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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
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
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.
In 1973, just one year before this card appeared, the Texas
Rangers initiated the destruction of a young pitcher’s career in an effort to
revive a languishing franchise. Team owner Bob Short devised an ill-conceived
plan to rush phenom left-hander David Clyde from high school ball to the major
leagues as a drawing card for the struggling Rangers franchise. Clyde’s debut
season did much to help attendance at Arlington Stadium, but at considerable
damage to Clyde’s career, which seemed so
promising after throwing nine no-hitters in his senior season of high school.
At onetime a household name, Clyde
has become a forgotten man in baseball annals. Here’s what happened. Drafted
first in the country out of Texas’ Westchester High School
in the spring of 1973, Clyde received a bonus
of $125,000 and donned a Rangers’ major league uniform only a few days later.
The immediate call-up to Texas was the
brainchild of owner Bob Short, which conflicted directly against the advice of
manager Whitey Herzog, who believed Clyde
needed considerable schooling in the minor leagues.
Equipped with both Short’s blessings and a mechanically
sound delivery that some scouts compared to that of Sandy Koufax, Clyde made
his highly publicized major league debut against the Minnesota Twins on June
27, 1973. (Only 20 days earlier, Clyde had
made his final appearance as a high school pitcher.) That night’s game at
Arlington Stadium became such a focal point of local attention that the first
pitch was delayed by 15 minutes, allowing more fans to free themselves from the
massive logjam of traffic outside the stadium. Perhaps rattled by the late
start and frazzled by his own nervousness, the 18-year-old Clyde walked the
first two batters he faced–infielder Jerry Terrell and Hall of Famer Rod Carew–before
settling down to strike out the side. Clyde went on to pitch a respectable five
innings, walking a total of seven Twins, but struck out eight batters while
allowing two earned runs and only one hit. Unfortunately, Clyde
struggled to match his celebrated debut performance over the balance of the
season, posting an ERA of 5.03 and winning only four of 12 decisions with the
lowly Rangers in 1973. His pitching only worsened in 1974, leading him down a
slippery slope to baseball obscurity.
Clyde’s problems only
worsened when Whitey Herzog was fired and replaced by Billy Martin. Ever fiery
and judgmental, Martin didn’t like the left-hander, in part because he didn’t
like pitchers and didn’t like rookies, two mortal sins committed by Clyde. Martin also didn’t appreciate the fact that Clyde lost nine straight decisions after starting the
1974 season at 3-and-0. At one point, Martin didn’t pitch Clyde
for 31 consecutive days.
The late Art Fowler, a crony of Martin at virtually every
one of his managerial stops, became Clyde’s second pitching coach in Texas. Several years
ago, Fowler appeared on ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” program to discuss Clyde’s saga. Fowler supported Martin’s general
evaluation of Clyde, claiming that the
youngster was vastly overrated, unable to throw his fastball much harder than
in the mid-eighties. Fowler also trashed the quality of Clyde’s
competition in high school, half-kiddingly suggesting that the left-hander had
piled up an impressive set of statistics pitching against “girls.” Fowler’s
recollections of Clyde, however, differ significantly from those of Tom Grieve,
who was Clyde’s Texas
teammate from 1973-75. According to Grieve, Fowler raved about Clyde’s talents at the time, saying that he had the
potential to be a 25-game winner once he harnessed his control. Many of Clyde’s Ranger teammates also raved about both his
fastball and curve, rating them both as well above major league average.
So who to believe, Fowler or Grieve? For what it’s worth,
Fowler drew criticism throughout his career for his work as a pitching coach,
reinforcing a belief that he held onto jobs in Minnesota,
New York, and Oakland only because of his friendship with
Martin. Given Fowler’s track record as a Martin crony, it’s not surprising that
he would come to Martin’s defense when passing a judgment on Clyde’s
ability. It was that very allegiance to Martin that shed a light of suspicion
on Fowler’s motives. Fowler himself claimed that he didn’t think much of Clyde in large part because Martin didn’t think much of him. And that’s not a very critical way
of thinking, especially when it was your job to instruct pitchers and find ways
to make them better.
By the way, here’s what Fowler had to say about Clyde after one of his starts in 1974. “When his fastball
is moving like it was tonight,” Fowler told Randy Galloway of The Sporting News, “and with the
velocity he had tonight, he didn’t need [his] curveball.” That doesn’t sound
like the description of a pitcher lacking a good major league fastball.
While Clyde struggled with
his pitching coach and manager, along with the on-the-field demands of pitching
against big league hitters, he also gave in to the temptations of a fast-lane
lifestyle practiced by several of the Rangers’ veteran players. The hard-living
group, which included catcher Rich Billings, infielder Jim Fregosi, and pitcher
Clyde “Skeeter” Wright (the father of former Indian and Brave Jaret Wright),
laid out the welcome mat for Clyde, including him in their post-game visits to
local establishments. Clyde began drinking
heavily, a vice that became obvious when he showed up late for a team flight
while wearing the same clothes he had used the previous day. Unfortunately,
none of the veteran Rangers stepped up to help the teenaged Clyde, whose drinking
habits only exacerbated his problems on the mound.
And that only expedited the crashing of the career of a
young pitcher who might have been.
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Prior to Bucky Dent’s 1978 home run against the Red Sox, I have
to confess I wasn’t the man’s biggest fan. Although Dent was reliable
defensively, he had ordinary range and rarely made spectacular plays. He also
seemed to regress as a hitter each year, to the point that former WPIX
sportscaster Jerry Girard came up with one of the best lines I’ve ever heard delivered
on the nightly news. As Girard narrated Yankee highlights one night, he
blurted: “There’s Bucky Dent, with another line drive to the catcher.” My
father and I chuckled over that crack for days.
For most of the latter half of the 1970s, I wanted the Yankees
to replace Bucky Dent with one man: Toby Harrah. I think George Steinbrenner
shared that same dream, because every summer we Yankee fans in Westchester heard rumors that the Yankees were working on
a deal for Harrah, the starting shortstop for the Rangers. One summer day,
while we were eating lunch at Badger Camp–yes, I spent summers at a place
called Badger Camp, and I’m embarrassed to admit it–we exchanged some
conversation on a particularly hot Harrah rumor. I can’t remember the exact
names, but I think the deal would have sent Dent and one of the lesser starting
pitchers (Dick Tidrow?) to Texas
for Harrah. Heck, it sounded good to me, since the pitcher wasn’t named Guidry,
Figueroa, or Hunter.
I didn’t much care that some people regarded Toby Harrah as
a subpar defensive shortstop. I preferred to obsess about another fact: the man
could hit. He reached the 20-home run mark three times with the Rangers, usually
hit .260 or better, annually achieved double figures in stole bases, and drew a
ton of walks (though I didn’t know that much about on-base percentage at the
time). Even though the Rangers moved Harrah from shortstop to third base in 1977,
largely because of knocks against his range and reliability, I figured he could
make the switch back. As long as Harrah could play shortstop reasonably
well–you know, better than Bobby Murcer once did–I was going to be satisfied.
So I kept dreaming that Steinbrenner and the Yankees’ GM at the time (Gabe
Paul, followed by Al Rosen) would do whatever they could to get that deal
Why did I like Harrah so much? In the mid-1970s, Harrah
represented a rare breed: an American League shortstop who could hit. Keep in
mind that Robin Yount had not yet entered his prime, Alan Trammell wouldn’t
arrive in Detroit until 1978 (and even then he was only 20), and Cal Ripken,
Jr.s’ debut remained several years away.
Most American League shortstops fell into the one-dimensional category
of all-field and little-hit, including the likes of Mark “The Blade” Belanger, Dave
Chalk, Frank Duffy, and Tom Veryzer. Compared to those noodle bats, Harrah
looked like an Adonis in the batter’s box.
The plan to bring in Harrah sounded good. Considering the
depth of the Yankees’ pitching staff, giving up a second-tier pitcher in
addition to Dent seemed doable. There was just one problem. The Rangers had to
agree to the deal, too. They negotiated with the Yankees off and on, with
Harrah’s name periodically being mentioned in rumors, but the two sides could not
reach the appropriate compromise. After the 1978 season, the Rangers finally
received an offer they couldn’t refuse. Only it didn’t come from the Yankees.
Instead, the Rangers found a trading partner in the Indians, who agreed to give
up All-Star third baseman Buddy Bell.
Harrah spent five mostly productive seasons with the Tribe. By
the early 1980s, I had forgotten about Harrah, who had entrenched himself as a
durable and productive player in Cleveland.
It was time to move on. The dream had ended.
In February of 1984, with the Yankees collecting infielders
the way I once collected postage stamps, the team announced a surprising trade.
The deal sent reliever George Frazier and minor league speedster Otis Nixon to
the Indians–for Harrah, of course. By then, Harrah was no longer a shortstop;
he had long since been converted to third base. He was no longer an All-Star
either, with his home run production falling off from 25 to nine in his final season with the Tribe.
At 34, Harrah looked well past his prime.
Lots of folks didn’t understand the trade, including me. The
Yankees already had Graig Nettles and Roy Smalley available to play third.
Nettles eventually vacated the premises, mostly because he ticked off The Boss
with the contents of his tell-all book, Balls.
Harrah ended up splitting time with Smalley, hit all of one home run in
pinstripes, and slugged an ungodly .296. Clearly not the player he once was, Harrah
became trade bait after the season, sent to the Rangers for outfielder Billy
Sample. Harrah would play better in Texas,
but that only made me feel worse.
In the meantime, the Yankees continued their search for a
new shortstop, some of whom could hit, some of whom could field, and some who
could barely stand up. Smalley tried and failed, as did Andre Robertson, Bobby
Meacham, Paul Zuvella, Wayne Tolleson (another personal favorite), Rafael
Santana, Alvaro Espinoza, Spike Owen, and even a fading Tony Fernandez.
The Yankees’ quagmire of shortstop mediocrity continued until
1995. That’s when Toby Harrah finally arrived. Not the actual Toby Harrah, but a newer, better version of Toby Harrah.
Like Harrah, he would receive his fair share of criticism for his defensive
failures, but he would do wondrous things offensively and help spearhead the
next Yankee dynasty.
Yes, Toby Harrah finally did arrive–in the form of a
21-year-old phenom named Derek Jeter.
In 1979, the Topps Company produced this iconic Bump Wills card, featuring the switch-hitting second baseman as a member of the Blue Jays, even though he was clearly wearing the uniform of the Rangers. In fact, the Rangers never traded Wills to the Blue Jays, not at any time before or during the 1979 season.
So what happened here? In 2002, former Topps president and baseball card icon Sy Berger visited the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown for a 50th anniversary celebration of Topps baseball cards, giving me the opportunity to ask him directly about the reasons behind the Wills “error.” According to Sy, he had received a call from a friend after the 1978 season, telling him that Wills was about to be traded from the Rangers to the Blue Jays as part of a major trade. Although the trade had yet to be announced, the friend assured Berger that it was a “done deal.” Convinced that he had a scoop and figuring that he could release an accurate and updated card ahead of the curve, Berger instructed his production people to attach the name “Blue Jays” to the bottom of the Wills card.
After producing the card during the winter of 1978, Topps issued it to the public in March of 1979, which was then the time that Topps typically released its cards. Unfortunately, like many trade discussions, the Bump Wills trade turned out to be nothing more than rumor. The Rangers kept their hard-hitting second baseman, who remained in Texas for three more seasons before finally being dealt–not to the Blue Jays, but to the Cubs–after the 1981 campaign.
With the trade to Toronto falling through, Topps was left mildly embarrassed. Once Opening Day rolled around and Berger realized that no trade was going to take place, Topps decided to correct the error and release a revised and corrected card, this time showing the name “Rangers” at the bottom of the card. As a result, there are two 1979 Bump Wills cards in circulation. The corrected “Rangers” version is considered the more valuable, since fewer of those cards were produced, making it scarcer than the “Blue Jays” version. The only thing scarcer might be Berger’s relationship with his friend, who had clearly given him some misguided information and had ceased becoming a source of knowledge for the Topps Company.
Although Wills never played for my team, the Yankees, he did have a rumored connection to the club in the early 1980s. After the 1982 season, several reports circulated that the Yankees were seriously considering a blockbuster trade that would have sent Willie Randolph to the Cubs for Billy Buckner. Such a move would have filled a major need at first base (where the Yankees realized that 33-year-old John Mayberry was over-the-hill), but would have created a large void at second base. According to one hot rumor that winter, the Yankees were prepared to replace the departed Randolph with the faster Wills, a free agent who had played out the final year of his contract with the Cubs. The additions of the two former Cubbies would have given the Yankees a hyperactive offensive infield of Buckner, Wills, Roy Smalley at shortstop and Graig Nettles at third base, but the reconfiguration would have created more than a few misadventures defensively. In addition to Smalley’s shortcomings, Wills’ range had started to diminish, while Buckner’s knees were beginning to give him trouble before they would undergo a complete breakdown in Beantown.
Despite the rumors, Wills never did make his way to the Bronx. Finding no offers to his liking from any major league team, including the Blue Jays, Wills took his talents to the Japanese Leagues. That didn’t stop Topps from producing another Wills card in 1983–one that had him right back in Chicago!
When your name is John Mayberry, Jr., you’re almost destined to disappoint. Those fans who are old enough to recall the legacy of your father expect you to be a left-handed hitting first baseman with tape-measure power, which is difficult to do when you’re a right-handed hitting corner outfielder with a mix of modest power and a dash of speed. And then, after you’ve been taken in the first round of the draft and you don’t develop into a major league regular by your fourth professional season, you’ve been labeled, fairly or not, a full-sized flop.
The obstacles listed above have all been encountered by the younger Mayberry, the six-foot-six, 230-pound son son of the former star slugger with the Royals and Blue Jays. In 2007, Mayberry, Jr. hit 30 home runs as a minor leaguer with the Rangers, but his on-base skills and defensive play left the organization wanting. In 2008, Mayberry’s home run production fell off by ten, though he did spend most of the season experiencing his first taste of Triple-A ball. With his power waning, his on-base percentage a lackluster .316, and his outfield skills mandating some late-season experimentation at first base, the Rangers gave up on Mayberry last week. They traded him to the Phillies in exchange for minor league center fielder Greg Golson.
There’s little doubt that Mayberry’s career has reached a crossroads. Forget about becoming an elite slugger like his father, he might not even make the major leagues at all, a disappointing state of affairs from a first round draft choice carrying a name of baseball royalty. Yet, the trade can only benefit the younger Mayberry. In leaving a franchise that held such high expectations for him, the 24-year-old Mayberry will enjoy a fresh start with an organization celebrating a world title. Heck, there might even be an opening in the Phillies’ outfield, considering that Pat “The Bat” Burrell appears ready to depart as a free agent. If the Phillies don’t spend big money on a potential replacement (like Raul Ibanez), they might go to spring training with Greg Dobbs leading a low-cost platoon in left field. If Mayberry has a big spring at the expense of Triple-A pitchers and half-hearted veteran hurlers, he could convince the Phillies to use him as part of a split with Dobbs. All of this is a longshot, yes, but it’s not out of the question considering the volatility of major league rosters and the overweighted value given to Grapefruit League performances.
Is Mayberry ready to contribute at the major league level? Probably not. His swing is too long, he lacks patience at the plate, and he’s still trying to find a niche defensively. But there is talent here. When Mayberry’s right, he has legitimate power–not like his father, but enough to justify him playing at first base or a corner outfield spot. He has shown enough speed to steal ten bases a season, so he’s not just a station-to-station baserunner. He also has that major league pedigree, which manifests itself in both physical talent and the invaluable advice that can come from a big league dad.
And perhaps, just perhaps, a change of scenery to a good team in need of outfielders will be just the jump start that John Mayberry’s Jr.’s career requires.
Earlier this season, Yankee fans and members of the New York media tripped over themselves trying to come up with catchy nicknames for the prized pitching triumvirate of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy. Well, I’ve got one now. How about the “Tissue Paper Triplets?” These three, who were all counted on to play major roles in 2008, have had all the durability of cheap facial handkerchiefs this summer. With Chamberlain now officially on the 15-day disabled list with what has been described as “rotator cuff tendinitis,” all three pitchers have spent time on the shelf. Hughes (fractured rib) and Kennedy (lat strain) are currently trying to work their way back on minor league assignments, while Chamberlain will be shut down for at least a week before being allowed to even touch a baseball. And if anybody suggests that any of these three prized right-handers has even been slightly overworked, I will reach for the nearest airsick bag, Chamberlain, who has been treated with the softest of kid gloves, has thrown a high of 114 pitches in a game this season. Hughes and Kennedy have also been on strict pitch counts during their first two major league seasons. No, not even the most severe of pitch count limits can protect pitchers from doing what they’ve always done–and that’s getting hurt…
The Yankee rotation now features Sidney Ponson, Darrell Rasner, and Dan Giese. If you had envisioned that assemblage at the beginning of the season and simultaneously thought the Yankees would somehow be ten games over .500, you ought to pursue a career as a fortune teller. In spite of a barrage of injuries–the latest being Ivan Rodriguez, who left Wednesday’s game after a nasty home plate collision–the Yankees are still within three and a half games of the Red Sox, but can probably forget about catching the Rays, who are showing no signs of a second-half slowdown…
On a lighter note, Rangers rookie right-hander Warner Madrigal is taking his rightful place on baseball’s all-time hair team, thanks to a bushy wide-body Afro that sticks out awkwardly from both sides of his cap, making him look like a Latino version of Seth Rogen. And for those who have seen the cover of the latest GQ, which strangely features the not-so-dapper Rogen, you know that’s not a good look! Somewhere, former Orioles, Reds, and Indians left-hander Ross Grimsley must be proud.