yellowhorse of Sacramento.

In the Commecial League, we see teams from Ernst Hardware, Northern Life Insurance, Sunset Motors. Other teams are from the YMCA, the Eagles, the Mercer Athletic Club, and Bellevue. Many times such teams would feature a former pro ballplayer, a ringer of sorts. Hard to tell if thats the case with any of these. Most of the semi-pro teams would have two or three really good players, those who weren't quite good enough to make it as a pro, were certainly good enough to get a decent job thanks to their skills on the diamond.

I think one of the ways we can learn about baseball and any other cultural or social phenomenon is to also look at the peripheral information available. Much of history is implied by association rather than directly expressed in an easy to digest fashion. In other words, rarely do you find "the new sport of baseball has come to town and were building a field and here's who is doing it and here's exactly what that means to everyone who cares". Usually its something like the advertisement for a game time, or the comic I've included here. Something like a comic does not need to directly express all of the information it is using to communicate its points. It depends on an existing level of cultural information in order to be humorous. In essence, it is a lot of shorthand. Going back to the 1860s and 1870s, when we first see baseball in the Pacific Northwest, this type of cultural shorthand is what we see when baseball is mentioned, or the Indian Wars are mentioned, or opium dens. The reader was expected to possess enough knowledge that the writer of the article could make a short point while communicating a larger field of information. In other words, the space occupied by the letters was larger depending on the place it was received. This makes sense if you think about the way you interact with a billboard. There is a very short message, an image as well. Its relevance depends on your ability associate that message with another separate given set of information. Its the same with a box score, or a comic about baseball, or a short blurb on an injured player.


Thus, when we see a sports page filled with game highlights and box scores from grade schools to colleges and commercial and semi-pro leagues, its pretty easy to do the math and figure the number of people involved. From there we can see that, in a time before radio and television, when most entertainment and sport was something you did with other people outside of the home, that baseball and its myths and permutations formed in such a context. Baseball was not just a game for the major leagues, but rather something that was an indelible part of the fabric of the community. And especially in the West, these communities developed with baseball being already part of the American identity.