January 14, 2009
On the Beat
Ruminations and Meditations
Rickey Henderson holds two of the greatest records in baseball history, and on Monday he became a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Henderson and Jim Rice were elected by the 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and they'll be inducted on July 26 in Cooperstown. Rice had to wait until his 15th and final year on the ballot to gain entry, and though there was no doubt that Henderson would be voted in on his very first try, the question remained of how close he might come to being a unanimous selection.
Somehow, 28 of the 539 writers who cast ballots omitted Henderson, giving him 94.8 percent of the vote. That happened despite Henderson holding the career records with 2,295 runs scored and 1,406 stolen bases. While both are lofty feats, Henderson didn't hesitate when asked what was the proudest achievement of his 25-year career that spanned the years 1979-2003. "The runs-scored record," he said. "Stolen bases were a big part of my game, and I know that's really my legacy in baseball. The stolen bases were important, and I'm proud of that. I was a leadoff hitter almost my whole career though, and a leadoff hitter's first job is to score runs. To be able to say I scored more runs than anybody in the history of the game means a lot to me, especially since it helped two of my teams [the 1989 Athletics and 1993 Blue Jays] win World Series. I feel like it showed that I did my job."
Rice does cannot lay claim any hallowed records, but he did hit 382 homers and drove in 1,451 runs in a 16-year career with the Red Sox from 1974-89, playing in an era before offensive statistics exploded and performance-enhancing drugs became part and parcel of the baseball landscape. Rice says that he wants to be remembered for continuity more than numbers, and he's proud of playing a large portion of his career with two other Hall of Famers in Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk. "The big thing for me is, I played the game one way, and now I'm in the category with a bunch of elite guys in the Hall of Fame," Rice said. "The accomplishment I'm really proud of is that I played for one ballclub my whole career and will now be able to be in the Hall of Fame as one of three guys from those teams. That's very important to me, being a Red Sox and playing with such great teammates."
Rice had a reputation for being difficult in his dealings with the media, and that likely played a role in his failure to be elected until the last year on the ballot. Rice does not apologize for the way he treated the writers though, and he believes he should be in the Hall of Fame strictly on the strength of his numbers. "You look at every team during the time I played and it's different than today, because they only had only two or three writers covering them," Rice said. "So, all of a sudden one writer would say something to another writer in another city, badmouth me, and word would get around. You know you look at a lot of guys, and it seems they have a good time talking about their teammates and stabbing them in the back. I wasn't like that, because I've said an organization is like a family. That's the way I took it, as a family, and I was never going to badmouth a family member in public."
Henderson also had his problems with the media, many of whom felt he was quick to beg out of the lineup throughout his career, but his accomplishments were simply too overwhelming to allow for the possibility that he wouldn't be carried into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. "Sometimes the media got in the way," Henderson said. "If I didn't go out there looking like a racehorse, went out there with a slight injury that made it where I couldn't steal three or four bases, or run down the first-base line as fast as I can, they would say I didn't want to play. To me, each and every day I put on a uniform, I went out there with the intention to win the ballgame, not just to play. I had the enthusiasm that I wanted to play every day. I had half of my managers say to me that 75 percent of me going out there and playing was way better than the player they had to put in off the bench if I couldn't play. So, they wouldn't tell the media I was hurt, because they didn't want the other team to know I was hurting and fighting to try to make a difference."
Two other players will have to continue the fight to gain admittance to the Hall; Andre Dawson was named on 67.0 percent of the ballots, up from 65.9 a year ago, and Bert Blyleven's percentage rose from 61.9 to 62.7 percent. Rice, who became the third player to be elected in his last year on the ballot, joining Ralph Kiner and Red Ruffing, had a bit of advice for Dawson, who has been on the ballot for six years. "Be patient, and wait to the last out," Rice said. "I guess everything was just timing, because my numbers have not changed over the past 14 years."
Blyleven's statistics also remain the same as they were since he threw his last pitch in 1992, and he was frustrated that he did not gain more ground in this year's election, his 11th on the ballot, after jumping from 47.7 percent to 61.9 percent in 2008. "I really think it's weird when my career numbers are surrounded by current HOF pitchers and it has taken so long to get to where my percentages are now," Blyleven wrote in an e-mail to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Guess almost two-thirds of the writers think I belong, and the others don't. It would be nice, if I ever make the Hall of Fame, that I'm on this side of the grass."
While the Yankees seem to have spent the winter gobbling up every big-name player on the free-agent market after a run of 13 straight playoffs appearances ended last season, their American League East rival Red Sox have had a most understated offseason.
The Red Sox have made a number of low-budget signings on players returning from injuries, including starters Brad Penny and John Smoltz, reliever Takashi Saito, and outfielder Rocco Baldelli, while swinging minor trades for relievers Ramon Ramirez and Wes Littleton and re-signing reserve outfielder/first baseman Mark Kotsay to come off the bench.
The Red Sox's maneuverings are quiet a contrast to the Yankees' signings of left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander A.J. Burnett, and first baseman Mark Teixeira for a total of $423.5 million. While Red Sox manager Terry Francona sees the disparity in the situation, he also likes what general manager Theo Epstein is doing. "Near the end of last season, someone asked me what I thought the Yankees were going to do in the offseason, and I said they'd go out and spend a billion dollars," Francona said. "I was half right."
Yet Francona isn't ready to concede anything in the AL East. He is particularly excited about adding Baldelli, who is recovering from a channelopathy that robs him of endurance, as the fourth outfielder behind Jason Bay, Jacoby Ellsbury, and J.D. Drew. "It's not easy to put your bench together," Francona said. "Finding guys who want to be bench players hasn't always worked, so we're a little fortunate with Rocco. He's talented enough to play every day for anybody, but he can't right now, so he's accepting of that role."
Francona also said that the Red Sox are not necessarily done making roster moves, and he expects to see more new faces by the time spring training begins in Fort Myers, Florida next month."I understand a fan wants the team put together right now, but sometimes you have to be patient," Francona said. "You have to be realistic. The more good players other teams sign doesn't make you do cartwheels, but there are reasons we do things the way we do."
Few baseball executives have had a more daunting task this winter than Braves executive vice president for sales and marketing Derek Schiller. It's been his job to find replacements for two legendary broadcasters following the death of Skip Caray last season and the retirement of Pete Van Wieren. "Having gone through a lot of different tapes and videos of broadcasters out there, one of the things I've noticed is the difference in styles," Schiller told Terence Moore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "What we believe is important, and what we believe has been the essence of Skip and Pete through the years, is they're very conversational. You almost feel like you're sitting in on two people next to one another on your couch, and you're talking Braves baseball. My hope is that anything we do with our broadcasters going forward represents that same feeling. It should be very easygoing, comfortable, and certainly, a bit entertaining, but at the end of the day it should be informative about what's going on with the game."
Schiller admits that finding two broadcasters with the same kind of chemistry as the wise-cracking Caray and the ultra-professional Van Wieren may be next to impossible. One candidate for the job is Brewers radio play-by-play man Jim Powell, who is overshadowed in the booth by the legendary Bob Uecker. "For any team, broadcasters represent the primary way fans learn and follow your team," Schiller said. "They are an extremely important mechanism for everything the team does on the field and in the community. They become powerful messengers of the brand."
NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Mets are now stepping up their pursuit of left-handers Oliver Perez and Randy Wolf after losing out to the Braves in their bid for free-agent right-hander Derek Lowe, and they will also consider re-signing right-hander Pedro Martinez. ... The Nationals have made trade inquiries about Yankees outfielder Xavier Nady. ... The Astros have interest in free-agent catcher Paul Lo Duca to replace Brad Ausmus, who either wants to sign with either the Dodgers or Padres as a free agent, or retire. ... Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe will play for the United States in the World Baseball Classic, while Twins catcher Joe Mauer turned down an invitation after undergoing minor surgery to repair a kidney obstruction last month.
AL Rumors and Rumblings: Despite his request for a trade after being told he'll move from shortstop to third base to make way for rookie Elvin Andrus, the chances of the Rangers dealing Michael Young are remote. ... The Angels would like to add a power bat, and they have interest in White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye, while being willing to offer infielder Chone Figgins as trade bait. ... The Tigers have interest in free-agent left-hander John Parrish. ... The Rays' signing of free-agent outfielder Gabe Kapler means that outfielder Fernando Perez will almost certainly begin next season in the minor leagues. ... Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima will play for Japan in the WBC.