Tagged: Hall of Fame Classic

A Smattering of Intelligence: Martinez, Hurdle, and the HOF Classic

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Along with most rational and reasonable fans, I would expect
that rookie ballplayers, fresh off their recall from the minor leagues, will
run hard and play hard at all times in order to make a good impression. With
that in mind, it is with some sadness that I feel motivated to discuss Fernando
Martinez’ decision not to run out a
pop-up on Wednesday night. As Washington’s Wil
Nieves dropped the ball, Martinez
remained near home plate and nearly 90 feet away from first base, when he
should have been crossing the bag.

 

How can this possibly happen, especially in what was only
the second game of Martinez’
major league career? Believe it or not, there is an explanation. Martinez , the
No. 1 prospect in the Mets’ farm system, has obviously been watching too many major
league highlights from his Triple-A perch with the Buffalo Bisons. For the last
two and a half seasons, the major league Mets have made a painful habit of not running out pop-ups, not running hard on drives to the
outfield wall, not understanding that
you don’t make the third out at third base, and not sliding on close plays at second base or home plate. The Mets
epitomize all that is wrong with the sorry start of baserunning in today’s
game, where the notion of running hard three to four times a game has
mindlessly become optional for too
many contemporary players. (Since when is it so strenuous for major league
athletes to run hard a few times a game?) The Mets have set a terrible example
for fans and young ballplayers, an example that top prospects like Martinez have become all
too obliged to follow.

 

Frankly, the Mets’ baserunning problems have become so
embarrassing that the situation has reached a boiling point. It’s time for
manager Jerry Manuel to take off the kid gloves and adopt a zero tolerance
policy toward lackadaisical baserunning. He needs to say something to this
effect to his ballplayers, veterans and rookies alike: if you don’t run hard, you will sit the bench the following day. If the
problem persists and you again don’t run hard, you will ride the pines for two
days. And so on and so forth.
At this point, the threat of the bench is
perhaps the only way to get through to the Mets’ thick-headed players.

 

Unfortunately, the Mets have been so thick-headed when it
comes to baserunning that if Manuel adopts such a policy, he will probably run
out of players within a week…

 

 

Two years ago, Colorado’s
Clint Hurdle and Arizona’s
Bob Melvin were on top of the world, both men leading their teams to the 2007
National League Championship Series. Both are out of jobs now, after Hurdle was
fired on Friday in what may be the least surprising ousting of a manager in
major league history. The Rockies have played brutal, uninspiring ball all season
for Hurdle, a veteran of seven seasons as Colorado’s skipper. Hurdle has displayed
some unusual tendencies, like often playing for one run during the early
innings of games at the Coors Field hitter’s haven. He has also failed to
motivate his players to play hard, always an indictment of a manager. Of
course, Hurdle has also had to play shorthanded. His best player, Matt
Holliday, is now in Oakland.
His best pitcher, Jeff Francis, is out for the season after surgery. His best
reliever, Brian Fuentes, is now an Angel. 

While some observers could build a reasonable case that
Hurdle deserved longer rope from the Rockies,
there is no reasonable case for the hiring of Jim Tracy, the team’s bench
coach. Tracy
has failed badly in not one, but two managerial stops: first with the Dodgers
and then with the Pirates. Most successful managers possess either a fieriness
that helps them motivate or a strategic acumen that gives them an in-game
advantage; Tracy
appears to have neither of those qualities…

 

 

More names continue to be added to the list of participants for
the first Hall of Fame Classic. Former Yankee Kevin Maas, a one-year wonder in
the Bronx, is the latest retired player to commit to the June 21st old-timers game here in Cooperstown. He will
join other ex-Yankees Phil Niekro, Jim Kaat, Dennis Rasmussen, and Lee Smith,
who all made prior commitments to the game. There have been rumors that two
other former Yankees, Mike Pagliarulo and Chad Curtis, will play in the Hall of
Fame Classic, but neither has been formally announced.

 

Several retired Red Sox will also play at Doubleday Field,
including Steve “Psycho” Lyons, Joe Lahoud, Ferguson Jenkins, Bill “Spaceman”
Lee, and Mike Timlin. Thus far, only two ex-Mets have signed up for the game:
George Foster, better known for his hitting exploits in Cincinnati, and Jeff Kent, who retired after the 2008 season.

The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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With Carlos Delgado out of commission for at least two
months and possibly longer, the Mets need to face facts and acquire a first
baseman who can hit with some power. Even with Delgado for most of this season,
the Mets have hit the third fewest home runs among the 30 major league teams;
only the Giants and A’s from the power-starved Bay Area have lower totals. Of
the available first basemen, Nick “The Stick” Johnson appears to be the best
player. According to the estimable Peter Gammons, the Nationals have asked for
right-hander Bobby Parnell in return. As much as Johnson could help, I don’t
see the Mets making that deal. Parnell, who was just clocked at 100 miles per
hour at a weekend game in Fenway
Park, has a full arsenal
of four pitches and could contribute long-term as a No. 3 starter. Given
Johnson’s injury history, the Mets would be wise to hold onto Parnell and
substitute another pitcher or two (Brian Stokes? Sean Green?) in his place…

 

The Mets have also expressed interest in Mark DeRosa, the super-utilityman
who could become the first victim of Cleveland’s
dreadful start. DeRosa’s versatility would be wasted as a first baseman, but he
could always move to left field or second base once Delgado returns in July.
The Mets have received virtually no home run production from their second
basemen or corner outfielders, which points out the lack of depth within their
top-heavy lineup…

 

Is it just me or is anyone else getting sick of Jake Peavy’s
pickiness when it comes to finding a new place to pitch? First, Peavy didn’t
want to go to Atlanta,
and now he’s given the heave-ho to the White Sox, who had agreed to send two
prospects to the Padres. Peavy wants a contract extension to accompany any
trade, and has also indicated that he prefers to play in the National League,
and not the American League. Does Peavy have such little confidence in his
ability that he feels he can’t be successful in the tougher league? If that’s
the case, I’d be awfully hesitant to trade a large package for Peavy,
ostensibly one of the top five or ten starting pitchers in the game. Peavy’s
reticence, along with his inability to get into the seventh or eighth innings,
should serve as red flags to opposing general managers…

 

While the Padres failed in their latest attempt to trade
Peavy, they did execute a minor deal on Friday, sending Jody Gerut to the
Brewers for Tony Gwynn, Jr. Let’s chalk this one up as strictly a public
relations move, as the Padres acquired the son of their first full-fledged Hall
of Famer. At best, the younger Gwynn looks like fourth outfielder material,
hardly a fair return for Gerut, who has some power and can handle all three
outfield positions. If Gerut can stay healthy, he’ll help the surprising
Brewers in the jumbled NL Central…

 

How much longer do the Orioles wait before summoning No. 1
prospect Matt Wieters from Triple-A? The O’s, who are going nowhere in a
stacked AL East, have been playing an aging Gregg Zaun as their first-string
catcher when he’s clearly a backup at this stage of his career. Orioles fan need
some reasons to hope; let that hope begin with the promotion of Wieters…

 

Is it any wonder that the A’s aren’t scoring runs? Not only
have they suffered a huge power outage at McAfee Coliseum, but now they’re
batting Orlando Cabera in the leadoff spot. I actually like Cabrera as a
player, but if he’s a leadoff man, then Perez Hilton is a great journalist…

 

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels might be an early
favorite for American League executive of the year honors. Daniels took a great
deal of heat for some of his offseason moves, like moving Michael Young to
third base, but most of Daniels’ plans seem to be working. The Rangers are much
better defensively with Young at third base and rookie Elvis Andrus at
shortstop, allowing Hank Blalock to concentrate on his hitting skills as a DH.
The signing and revival of Andruw Jones has also paid dividends, giving the
Rangers depth in the outfield and a potential trade chip should they fall out
of contention…

 

The Hall of Fame staged a nice event on Saturday, when it
debuted its new exhibit, “Viva Baseball,” which chronicles the history of Latin
American participation in the sport. Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda and Juan
Marichal attended the opening, with both speaking eloquently about their pride
in the achievements of such fellow Latino standouts as Felipe Alou, Roberto
Clemente, and Minnie Minoso. A full house of media, including a number of
prominent Latino broadcasters and writers, made for standing room only in the
VIP seating area bordering the exhibit. With its array of vivid colors, selection
of multi-media interviews with Latino Hall of Famers, the impressive
large-screen video board, and the bilingual approach to storytelling, the
exhibit is brilliantly presented…

 

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, two new names have been added
to the roster for the first ever Hall of Fame Classic, scheduled for June 21 in
Cooperstown. Jeff Kent and Mike Timlin, both
retired after finishing their careers in 2008, have committed to play in the
old-timers game scheduled for Doubleday Field. (I could see Kent hitting three or four home
runs while taking shots at the short left-field porch at Doubleday.) Aside from
Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Ferguson Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro, and
Brooks Robinson, the Hall can now boast the following headliners for the game: Kent,
Bobby Grich, George Foster, Jim Kaat and Lee Smith. Of those latter five, I’d
vote Kent and Grich for Hall of Fame induction, with tough “no” votes for Kaat
and Smith. And here’s perhaps the best news about the Hall of Fame Classic.
Tickets are only $12.50, a far cry from the small fortune being asked by the
Yankees to attend games at their new stadium.

Bunts and Boots: Updating the Hall of Fame Classic

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Fans of baseball in the 1970s and eighties will have plenty
of memories to draw from on June 21, when the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic
takes place here in Cooperstown. The list of
retired players who have committed to play in the classic–a seven-inning
old-timers game at Doubleday Field–continues to grow. Last month, the MLB
Alumni Association announced the names of the five Hall of Famers who would
play in the game. Now we’re learning the identities of some of the other
players who will fill out the rosters for the National and American League
teams.

 

The Alumni Association has indicated that it will place a
special emphasis on recruiting players with ties to the Red Sox, Yankees, and
Mets, the three teams followed most rabidly in the Cooperstown
region. With that in mind, here is a rundown of those players who will be
joining Paul Molitor, Brooks Robinson, Bob Feller, Ferguson Jenkins, and Phil
Niekro in Cooperstown on Father’s Day Weekend.

 

Bobby Grich: Of
all eligible players not in the Hall of Fame, Grich is one of the best–and one
of the most deserving of enshrinement in Cooperstown.
Hopefully, the Veterans Committee will one day put Grich in the Hall, on the
legitimate merits of his vacuum-like defense at second base, his keen batting
eye, and his surprising power, unusual for middle infielders of his era. Grich
also carried one of the best nicknames–“The Lizard”–during his hey day in the
seventies and eighties.

 

George Foster:
“The Destroyer” should find the short left-field fences at Doubleday Field to
his liking. It’s easy to overlook Foster’s contributions to the “Big Red
Machine,” considering all of the deserved publicity received by former teammates
Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose. But let’s not forget his status as one
of the game’s great run producers of the late 1970s, capped off by his 50-home
run season in 1977. Given the Hall of Fame Classic’s slant toward the New York teams, I’ll be
curious to see whether Fosters wears a Mets uniform in the game. His days with
the Mets were not the happiest, especially in contrast to his prime years with
The Machine.

 

Lee Smith: The
king-sized closer has become a frequent visitor to Cooperstown,
though not as a Hall of Fame member. (At least not yet.) I remember the first
time I saw Smith enter a game for the Cubs; as he jogged in from the Wrigley
Field bullpen, he looked absolutely gargantuan,
a cross between a linebacker and a power forward. (Now I know how fans must
have felt when they first saw Dick “The Monster” Radatz.) Once Smith harnessed control of his
fastball, he became one of the dominant relievers of the eighties and nineties.
It seems like he pitched for just about everybody, most notably the Cubs,
Cardinals, and Red Sox, but he also played briefly for the Yankees during their
ill-fated run at the AL East title in 1993.

 

Jim Kaat: Like
Bert Blyleven and Tommy John, “Kitty Kaat” is part of a contingent of longtime
starters who fell just short of the 300-win club but remain on the cusp of
election to the Hall of Fame. Kaat did most of his damage with the Twins and
White Sox, but did pitch briefly for the Yankees in the early 1980s. After a
short retirement from broadcasting, where he excelled on the YES Network’s
coverage of Yankee games, Kaat has returned to the booth as an analyst with the
new MLB Network. Even though Kaat is now in his seventies, he keeps himself in
terrific physical condition, so don’t be surprised to see him log a couple of
innings in the HOF Classic.

 

Jon Warden: This
former Tigers left-hander pitched only one season in the big leagues, but it
was a memorable one, coinciding with Detroit’s
world championship in 1968. Though his career was cut short by subsequent arm
trouble, Warden has made a name for himself as one of baseball’s funny men. A
sort of modern day Joe Garagiola, Warden enjoys poking fun at himself, his
hefty physique (he’s the anti-Kaat), and any players who do anything the least
bit embarrassing during the Alumni Association gatherings. If the HOF Classic
has a “Kangaroo Court,” Warden will surely serve as the presiding judge. And,
much like Garagiola or Bob Uecker, he will get his deserved share of laughs.

 

Bill Lee: Like
Warden, Lee will bring plenty of color to Cooperstown
for the Classic. Always outspoken, “The Spacemen” has forged a reputation as an
idiosyncratic rebel and offbeat philosopher. He became a cult figure in Boston, where he
eventually feuded with Don Zimmer. After his major league playing days came to
an end, Lee has traveled the globe as a semipro pitcher, written two critically
acclaimed books, emerged as a star on Ken Burns’ Baseball, and even managed a team in the now-defunct Senior League.
Not surprisingly, Lee drew the ire of management and received his walking
papers after only a handful of games.

 

Steve Rogers: A
teammate of Lee with the Expos, Rogers emerged as one of the National League’s
top starters in the late seventies and early eighties, in spite of a testy
relationship with manager Dick Williams. Along the way, he claimed five berths
in the All-Star Game, a league ERA crown in 1982, and two huge wins for Montreal in the 1981
Division Series. Highly intelligent and well spoken, Rogers has become a high-ranking member of
the Players’ Association, where he reports to union chief Donald Fehr.  

 

Johnny Grubb:
Though he had a name that rhymed with “scrub” and played much of his prime
years with some dreadful Padres and Rangers teams in the 1970s, Grubb was an
underrated offensive player who did well in a platoon role, usually as a
sure-handed left fielder. The owner of a lifetime on-base percentage of .366,
the lefty-swinging Grubb did his best work against right-handed pitching. He
lasted 16 seasons, long enough to earn an All-Star Game selection and pick up a
world championship ring as a backup outfielder for the 1984 Tigers. After his
playing days, Grubb served as one of Phil Niekro’s coaches with the Colorado
Silver Bullets, the now-defunct women’s professional team.

 

Joe Lahoud: Like
Grubb, Lahoud was a left-handed hitting outfielder who had to scrape for
playing time. Lahoud didn’t hit for average and had a reputation as a poor
defensive outfielder, but he did draw walks and hit with power, making him a
subtle contributor to teams like the Brewers and Angels. During the early stage
of his career, Lahoud found himself caught in the middle of the Red Sox feud
that developed between Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigliaro. Lahoud was
friendly with both players, but the clubhouse tension contributed to the trade
that sent him and Tony C. to Milwaukee
as part of the George Scott-Tommy Harper blockbuster.

 

Jim Hannan: The
former Senators and Tigers right-hander is best known for being part of the
Denny McLain blockbuster. Along with Aurelio Rodriguez and Eddie Brinkman,
Hannan went from Washington to Detroit as part of the
payoff for McLain. At age 69, Hannan will be one of the oldest retired players to
participate in the Classic. He’ll also be one of the most outgoing, an
energetic sort who has done some terrific work in building the Alumni
Association since its inception in the early eighties.

 

Other players scheduled to participate in the Classic
include utilityman Steve “Psycho” Lyons, now a broadcaster with the Dodgers, former
big league right-handers Ron Robinson, Anthony Telford,
and John Doherty, and ex-Yankee left-hander Dennis Rasmussen. An additional
five players will be added to the rosters for the Father’s Day game, with those
announcements coming over the next several weeks. As always, we’ll try our best
to keep you posted.

Birth of The Classic

At the very moment the Hall of Fame announced that the annual Hall of Fame Game would cease to exist, speculation abounded as to what might replace the cherished tradition. The guesswork ended on Monday afternoon, when the Hall announced the introduction of the first Hall of Fame Classic, set to take place on June 21 of next year. The Classic will be a legends game, or an old-timers game (whichever terminology you prefer), pitting retired American League stars against former National League standouts. The Sunday afternoon game will cap off an entire Father’s Day weekend of special events, giving Cooperstown an unofficial start to its summer tourist season.

Given the state of both the local and national economies, this is flat-out wonderful news for the community of Cooperstown–and for fans who live within driving distance of the Hall of Fame. Frankly, this is something that the Hall of Fame should have done years ago; the cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game gave Hall officials the final push they needed to make an annual old-timers game a reality here in central New York.

So what’s to like about the Hall of Fame Classic? Well, just about everything. Let’s run down the list of favorable items:

a) A brief look at history says that an old-timers game will go over well in Cooperstown. In 1989, the Hall of Fame held an old-timers game to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Hall’s birth. The game, which was well attended and publicized, proved a smashing success. Since moving to Cooperstown in 1996, I’ve yet to hear a single member of the community voice any complaints about that game.

b) As pointed out at the Monday afternoon press conference, of the 30 players expected to participate, efforts will be made to bring in as many former players as possible with connections to the New York and Boston markets. The Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox are all avidly followed in upstate New York. Smartly, this old-timers game will reflect that regional interest.

c) The Hall of Fame Classic will be a joint production between the Hall of Fame and the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA). Founded in the early 1980s, the MLBPAA has vast experience in putting on youth clinics, charity golf tournaments, and old-timers games, all of which will comprise Hall of Fame Classic Weekend. Headed up by Hall of Fame Brooks Robinson and CEO Dan Foster, the MLBPAA knows what it’s doing when it comes to staging profitable and fan-friendly events throughout the country.

d) Throughout the Hall of Fame Classic, at least a few of the 30 retired players will be signing autographs free of charge for those fans who have bought tickets to the game. This will be a refreshing change from recent Hall of Fame games, since most of the current day players didn’t want to come here in the first place and generally did little to acknowledge the fans during their brief stays at Doubleday Field. Those concerns won’t be problems for the retired players, who will receive stipends for participating and will be contributing to a cause that helps out their alumni brethren.

e) In recent years, the staging of Hall of Fame Weekend, relegated to the last weekend in July, has come too late to help some local businesses. Now with the addition of Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, there will be bookends to the critical summer season: the Classic to start the season, and Induction Weekend to help it wind down.

 

In terms of drawbacks to the Classic, I can think of only one, and this consists of nitpicking more than anything else. Only four Hall of Famers will participate in the game, with the rest of the players being either recently retired and/or secondary stars. In an ideal world, six to eight Hall of Famers would have been nice. But again, this is a relatively minor point.

So in the end, with the bad comes the good. We lost the Hall of Fame Game, a beloved tradition since 1940. But we gained an annual old-timers game, an event that will likely become just as popular here in a place where the history of the game is loved just as much as the game itself.