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Archive for the tag “Keith Hernandez”

Mediocrity, and a Mets Fans Life: Part 3

Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, if you need catching up.

1983:  Is a hard year to write about.  Not because anything truly awful happened back then, but because it was such a waste of year.  For the past couple of decades, my best friend, James and I have always maintained that 1983 was the worst year ever.  Neither of us could provide you with specific reasons or examples of this awfulness, yet we definitely felt this in an almost visceral way as ’83 unfolded around us.  In other words, we’d hit bottom.  Tired of ourselves.  Tired of our aimlessness.  Tired of wasting time.  It was fun once, but now we simply hated where it was all headed, which is to say, precisely nowhere.

But, as they say (“they” have a lot of wisdom, and, apparently, a lot of freakin’ time on their hands), you have to hit bottom before you can bounce back up.  So, in keeping with that old adage, I started to do something I’d never done before.  I started to think about going to college.  Frankly, I’d had enough of the Working Class Hero bullshit.  Since Reagan, it was clear there was no money in it anymore.  Now, as the song said, “All you need are looks and a whole lot of money.”  Several people I’d known in high school were now halfway through college, and these folks were not what anyone would call the Kolbe High School Brain-Trust.  So, for the first time in my life, I started to save up money for college.

Apparently, the Mets had also finally had enough of their losing ways.  Sure, they finished the year 68-94, another last place season.  But more importantly, they’d begun to set the foundation for future success.  Rookie Darryl Strawberry, the first excellent position player the Mets had ever developed, enjoyed a fine season, slugging 26 home runs in just 420 at bats.  Perhaps even more importantly, the Mets traded pitcher Neil Allen to the Cardinals for first baseman Keith Hernandez.  Keith instantly gave the Mets a credibility they’d lacked since they’d traded away Tom Seaver several years before.

1984:  Nothing much happened.  It took a year like this to make 1985 possible.  I guess I must have saved up some money.  I worked for most of the year at a light-industrial shop making some sort of things that were sold to the Department of Defense.  All the big money was in defense in those days.  But I was sticking to my plan.

As for the Mets, a shooting star named Dwight Gooden exploded onto the scene.  In his rookie year, he led the N.L. in strikeouts with 276 in just 218 innings.  He just made it all look so easy.  And the Mets, astonishingly, won 90 games for the first time since their improbable 100 win season back in ’69.  Clearly, happy days were here again.

1985:  In the mid-80’s, not a lot of culturally very important moments were taking place, though blues guitarists Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan were shining bright for anyone who cared to notice.  As for me, well, I’d landed a new job at a local bank through a friend of mine.  It was perhaps the coolest, easiest job I’ve ever had.  Automatic Teller Machines were just becoming nearly universal at that time, and the banks decided that they needed a stable of on-call drivers to attend to the simpler tasks of refilling the machines with cash, clearing jammed bills, changing the receipt tape, etc.

The beauty of the job was that we could camp out in a local bar and wait for our beepers to go off before we hit the road.  I worked the late shift from 5:30-midnight with a friend of mine.  We’d drive from Fairfield down the Connecticut coast all the way as far as Greenwich, or as far west as Danbury.  Some of the girls who rode with us were very cute, and, strictly against the rules, sometimes we’d even occasionally pick up a friend and bring him with us.  I was 22-years old, the money was easy, the summer was a lot of fun, and I was still sticking to the plan.

Dwight Gooden at Candlestick Park in San Franc...

Dwight Gooden at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Shea Stadium, the Mets were having a fantastic season, ultimately winning 98 games, but couldn’t quite catch the damned Cardinals.  New addition Gary Carter, along with Keith Hernandez, Gooden, Strawberry, Mookie Wilson, and pitchers Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez as well as a brash young rookie named Lenny Dykstra, were playing with a swagger never quite seen before in Queens.

Gooden finished the season with 1.53 ERA and lost just four of 35 starts.  In my mind, it was the greatest pitching season I’ve still ever seen in my life.  The Mets were now New York’s team, and it felt great to be a Mets fan.

1986:  An odd and fantastic year.  My gig at the bank continued through the summer, and I now even had a radio show on a college radio station with my friend Dave, WVOF-Fairfield.  It was a college radio station, and we got to play anything and everything we desired, from bits of Monty Python albums, to Classic Rock, Prog Rock, Alternative Rock, and the Blues.  “Take the Skinheads bowling, take them bowling!”  I was also going to make a break for it, escaping southern Connecticut for the comparative wilds of Maine.  But that wouldn’t come until the day after Thanksgiving.  Until then, I got to enjoy the Mets epic adventure of a season.

In the National League, there really was no competition against the Mets in 1986.  The Mets led the league in most offensive and pitching statistics.  They won 108 games.  Gooden became the first pitcher in MLB history to post three consecutive 200-K seasons to begin a career (and he had just turned 21.)  Their clubhouse was a mess, and Davy Johnson, though he did his best and was a very intelligent manager, was probably in a bit over his head with this group.  Game Six of the N.L.C.S vs. Houston is still the greatest game I’ve ever seen played in my life.  It was a roller-coaster ride, an epic 16-inning classic.

For the benefit of any Red Sox fan who might still be reading, I won’t recount the history of the ’86 World Series.  I will say, though, that when Dykstra hit a lead-off home run at Fenway Park in Game Three, my friend Gregor dunked his beeper in a pitcher of beer, and there it remained until the game was over.  Just a few weeks later, I landed in a distant corner of snowy, York County, Maine.

Luther Bonney, Masterton Hall, and the Science...

Luther Bonney, Masterton Hall, and the Science building at USM’s Portland Campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1987-89:  I combine these years because they were all a bit of a blur.  It seemed like, except for a few short, warm days every year, it was always winter.  Also, I’d never seen so many white people in one place in my entire life.  Being a white guy myself who’d moved from a place where white was just one color in the social fabric, it quickly became apparent that the denizens of York County (and later, Cumberland County, just up the road where they had roads) were of a species I’d never encountered before.

Meanwhile, I had finally enrolled at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham / Portland, Maine.  I was to major in Political Science, though I wasn’t really sure what the hell I was going to do with a Poli-Sci degree.  All I knew was that it felt right to finally be going back to school, long after many of my high school classmates had already graduated.  I had also begun working at L.L. Bean in Freeport.  But we’ll save that story for later.

Next up, a wild ride through the ’90s!

Hall of Fame of the Heart

What does reason know?  Reason only knows what it has succeeded in learning. -Dostoevsky

If you could build your own Baseball Hall of Fame, what kind of place would it be?

It’s likely that the actual Hall of Fame includes several  players you admired while growing up.  It’s also likely that some of the players you admired the most then, and still do today, were never deemed Hall worthy.

You may not even have any real problem with that.  Intellectually, you probably understand the statistical reasoning that has served to exclude some of your favorite players.

But suppose we were to construct a Hall of the Heart, that is, a place (or, more accurately, an idea), where those players who captured our imagination all those years ago would be enshrined?  In fact, when we use the term “Hall of Fame,” it begs the question, famous to whom?

If fame is the fleeting, fickle standard by which we are to choose our immortals, it is by definition an extremely subjective standard.  Just because the evolution of The Hall has coincided with a revolution in statistical analysis doesn’t necessarily mean that the membership of the former should be almost entirely dependent upon the mathematical equations of the latter.

Or, as the 19th century Russian writer, Dostoevsky, stated in Notes From Underground:

[Man] is fond of striving toward achievement, but not so very fond of the achievement itself, and this is, naturally, terribly funny. In short, man is constructed comically; there is evidently some joke in all of this. But two times two makes four is still an altogether insufferable thing. Two times two makes four–why, in my view, it is sheer impertinence. Two times two makes four is a brazen fop who bars your way with arms akimbo, spitting.

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  This is not a diatribe in favor of the so-called “traditionalist” view of baseball.  Nor am I suggesting that the statistical work that has been done by the modern, progressive wing of the baseball universe has been accomplished by “brazen fops.”   The fact is that the “traditionalists” use stats just as readily to make their particular cases just as often and with as much gusto as those of the sabermetric persuasion.  They just choose to use a different set of (generally older) stats.

What I’m advocating here is a return to the idea of baseball as fun, as entertainment, and as the fount of the dreams of youth.  For that, we have to look inward, into our irrational, passionate selves.     We never cheer a 1.040 WHIP, but we do cheer the unlikely triple hit by the chubby kid that scores the go-ahead run in the home-half of the eighth inning.

What follows, then, is (perhaps inevitably) a list of the players who inspired my imagination as a child, and on into my teens and early twenties.  They are the by-product of time and place, and are of a distant genetic lineage to the gods and immortals of old:  Hercules, Odysseus, Achilles, Agamemnon, Heracles, Theseus, etc.

I will strive for brevity in my comments about each one of my heroes.  My list, after all, is not intended to convince you of anything at all, except of my own vulnerable humanity.

It is also not in any particular order.  Let the imagination do its work, uninterrupted:

1)  Tom Seaver:  My very own Odysseus.  Conquering hero, fated to spend several years away from home ( Queens / Ithaca) eventually to return again, triumphant, however briefly.

2)  Freddy Lynn:  Inspiration in the summer of ’75 for so many backyard dives and catches.  To play so fearlessly, even for one season in the sun, is what it’s all about.

3)  Steve Garvey:  Though it’s not a Steve Garvey model, I bought a first-base mitt to be like him.  I still have it today.  Handsome, dependable, heroic and a star, in the mid-1970’s, he was everything I could ever hope to be.

4)  Rusty Staub:  There was always something mysterious about him.  Rusty sometimes wore a black glove while batting, he came from foreign lands (Montreal, by way of Houston), and he was also a practicing chef.  He was like a secret agent masquerading as a baseball player, and he had a certain swagger about him.  He was like Robert Vaughn in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  crossed with Robert Vaughn in The Magnificent Seven.

5)  The Boys of Summer:  This was the first grownup book I ever read.  I was around ten or eleven years old, and while reading it, I wanted the entire Brooklyn Dodgers team to be my friends and family.  Roger Kahn also made me want to be a writer, if I couldn’t be a ballplayer.

Giants manager John McGraw and pitcher Christy...

Giants manager John McGraw and pitcher Christy Mathewson during the 1911 World Series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6)  Christy Mathewson:  Although he played long before my time, I was struck by his story, his boyish good looks, and his integrity.  Mathewson was college educated.  His manager, John McGraw, was an old-school tough without much formal education.  Yet McGraw loved Mathewson like a son.  It was the sort of relationship I coveted with my father.

Mathewson was gassed in a training accident in 1918 during the First World War.  He would die young, at age 45 in 1925, of tuberculosis.

Like Achilles, he would shine brightly all too briefly.  He was both literally and figuratively a warrior, and the war would contribute to his early demise.

7)  Keith Hernandez:  Keith was, without doubt, the greatest fielding first baseman I’ve ever seen.  He took charge of the infield in a way I’ve never seen a first baseman do either before or since.  Always fearless and accurate when throwing across the diamond, he cut down more base-runners in a week, than I’ve seen some do in a year.

Keith was also a great clutch hitter.  Never a big power threat, Keith would spray line-drives all over the place, usually when they mattered most.

He also had a smoking habit, and, although it never inspired me to start smoking myself, it did make him seem more accessible and human.  He wasn’t some body-building athlete intent on perfecting his physique.  He was a baseball player with the God-given ability, the natural instincts and the competitive drive to succeed in a very difficult sport.

8)  Will “The Thrill” Clark:  An intense southern boy from the bayous of Louisiana, Will Clark was  nothing if not a competitor.  The eye-black he wore made him look like a special forces sniper.  Another first baseman, he helped get me back into collecting baseball cards in the late 1980’s.  I wanted to collect every card that featured him, and I wanted to copy his smooth, left-handed swing.  I was always happy when the Giants came to town so I could watch him play.

If the character, Swan, from the movie, “The Warriors” was a pro baseball player, he’d be Will Clark (and wouldn’t the Baseball Furies just love that?)  Swan is the very first Warrior you see in this clip. The movie is loosely based on Homer’s, The Odyssey.

Eric Davis hit for the cycle in 1989.

Eric Davis hit for the cycle in 1989. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)9)

 9)  Eric Davis:  Eric the Red.  A contemporary of Will Clark, he played with a slash and burn style reminiscent of the Norseman of myth and legend.

I absolutely loved the way Eric Davis, in his prime, made the game of baseball look so easy that he might soon grow bored with it and find another hobby.

He could steal bases, hit homers, range around the outfield, score runs, and he played with just enough of the toughness of the streets of L.A. where he grew up.

Later, in 1998, Davis also made a heroic comeback from colon cancer to play remarkably well for the Baltimore Orioles.

Eric Davis and I also share a birthday, May 29th.  He was born exactly one year before me.

10)  Jeff Bagwell:  Bagwell grew up in my home state of Connecticut and is just a few years younger than I.  Throughout the ’90’s, Bagwell was my favorite player.  He was powerful, he could really run the bases, which was most unusual for a first baseman, and I loved his wide-open stance.  An aggressive player, Bagwell basically had no weaknesses in his game.  If the god Apollo could play baseball, he would be Jeff Bagwell.

These are certainly not the only ten players in my Hall of the Heart.  A random sampling of many others would include Roger Maris, Dwight Gooden, Larry Walker, Bernie Carbo, Jerry Grote, Lou Gehrig, Bill Lee, Jim Bouton, Dave Kingman, Sid Fernandez, Rube Waddell, Jerry Koosman, Mookie Wilson, Jon Matlack, Jimmy Wynn, Bobby Murcer, Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, Kirby Puckett, Ken Griffey, Jr., Ted Williams, Cal Ripkin, Jr., Gary Carter, David Cone, Mike Vail, Lenny Randle, Mark Fidrych, Ron LeFlore, Sandy Koufax, Smoky Joe Wood, Ron Guidry, Dizzy Dean,  Arky Vaughan, Paul Konerko, Brian Giles, Nomar Garciaparra, Rusty Greer, “Toe” Nash, Sidd Finch, Moonlight Graham, Robin Ventura, Addie Joss, and yes, even Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Oh, and some guy who used to pitch for the Red Sox named Babe Ruth.

Now that’s a Hall of Fame for which I would happily pay the price of admission.

Who would you include in your irrational, sentimental Hall of the Heart?

I’d like to know.

Gary Carter, and a Season of Hope

As a Mets fan, the first time Gary Carter came across my radar screen was in December 1984, when the Mets traded third baseman Hubie Brooks and three other “prospects” for the 30-year old catcher from Montreal.

Sure, I generally knew who Carter was; I collected baseball fans and had seen “The Kid” play against my Mets a few times.  But it was out of the realm of what I thought possible at the time that this All-Star catcher would ever play for my lowly Mets.  After all, as a Mets fan since 1975, I’d only experienced two winning seasons out of nine, through 1983.

Gary Carter

Gary Carter (Photo credit: AxsDeny)

Yes, the arrival of Keith Hernandez in mid-season, 1983, gave me some hope (and Keith, not Gary, became my favorite Met of the ’80’s), but after seven consecutive terrible seasons (1977-83) I knew that they would need a lot more than one excellent player to turn this franchise around.

Yes, the young kids Gooden and Strawberry had each just arrived, but there was one missing piece to the puzzle.

Enter Gary Carter.

Carter quickly announced, not with his mouth, but with his bat, that things were going to be different at Shea Stadium when, on Opening Day, 1985, in the 10th inning, he hit a walk-off home run.  It was now clear to all Mets fans that HOPE had truly arrived.

The enthusiasm of the player they called “The Kid” was infectious.  The Mets hadn’t really had a player who contained these personal and professional qualities since Tom Seaver had been unceremoniously dumped (for “prospects”, there’s that word again) in mid-’77.

In his first season as a Met, Carter hit a career high 32 home runs, drove in 100, hit .281, made the All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger, and finished 6th in N.L. MVP voting.

The ’85 Mets enjoyed their finest season in many years, finishing with a record of 98-74, but they just couldn’t quite catch Tommy Herr’s Cardinals.  Gooden and Strawberry each had fantastic seasons, as did Keith Hernandez.

Most importantly to me was that the Mets were simply fun to watch again.  Every day, you knew they had an excellent chance to win, and the players assembled on that team (which also included Mookie, Dykstra, Darling, and El Sid) had a rare chemistry.  I hadn’t enjoyed a Mets team this much since the days of Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Staub, Harrelson, Grote, and Cleon Jones.

And even though Keith Hernandez was my favorite player, I was aware that my friend James was right.  Carter was the player that made all of this success possible.  He was the glue that held this disparate, passionate, often profane group of guys together.

But what success?  The Mets still hadn’t won anything yet.

Enter the 1986 season.  Not only did Mets fans like myself expect the Mets to win lots of games that year, we knew this would be OUR YEAR, the year a Championship would finally come back to Queens.  Unlike our rivals over in a certain ballpark in the Bronx (whose box-seats were always full of rich, yuppie suburbanites from Manhattan or Connecticut), the denizens of Queens were primarily working class, and understood that it took a lot of losing to truly appreciate winning.

The ’86 Mets did not disappoint.  They won 108 games against just 54 losses, led the N.L. in both pitching and hitting, and went on to defeat the Astros of Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott in the greatest league-championship series ever played.  (Game Six of that series was the greatest game I’ve still ever seen in my life.)

Carter hit just .148 in that series, and it was clear that at age 32, he was finally slowing down just a bit.  True, he had driven in 100 runs again in ’86, but the wear and tear of, at that point, a dozen seasons as a catcher had begun to take their toll.  It was unclear how effective he would be, in the Mets first World Series since 1973, against Rocket Roger Clemens’ Red Sox.

Led me begin by saying that I did not hate the Red Sox.  After all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and it was the Yankees that I truly couldn’t stand (although I always respected certain players like Randolph, Munson, and later Mattingly.)  My brother was a Red Sox fan, so we had a fun, natural rivalry as well.

Through the first five games of the Series, the Mets looked alternately flat and dominating.  Their had been some heroics and some botched opportunities.  And the Mets suddenly found themselves down 3 games to 2 going into Game Six.  Although it was clear that the Mets Could come back and win, it was far from certain that they Would.

The Mets had lost the first two games of the World Series at Shea Stadium, then had taken two of three at Fenway Park (Carter hit two home runs in Game Four.)  So home-field “advantage” had not been an advantage so far in this Series.

Dwight Gooden had already been beaten twice, and Ron Darling once, so it fell to the Mets underrated third ace, Bobby Ojeda (ironically obtained in an off-season trade from the Red Sox) to even the Series three games apiece.

Paid attendance at Shea on this October night topped 55,000, and all of New York (and Boston, of course) was glued to their T.V. sets.  The Red Sox took an early 2-0 lead off of Ojeda.  The Mets got two back to tie the game in the fifth inning.  The Sox chipped another run in the seventh.  The Mets responded with a run of their own in the eight inning.

Neither team scored in the ninth, and we had extra innings.

I can’t imagine how exhausted Gary Carter must have been.  He had caught every game of the Series, and now here he was entering the tenth inning still behind the plate for the Mets.  I was tense, nervous and exhausted just watching the damned game.

In fact, writing this post is the first time I’ve allowed myself to virtually relive this game, more or less in its entirety, in a quarter of a century.

After the top of the tenth inning, it looked all over for the Mets.  The Sox had scored two in the top of the tenth, and how much Mets Magic could be left in the tank?  There are some miracles you just don’t dare ask for.

The Mets were quickly down two outs in the bottom of the tenth.  I looked over at my brother and said, “Congratulations, Mark, it looks like your boys are finally going to win a World Series.”  He responded, “Nope.  It’s not over yet.  They’ll probably find a way to blow it.”

But the Mets were down two runs, and were down to their last out.

Then Gary Carter strode to the plate.  It had to be Carter.  This moment could be reserved for no one else.

Quickly, though, he was down two strikes.  The Mets were down to their last out.  Their last strike.  Just one more pitch.  I couldn’t watch.

In my mind’s eye, I seem to remember Carter fighting off a pitch or two, but I could be wrong.

Then, it happened.  Gary Carter lined a clean single, and the floodgates were opened.  I looked over at my brother.  He had a look of pure doom on his face.

There is no reason to go any further with the play-by-play.  There can’t be a baseball fan over 30-years old anywhere that doesn’t know how the rest of that game, and that Series, turned out.

But I can’t help wondering how different it would have turned out if Carter had not come to the plate in that tenth inning at bat.  How did he do it?  He must have been running on pure adrenaline.  And, of course, he came back the next day and caught Game Seven.  He finished the Series with a pair of home runs, a .276 batting average, and a team-leading nine RBI.

No Met player had come to the plate more often than Carter’s 29 official at bats in this Series, and no player on either team had come up with a bigger hit when it mattered most.

Carter played a total of just five seasons with the Mets, but he solidified not only his Hall of Fame credentials, but his permanent place in the hearts of all Mets fans during his short stay.

Now, at age 57, Gary Carter has passed away, a short stay in a world he made better with his generosity, enthusiasm and dignity, taking a piece of my youth with him.

But what he has left in its place is a profoundly grateful fan’s memories of how Hope is always just around the corner, if you dare to believe in it.

Why Bernie Williams Does Not Belong in the Hall of Fame

Bernie Williams at the plate, His Birthday, Se...

Image via Wikipedia

I really hate to do this to Bernie Williams. Although I’m not a Yankee fan, I did happen to like and respect Williams during his tenure with the Yanks.  He always seemed to me to be a man of dignity and  self-respect.  There really wasn’t any reason not to like Bernie Williams.

As a player, along with Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada, Williams was an important part of the Yankee Championship teams during his era.  A five-time All Star, Williams was a player that any manager would love to have on his team.

Having said all that, Bernie Williams does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

Recently, I read an essay by Jim Caple of ESPN arguing that Williams should be elected into The Hall.  I further indulged myself by skimming through the reader responses to Caple’s analysis.  The majority of readers responded in the negative as far as Williams’ Hall worthiness was concerned, but there were several responses  to the effect that Williams is an obvious, slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

I decided to analyze their primary arguments as to why they believe Williams should be elected into the Hall of Fame.  It appears to me that Bernie’s advocates supply three major reasons why they think Williams belongs in The Hall.  Let’s take each reason, one at a time, and examine them more closely.

1)  Bernie Williams compiled excellent career play-off numbers: 

It is certainly true that Williams is among the all-time play-off leaders in games played, plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, walks, home runs, and RBI.  But the primary reason why Williams is generally in the top three in each of these categories is because he played on a lot of excellent Yankee teams, and because there are simply more playoff series now than there were in prior generations.

Bernie Williams was fortunate to play on teams that allowed him to receive 545 plate appearances in playoff games.  That is essentially one regular season’s worth of plate appearances.  Williams triple slash line during the regular season in his career was ..297 / .381 / .477.  His playoff game triple slash line was .275 / .371 / .480.  Overall, not a lot of difference, other than a drop in batting average.

These numbers are about what one would expect considering a generally higher level of competition in playoff games.  Still, is there anything outstanding about that playoff triple slash line?  Williams was the 1996 A.L. ALCS MVP.  Per at bat, Williams numbers are good, but they are not outstanding.

2)  Bernie Williams was a great defensive center fielder:

Bernie Williams won four Gold Gloves, from 1997-2000, during which he accumulated a WAR of -4.1.  Yes folks, that’s a negative sign in front of the 4.  Very early on his Williams career as a full-time center fielder, beginning in 1993, Williams was a half-way decent outfielder.  He was young and quick, and he even accumulated a couple of seasons of positive WAR.

But the fact remains that Williams, who finished his career with a defensive WAR of -12.0, was, by any objective standard of measurement, a below average center fielder who happened to somehow impress Gold Glove voters into making them believe that he was, in fact, a very good outfielder.

It happens.  There are some Gold Glove winners (Keith Hernandez, Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith) who really do deserve the award virtually every season they earn it.  There are others, like Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Rafael Palmiero, who earn them despite the fact that their skills eroded more quickly than people noticed.

My theory about this is that fans, managers, baseball announcers, and other  judge a player’s defense by entirely subjective criteria, like how graceful a player looks while playing his position.  Or how dirty his shirt is at the end of a game.  Yet, looks can be deceiving.  Sometimes a player has a dirty shirt because he is slow-footed and often out of position.  Or perhaps he looks as graceful as Nureyev  running across the wide expanse of the outfield, yet a disproportionate number of balls land just out of reach for inning-extending base hits.

Regardless of how well Williams appeared to play the outfield, the fact of the matter is, relatively speaking, he just wasn’t very good at it.

3)  Bernie Williams was an excellent switch-hitter who won a batting title and accumulated impressive career numbers.

Williams did win the A.L. batting title by hitting .339 in 1998.  Perhaps as a result, he also led the A.L. in intentional walks received in 1999, with 17.

Other than that, in Williams entire 16-year career, he never led the A.L. in any other category even once.  Not in at bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, home runs, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, or WAR.

Williams finished his career with 2,336 hits, 1,366 runs scored (95th all-time), 449 doubles (96th all-time), 287 home runs, 1,257 RBI, 147 stolen bases, just over 1,000 walks, and the aforementioned triple slash line of .297 / .381 / .477.  His OPS was .858, and his OPS+ was 125.  His career WAR was 47.3.

There is nothing wrong with any of those numbers.  They are very solid, respectable numbers.  But here’s the problem with these numbers.  If you induct Williams into The Hall with those numbers, then you better be ready to punch the ticket for Reggie Smith, Dwight Evans, Will Clark, Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, and a cast of dozens of other players whose career numbers are right there with Williams.

Finally, it is also reasonable to expect that a Hall of Fame caliber player should have dominated the game to the extent that his dominance was rewarded with an MVP award or a Cy Young award or, at the very least, multiple finishes in the top five or top ten in voting for those awards.

Williams best finish in MVP voting was just 7th place in 1998.  He also finished in 10th place in 2002.

Bernie Williams was an excellent baseball player and a class Yankee who deserves to be recognized for his accomplishments in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.

But Bernie Williams does not deserve to be elected into the baseball Hall of Fame.

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Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 18 – The San Francisco Giants

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inn...

Image via Wikipedia

I thought he was destined for the Hall of Fame.

For a five-year period, from 1987-91, Will “The Thrill” Clark of the San Francisco Giants was one of Major League Baseball’s  most dominant players.  His eye-black and competitive nature provoked fear in many opposing pitchers.  His glove around the first base bag was plenty good, but it was his bat they feared and respected most of all.

During that five-year period, Clark averaged 27 home runs, 104 RBI’s, 94 runs scored, a .304 batting average, an OPS of .900, and an outstanding OPS+ of 153.  He accomplished all of this while playing in one of the better PITCHER’S Parks in the N.L.

By way of comparison, Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez topped an OPS+ of 150 only twice in his 23-year career.  Giant’s Hall of Fame first baseman Orlando Cepeda topped 150 three times.  Yet another Giant’s Hall of Fame first baseman, Bill Terry, touched an OPS+ of 150 in just two seasons.

Will Clark topped an OPS+ in five separate seasons, as many as Cepeda and Terry combined.

Obviously, then, Will Clark had several outstanding seasons before he turned thirty years old, and many other good seasons during the rest of his career.

Will Clark’s Best Forgotten Season was in 1989.

As with some of the other players I’ve profiled in this series, a case could be made for one or two other seasons as well.  But ’89 was arguably Clark’s best season for several reasons.

In 1989, the 25-year old Clark batted .333, second best in the league.  He accumulated 321 Total Bases, again, good for second best in the league.

His WAR was a league-leading 9.4.

He led the N.L. in runs scored with 104.

He posted a career high 196 hits, and his OPS (.953) and OPS+ (175) were also each second best in the league.

He won his first Silver Slugger award, and he played in the All-Star Game.

Clark’s 136 Runs Created led the N.L.

He led the N.L. in times on base with 275.

He hit 23 home runs, drove in 111 runs, knocked 38 doubles and added nine triples.

Defensively, his Range Factor / Game of 9.85 was also the best in the N.L.

Just for good measure, he was voted the N.L.C.S. MVP by single-handedly smashing the Cubs pitching to the tune of a .650 batting average, a .683 on-base percentage, and a ridiculous slugging percentage of 1.200.

Will Clark finished second in the N.L. MVP voting in 1989 to teammate Kevin Mitchell who slugged 47 home runs and drove in 125 runs.

Clark finished in the top five in MVP voting four times in his career.  He played in six All-Star Games.  He won one Gold Glove, but was good enough to have earned more.

Astonishingly, Will Clark’s career OPS+ of 137 is better than 90 hitters currently in the Hall of Fame.

It is also better than two of his more celebrated contemporaries at the first base position, Don Mattingly, (127), and Keith Hernandez, (128).

The primary reason’s why Clark is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame have to do with his career power numbers.  Hall voters like to see lots of home runs and RBI’s from a first baseman.  Clark’s career totals in these two areas — 284 home runs and 1,205 RBI’s —  look modest compared to some of the other first basemen in The Hall.

Clark also never won an MVP award, and he never played on a World Championship team.

Clark ended his fifteen-year baseball career after the 2000 season when he was just 36-years old.  But he showed even in his final days as a player that his bat was still just about as dangerous as ever.

As a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in the last 51 games of his final season, Clark batted .345, had a .426 on-base percentage, slugged .655, and compiled an OPS of 1.081.  He smoked 28 extra-base hits in just 171 at bats.

Although Clark’s best overall season had occurred almost a dozen years earlier, clearly he had saved the best for last.

Underrated / Overrated: Baseball and Other Stuff – Part 2

I began my first “Underrated / Overrated” blog-post with the sentence, “There is more to life than baseball.”

Apparently, some people took offense to this heretical statement.

Nevertheless, let’s face it.   Other people, things and events have had at least a modicum of importance even though they have had almost nothing at all to do with baseball.

Things like the Hindenburg Disaster, for example, which took place not all that far from the Elysian Fields of New Jersey, where some of the very first baseball games were ever played.

Some of these people, events and things have been historically overrated, just as certain baseball players have long been overrated.

And, of course, the opposite is true as well, as I will argue throughout this blog-post.

For those of you who read the first edition of Overrated / Underrated, the format hasn’t changed.

I alternate a contemporary baseball-related Overrated / Underrated, comparing either teams or players, with another Overrated / Underrated that might be a pair of movies, authors, foods, historical people or events, or just about anything else that I find momentarily amusing or interesting.

For those of you who are either new to this blog, or who may have missed the first installment, don’t worry, you’ll catch on rather quickly.

Keeping in mind that this author’s opinions are highly biased, and not to be taken entirely seriously.

So, let’s begin.

Overrated: Mariners Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki – 200 hits per year, every year, is a pretty cool, and not insignificant accomplishment.  Ichiro is also an excellent defensive outfielder (nine gold gloves.)

He has stolen 344 bases in his career, for an 80% success rate.

Ichiro also reliably scores over 100 runs per season, and he has only grounded into 43 double-plays in his entire career.

Six times, he has led the A.L. in hits, and he holds the single-season record for hits with 262 in 2004.

He has a .333 career batting average (good for 29th all-time) and he has won two batting titles.

Finally, he has played in nine All-Star games in nine years, while winning three Silver Slugger awards.

So why overrated?

Despite all the hits, Ichiro has topped a .400 on-base percentage in only one season.  His career on-base percentage of .378 is good, but not great.  He comes in at 188th all-time, sandwiched between Taffy Wright and Merv Rettunmund.

Moreover, Ichiro’s career OPS of .811 is not at all impressive.  It ranks a pedestrian 331st all-time, right up there with Phil Nevin and Andre Thornton.

Also, despite Ichiro’s obvious speed and his ability to generate hits, he has hit an astonishingly low number of doubles and triples, not to mention home runs.  Fine, homers aren’t a part of his game.  But doubles?

Only twice has Ichiro topped 30 doubles in a season, never coming anywhere close to forty.  And only once has he hit more than nine triples.

Getting to first base is nice, as any teen-age boy can tell you.

But a great hitter is someone who normally accumulates a large number of total bases, and whose presence in the lineup leads to much more significant run production than Ichiro’s has in his nine years in Seattle.

Underrated:  Indians Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo – Choo was a 20-20 man last season in his first full year, and he hit .300 with a nearly .400 on-base percentage.  He was caught stealing just twice in 23 attempts.

Through 40 at bats this season, Choo is hitting .350 with four homers (including a Grand Slam), and he has drawn 11 walks to 10 strikeouts.  He has also driven in 12 runs, and he has scored ten.

Choo, who turns 28 years old in July, has a legitimate shot at a 30-30 season, with 100 runs scored and batted in, plus a .300 average.

As I stated in my last blog-post, Grady Sizemore gets all the hype in Cleveland, but Choo is the real deal.

Overrated:  “Silence of the Lambs” – Quick question.  Who is, as far as the plot is concerned, the primary antagonist in this film?

Wrong.  It is not Anthony Hopkins’ character, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  It is, in fact, an ill-defined serial killer who goes by the moniker “Buffalo Bill”  whom F.B.I. agent Clarice Starling (Jody Foster) is pursuing.

But because a big box-office film needs to put its stars front-and-center, Hopkins character receives far more show-time than his character warrants.

Now let me ask you something else.  In this movie, Foster’s character has recently graduated from the F.B.I. Academy.  So, do you really believe that this freshly minted graduate, who apparently has zero experience dealing with serial killers, would be placed on such an enormously important case as virtually the lead investigator?

But Hopkins hammed it up so effectively, he won the 1991 Best Actor Award for his performance.  And “Silence of the Lambs,” a nominal horror movie, won the Best Film award.  Too bad that much of its dialogue was lifted verbatim from an earlier film called…

Underrated:  “Manhunter” – The original Dr. Hannibal Lecter character was played, not by Hopkins, but by Brian Cox in this Michael Mann film.  Watch Cox’s spell-binding portrayal of Lecter in this film, and you will have to admit that Cox’s Dr. Lecter would eat Hopkin’s Dr. Lecter for lunch, perhaps with a nice Chianti.

Moreover, the lead investigator, Will Graham (played by William Peterson of C.S.I. fame) is far more credible as a foil for both Lecter and the “Tooth Fairy” serial killer (whose character is given far more depth than Silence of the Lamb’s “Buffalo Bill”) because it is established early on in Manhunter that he and Lecter have a history which almost resulted in Graham’s death.

And again, much of the dialogue in the first part of “Silence” is exactly the same as in “Manhunter.”

Shouldn’t an Academy Award winning film be at least somewhat original?

Overrated:  Cubs Pitcher Carlos Zambrano – Being paid like an ace, despite the fact that he hasn’t truly pitched like an ace in about three or four years.  Still only 29 years old, he has avoided the quick Mark Prior burnout in favor of a longer-slower approach.  Perhaps he can thank manager Lou Piniella simply for not being Dusty Baker.  Nevertheless, Zambrano’s decline is evident, although not apparent, to many fans and “analysts” who still refer to him as an “ace.”

(Note:  Just before I published this blog-post, it was reported that Zambrano had been banished to the Cubs bull-pen.)

Underrated:  Red Sox Pitcher Josh Beckett –  Although there are some people out there who believe that Beckett is actually overrated (Boston sports-writer Dan Shaughnessy for one), the fact is that Beckett is one of the most unappreciated aces in the Majors.

He has posted WHIP’s below 1.20 in each of the past three seasons while pitching most of his games in the toughest division on the planet, and half his games in a great hitter’s park.  He keeps his walks reasonably low, and he strikes out nearly a batter an inning.

So what’s not to like?

Overrated:  Horror Writer Stephen King – Full disclosure here.  I own 16 of his books, and I used to be a big fan of his.  I also lived in Maine for over twenty winters.

But the truth is, King’s books haven’t been truly creepy, let alone scary,  since “Gerald’s Game,” published way back in 1992.  Since then, the scariest thing about King’s books have been their massive heft, and the dismaying frequency with which he produces them.

Underrated:  Horror Writer Franz Kafka – This man was so far ahead of his time, we’re still trying to catch up to him.  “The Trial” and “The Castle,” as well as his other works, propose primary characters so de-humanized by the modern world that they barely have names.  The normal narrative of a life characterized by triumph and tragedy is replaced by one of a constant state of anxiety, confusion, and paranoia from which there is no escape.

And the real horror here is that it’s not even clear that the primary characters in his stories ever truly even want to escape, so accustomed to the moral chaos they have become.

Sound familiar?

Overrated:  Yankees First Baseman Don Mattingly – “Donnie Baseball” had three truly great seasons, and several good ones.  In the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (a great book, overall), James has only this to say about Mattingly:  “100% ballplayer, 0% bullshit.”

Fine, but according to Baseball-Reference.com, Mattingly’s career most closely resembles those of Cecil Cooper, Wally Joyner, Hal McRae and Will Clark.

Mattingly was a good fielder, winning nine Gold Gloves, but the last couple were won primarily on reputation, and, anyway, defensively he was not the game-changer that cross-town rival Keith Hernandez was.

Do I wish Mattingly had a long and highly successful career?  Of course I do.  But the fact of the matter is that once his back problems sapped his power by the time he was 28-years old, he was basically not much better than your average first baseman.

Underrated:  Mets First Baseman Keith Hernandez –  During the decade of the 1980’s Major League Baseball kept an official statistic called Game Winning RBI’s.  I’m not sure why they discontinued that stat, but guess which player produced the most GWRBI’s in that decade?  Yup, Keith Hernandez.

Like Mattingly, Keith Hernandez won one MVP Award (co-winner with Willie Stargell in 1979.)  Unlike Mattingly, however, Hernandez’s presence led to his New York team winning a World Series title in 1986.

Keith Hernandez was an excellent line-drive hitter, a superior on-field leader, a clutch performer, and easily one of the top five defensive first basemen of all-time.  Keith played first base with the quickness, agility and brashness that usually characterizes the very best middle infielders.

Keith Hernandez:  100% ballplayer, 0% bullshit.

Overrated:  Las Vegas Elvis – Virtually everyone under the age of 45 has only the bloated, self-parodying Vegas Elvis as their reference point here.  The favored Elvis of the vast majority of Elvis impersonators, one has to wonder if even Elvis himself grew tired of playing this version of himself.

Underrated:  Memphis Elvis – This talented young crooner sang country, gospel, and rockabilly long before he was exploited for his sexy good looks and distinctive voice by the quickly emerging Rock n’ Roll establishment, not to mention Hollywood.

Overrated:  Mets Outfielder Jason Bay – He’s being paid like a Super-Star, but he is best suited as a complementary piece in a deep line-up, which the Mets clearly do not have.  Thus, he will feel the New York pressure in the not-too-distant future.  Athletically, his body-type and skill set are reminiscent of Tim Salmon, Kevin McReynolds, Ryan Klesko, and an over-the-hill George Foster.  Fenway Park inflated his numbers; Citi Field will expose them.  Sorry Mets fans.  Poor signing.

Underrated:  Mariners Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez – Hands down, the best defensive outfielder playing today.  According to Baseball Prospectus, Gutierrez’s defensive prowess saved between 25-30 runs last season, an estimated value of about three wins for his team.  Offensively, he has the power and speed to go 20-20 on you, and last season, his first full year in the Majors, he scored 85 runs, just three fewer than Ichiro.  Now entering his age 27 season, he could enjoy a very nice, All-Star caliber year in Seattle.

In fact, as I write this, Gutierrez, through 57 at bats, is hitting .421 with a .460 on-base percentage.  Not too bad.

Overrated:  The Winchester Rifle – These beautiful, classic weapons are now collectors items worth thousands of dollars.  They sound cool when they shoot, and on T.V. many years ago, the Winchester Rifle was the preferred weapon of Chuck Connors’ “The Rifleman.”

Yet the Winchester did not significantly alter the balance of power between cowboys and Indians in the old west, or even the balance of power between cowboys and other cowboys.  Smith and Wesson, and Colt, with their handy revolvers, were arguably more important to the culture and history of the American West.

Still, no question about it, Winchesters are pretty cool.

Underrated:  The Martini-Henry Rifle – This breech-loaded, single-shot  rifle, in the hands of disciplined, well-trained British soldiers, was an extremely deadly weapon.  Firing in ranks, and independently, barely 100 British soldiers held off approximately 4,000 determined Zulu warriors at Rorke’s Drift in 1879.  This rifle, with a fixed bayonet, made all the difference.

Check out the final attack of the Zulus in the 1964 film, “Zulu.”

 

It is only five minutes long, and there are a couple of decent shots of the Brits using this weapon in battle.

Overrated:  Inter-League Play – Mets and Yankees fans need several fixes of this match-up per year to satisfy their unquenchable desire to turn baseball into an all-New York event.  Meanwhile, a few other rivalries, Cubs-White Sox, Angels-Dodgers, are kind of cool I guess.  But there are far too many pointless match-ups (Tigers-Reds, anyone?), to justify so many games per year of this stunt, especially when teams in different divisions, but in the same league, barely ever get to play one another.

Moreover, how fair is it that some teams always draw the toughest teams the other league has to offer, while other teams usually end up playing the rival league’s patsies?

Underrated:  Pre-game Warm-ups and Batting Practice –  Yes, some teams actually still do these things.  It’s a great time to enjoy the quiet that has been bled out of baseball.  Sit back, watch the players toss the ball around, put your feet up, and have a beer.  If you have a child in tow, bring them down to the seats closest to the field, and try for an autograph or two.  And you still have an entire game to look forward to.  What could be better than that?

Overrated:  Pittsburgh Steelers Defense – They sacked their opponents quarterbacks 47 times last year.  Nice total, but nothing special.  Their opponents sacked Steelers quarterbacks 50 times.

Underrated:  F.D.N.Y.  (Fire Department of New York City) –

Saved thousands of lives on 9/11 at the cost of 343 of their own.  One Firehouse, Engine 40 / Ladder 35,  sent 13 men to the World Trade Center that day.  Only one returned alive.  ‘Nuff said.

So ends another installment of Underrated / Overrated.  Hope you enjoyed it.  Whether you agree or disagree with my opinions expressed here in this blog-post, I’d love to hear from you.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

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