Monday, February 21, 2011

Campy and Newk

I am currently reading Jules Tygiel's "Baseball's Great Experiment:  Jackie Robinson and His Legacy."

The most interesting thing so far has been a quote from Branch Rickey - "It might not be so good to sign Robinson with other and better players unsigned."  Shortly thereafter, the Dodgers inked Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe to contracts.

In other words, Brooklyn considered Jackie to be the perfect man to break the color barrier because of the quality of his character, but not as talented as such negro leaguers as Campy and Newk.

In retrospect, though Roy Campanella became a Hall of Fame catcher and Newcombe was a bulldog in the rotation, Jackie Robinson electrified the National League and retired as one of the greatest second basemen of all time.

Not bad for a character guy.

Dear Sen. Lautenberg and Sen. Durbin:

I am writing to wholeheartedly support your letter and stance regarding a ban on smokeless tobacco in the Major Leagues.

I am the radio broadcaster and media department for the Lansing Lugnuts, a Class-A team in the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system.  This is my seventh year in professional baseball, including stints in Brockton (MA), Montgomery (AL) and Crestwood (IL).

I wish to inform you that everywhere I have been, despite the ban to the contrary, the vast majority of the minor league players and coaches use smokeless tobacco on the field, in the clubhouse and in public.  Indeed, it is the rare one or two players on a team in any league who DON'T use smokeless tobacco.  No wonder the problem is so rampant in the Major Leagues.

Thank you very much for your time.

Sincerely,
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler

Be prepared

A Black History month tribute today to Willard Brown, an immensely talented slugger who was noted for:

1)  being nicknamed "Sonny" (or "Sunny") because he would always play better on sunny days than cloudy days,
2)  integrating the St. Louis Browns,
3)  using the broken bat of Browns teammate Jeff Heath to hit a home run -- and Heath immediately destroyed the bat beyond use in the dugout afterward (life was hell for Brown in St. Louis to say the least),
and 4)  my favorite:  heading to the outfield with a copy of Reader's Digest in his back pocket for whenever the game grew slow and he needed something to occupy his attention

I would have gotten along, I think, with Willard Brown.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Jim Edmonds, Hall of Famer

Let's talk Hall of Fame for a moment here.

The discussion has arisen because of the retirement of one James Patrick Edmonds, a center fielder for 17 seasons in the Major Leagues.

Some reading material on the subject:

* Rob Neyer from back on Feb. 1st at SB Nation (I am an unabashed Rob Neyer fan)
* Andy on the Baseball Reference blog; verdict:  unsure
* Aaron Gleeman at Hardball Talk; verdict:  HoF
* bryn.swartz at Philly Buster via Yardbarker:  nope
* Chad Dotson on Sweet Spot; verdict:  HoF

etc. etc. etc.  I'm sure you can find a heck of a lot more articles on the subject if you look hard enough.

As for me, I suppose you can guess my opinion right from the title line.  I'm not a "small hall" person.  It's okay with me that the Hall of Fame is bigger than Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Walter Johnson.  There's space there.  (Maybe not for Jim Rice, but hey, what can you do?)

My criteria is pretty simple:  Is the guy one of the ten or so best players at his position of all time?  I'd contend that Jim Edmonds is one of the ten best center fielders in baseball history.

That's my argument.

You can take it farther, mentioning his 132 OPS+ or his 393 home runs... but really, it's all about where you stack up historically, and Jim does just fine.  Was he as good as Ken Griffey, Jr.?  No, but that's okay.  Griffey wasn't as good as Mays, and that doesn't lessen him any as a player.

Which center fielders were better than Edmonds?  Going from my Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract:  Mays, Mantle, Cobb, Speaker, DiMaggio, Duke Snider, Junior Griffey... anybody else?  We'll exclude negro leaguers in this conversation (but Oscar Charleston's still got my vote for being in the top three among all baseball players all time).  "Sliding" Billy Hamilton?  Larry Doby?

Jim Edmonds, Hall of Famer.

That's my argument for Alan Trammell being in the Hall of Fame, too, right alongside Lou Whitaker.  Name me 10-15 middle infielders better than them in baseball history.  I don't believe it can be done.

Friday, February 18, 2011

First week back

Jackson Field is uncovered.  All of the snow has melted.

It's a glorious sight.

I'm completing my first week back with the Lugnuts.  Mostly my work has been limited to creating up the 2011 media guide, which is painstaking and sometimes numbing; I'm right now in the midst of typing up the Toronto Blue Jays' complete statistics from last year, number by number.  It needs to get done but I'll be happier when it's over.

Perhaps the best part of my week occurred early on.  We're preparing a story for the 2011 Lugnuts team magazine about new manager Mike Redmond, thus requiring images of Mike from his Major League career.  I love that I'm in a position that allows me to call up Major League teams directly and ask for a favor.  (The Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins forthrightly responded, the Indians quite promptly.  Highly appreciated.)

The work week also consisted of several interviews for key spots in The (Marketing) Department, as we're shoring everything up heading into the season.  Outside of work, the dominant Lansing Lugnuts' front office trivia team (name withheld to protect the innocent) triumphed in the City Limits' DJ Trivia Thursday night competition for the second straight week.  Challenge us next Thursday in Mason if you dare.

Black History tribute today to the greatest black player in Detroit history, Norman "Turkey" Stearnes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A (Sort-Of) Defense for Albert Pujols

Heard on Peter Brown's show on Sporting News Radio last night:

Albert Pujols wants too much money.

He's right, too.  Pujols apparently wants $300 million over ten years.  That's a heckuva lot of money over a heckuva long time for a guy who isn't getting any younger.  (Who is?)

Those, I believe, are the three best arguments against it:  1) too much money, 2) too many years, and 3) who knows how long he'll stay productive?

The other arguments I heard on Peter's show, though, were ridiculous.

"The common fan can't relate to the player anymore."  The common fan could NEVER relate to the star baseball player.  Not during Mike Schmidt's day, nor Mickey Mantle's day, nor Joe DiMaggio's, and right on back past Babe Ruth to the very start.  Never.  Since when did you ever have to relate to a guy in order to root for him?  Who could relate to Michael Jordan?

More pertinently, "Baseball players are all overpaid."  Put yourself in the place of a baseball owner.  It's a business.  You're in it to make money more than anything else.  If a star player helps an owner double or quadruple his profits thanks to helping the team win/sell more tickets/sell merchandise, who could argue against the player deserving his share of those profits?  For a more concrete example, how much money did LeBron James make the Cleveland Cavaliers, and how much money did his signing with the Heat cost them?

This brings us back to Albert Pujols.  How much money has he made the Cardinals?  How much money will he make the Cardinals in the future?  After you figure that out... then you can figure out how much he deserves to be paid.

It's still not $300 million over 10 years.

Friday, February 11, 2011

FDR

Another remarkable story from "Baseball" that I couldn't imagine taking place today:

The story is told about a game at the Polo Grounds being stopped for 45 minutes so that President Roosevelt's speech to the nation could be put over the PA system.

On an unrelated note, Hosni Mubarak has resigned in Egypt.  I think this is a good thing.

Lou Gehrig

For the second time in Ken Burns' "Baseball," they've matched up a description with the actual event -- and the description was flat wrong.  The first time, it was the newspaper report of a game.  The second time, the one I just watched, was a radio broadcaster describing Hank Greenberg striking out on a low fastball.  He clearly didn't; the fastball was up above his letters.  As a broadcaster, this is comforting to me.


Since I have siblings who live in Delaware, let's honor Hall of Famer Judy Johnson for Black History Month, an outstanding infielder from the state.


You know the line "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."  Here's the complete Lou Gehrig Speech, unabridged, from the website LouGehrigSpeech.com:


"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

"Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.


"When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.


"So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Plenty to marvel at

The Black History Month nod today goes to the fabulous pitcher Hilton Smith, overshadowed by Satchel Paige but superb on his own merits.

Interesting notes from Ken Burns' "Baseball" of the day:  In the Great Depression, the St. Louis Browns averaged less than 1,500 fans per game.  Worse, the Cincinnati Reds, Boston Braves, and Philadelphia Phillies all nearly went out of business.  The Braves eventually moved to Milwaukee and then Atlanta.  The Reds and Phillies righted the ship... and both made the National League playoffs last year, meeting in the first round.  Imagine an NL without them!

Link to enjoy:  Johnny McEntee, U-Conn's Trick Shot Quarterback.

Website to enjoy:  Did the Cavs Win Last Night?

An article that shouldn't have been written:  ESPN's Roy S. Johnson is impatient about college basketball's regular season and wants to get to March.

This is a pet peeve of mine - the national sports media deciding that there's nothing worth caring about except for everything NFL, college football, MLB, March Madness, and the NBA playoffs... which leaves this period in February "sports-light."  I'm a fan of the Tony Kornheiser radio show, but Tony was complaining about this the other day.  Trust me, if you're a sports fan, there's plenty to care about all year long, except for the day after the Major League All-Star Game.

In the NHL, the violent, high-scoring Bruins/Canadians game last night.

In the NCAA, the last-second Rutgers comeback against #10 Villanova.

Yes, there's plenty to enjoy, and the baseball season won't be long now.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Babe Ruth

In watching "Baseball," it occurs to me that Babe Ruth would have had a more difficult go of things if he were playing today.

After all, the Babe...

* went into the stands after a heckling fan
* jumped on top of the dugout on a different occasion and challenged fans to fight him
* punched an umpire
* threw dirt on an umpire
* corked his bat
* was suspended by his manager, Miller Huggins
* was suspended by American League President Ban Johnson
* was suspended by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis

I ignore his imbibing, his enjoyment of brothels, and his overeating.  I think he'd get along with those in today's society just fine.

Starting anew

In support of Black History Month, here's the man considered possibly the greatest player of all time (and if not #1, then he's #2 behind Babe Ruth):  Oscar Charleston.

If I'm going to build this a little from the beginning, as it feels with the start of each season, then a couple of quick baseball things about me:

* I love baseball history, particularly the great stories.

* I grew up a Tigers fan in Maryland.  Alan Trammell is my boyhood hero.

* I don't quite understand all of the new statistics, but I get what they're getting at and I appreciate that.  I think on-base percentage (or on-base average, depending on your preference) is easy to understand, and I think fielding range statistics are tremendously important.

* A double play in the act of being turned is a beautiful thing.

* I'm currently watching Ken Burns' "Baseball" for the very first time.  It's everything that everyone says it is.  (I'm in the 4th inning right now.)

* I like 50% of "Bull Durham," 99% of "Sugar," and 100% of Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own."

* I love hockey.  I love soccer.  I love football.  I love basketball.  I love tennis.

* Also:  curling.

Ask questions at any time, I'll do my best to answer them to the best of my ability.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Back on the horse

Here I am, back again, ready for a new season.

Hopefully I'll start work in the Lugnuts' office shortly, once technicalities are squared away.

In the meanwhile, I have a Twitter handle now (@jgoldstrass).  Feel free to follow me.

My favorite sports story of the day:  Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter donates a kidney to one of his players.

First Lugnuts' game:  April 5th vs. Michigan State.

To answer the most popular question we've been receiving:  No, we have no idea how good the Lugnuts will be this year.  We're hoping for quite a few top prospects (Deck McGuire, etc.) but we won't know the roster until April 3rd or so.  It gets pretty hectic there for a little bit.