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Good Things Happen To Those Who Wait: Ted Simmons Makes The Hall of Fame + David Lamb's "Stolen Season" Sheds Light on Importance of Minor League Baseball

I never get deeply involved in arguments about the Hall of Fame because the voting always comes down to a popularity contest.  Ted Simmons even admitted as much when he spoke publicly on Monday Dec 9 after his somewhat surprising election to baseball's Cooperstown shrine.

 
"I knew everybody on the [14-man veterans] committee and they knew me so I thought

I had a chance," he said on MLB TV.  It is actually more surprising that Simmons got less than 5% when he was first eligible on the regular ballot in the 1990s.  Because his vote total was so low, he was removed from the ballot until some veterans committees gave him extra chances.

 
Certainly Simmons's numbers are impressive:  21 seasons, 13 with Cardinals, 5 with Brewers (where he made his only World Series appearance in 1982), and 3 with Braves.

Lifetime stats:  248 HR, 483 doubles (indicating that he had significant power in the gaps), 1,389 RBI.

 

And for someone at times maligned for his defense, he threw out 34% of runners attempting to steal. On ESPN.com's list of best catchers in MLB history, he is tied for 10th place with Hall of Famer Gary Carter.  And everyone above them is enshrined in Cooperstown except for still-active Buster Posey of the Giants.

 
Ted Simmons will be one of the most original and intelligent members of the Hall of Fame. I had some memorable encounters with him in the 1980s.   


He liked my first book, co-authored with former major leaguer Tony Lupien,  "The Imperfect Diamond: The Story of Baseball's Reserve System and The Men Who Fought To Change It."  I was flattered when I learned that Simmons had told his Brewers teammate Paul Molitor to read it.

 
Simmons is part of my book because in 1972 he almost became Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally three years before impartial arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled they were free agents because they had not signed their contracts in 1975 and thus the reserve or renewal clause was no longer valid.   

 
Simmons did sign a rare two-year contract in the middle of the 1972 season, becoming probably the first player in MLB history to start a season without signing a contract. 

The dispute was about money, not a principle, Simmons refreshingly told future Hall of Fame sportswriter Bob Broeg in an incisive June 1973 "Baseball Digest" article.


The piece was called "Losing Drives Me Crazy" and Ted declared, "Everyone strives to win, but it's 10,000 times easier to lose."  He also cited the wisdom of one of the great Cardinal minor league instructors George Kissell: "When things go wrong, check your own closet first."

 
Congrats again to Ted Simmons, the onetime University of Michigan speech major who never played for the Wolverines because he started his MLB career as a teenager. Not surprisingly, Simmons said that he is honored to go into Cooperstown with players union leader Marvin Miller who he served vigorously and effectively as a player rep.

 
A CLOSING NOTE ON THE MLB-MILB IMPASSE

As of this post goes up at the winter solstice of Dec. 21, the dispute continues between MLB and the officials of Minor League Baseball.  The majors are proposing the elimination of 42 minor league teams including some entire rookie leagues.

 

If the snafu is not straightened out, there will likely be law suits from some of the municipalities who have invested millions in improved facilities. As J. J. Cooper suggested in the Dec. 14 "Baseball America" post on line, MLB's master plan may well be that by the 2021 season, a whole new landscape will be in place with MLB controlling the teams in almost every lower league. 

 
Compromise has never been MLB's strong suit, but as someone who loves baseball on the lower levels, I sure hope some reconcilation happens early in the new year. For a body that endlessly intones the phrase "growing the game," cutting forty-plus teams seems very odd.

 

Coincidentally, I recently re-read a wonderful 1991 book, David Lamb, "STOLEN SEASON: A Journey Through America and Baseball's Minor Leagues." It is a lovely paean to the importance of a special American institution.  The book may be technically out of print, but I think an internet search can find a copy or I sure hope public libraries have it.


The late David Lamb was a foreign correspondent for the "LA Times" who needed a break from covering the wars in the Middle East.  The opening sentence of the book drew me in immediately:  "This baseball journey was born in the rubble of Beirut while some maniacs were blowing away my hotel with tanks, chunk by chunk."

 
So at the age of 49 Lamb decided to re-connect with his baseball-loving youth when he was such an ardent Boston and Milwaukee Braves fan that he wrote for their fan publications.  The Wisconsin team liked his work so much that he was invited to spend a week covering the team as a fully-credentialed teenager. 

 
Lamb's wife endorsed his mid-life crisis trip as long as he didn't come home chewing tobacco.  Hilarious and prescient insights like this one fill the book. He captures the joy of seeing baseball in small towns and meeting the local characters that make the game so unique.

 
Names of future major leaguers dot the pages of the book such as infielder Ron Washington who wound up managing the Texas Rangers to a World Series and told Lamb that every AB is an opportunity. We discover that the double play combination in Stockton California was Charlie Montoyo (now Blue Jays manager) and Pat Listach, who made The Show with the Brewers.

 
Lamb's visits to the Milwaukee heroes of his youth are revealing - among them: frank Eddie Mathews, thoughtful Warren Spahn, analytical Del Crandall, utility man Chuck Tanner who found far greater success as a MLB manager, and Bob "Hurricane" Hazle, the unheralded minor leaguer who rallied the Braves to their 1957 pennant but only received a 2/3 World Series-winners' share.  Now just "a backwoods whiskey salesman," he's more philosophical than embittered about life. 

 

I wish the prestigious Random House publisher had included an index and that Bill Bruton's and minor league flame-thrower Steve Dalkowski's name had been spelled correctly. But STOLEN SEASON is a most worthy read.  

 
Keep the faith, dear readers, in both baseball and the USA though both are certainly going through difficult times these days.  And always remember:  Take it easy but take it.

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When Robert Mueller Is More Ray Mueller Than Don Mueller and Other Thoughts On Cusp Of New Baseball Season (corrected version)

I wasn't expecting too much from former FBI director Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's influence on the 2016 Presidential campaign.  But wasn't expecting so little either. And it looks like there will be a real and necessary battle for the public to see the full report. 

 
So Robert Mueller is no Mandrake the Magician after all.  That was sweet-swinging right fielder Don Mueller's nickname - one of my early New York Giant heroes with a career .296 BA and .390 SA and an astonishing low number of walks and strikeouts. 

 

He put the ball in play did my man Don Mueller. I recall his winning a game by singling to left field when they were trying to walk him intentionally.  It was mid-1950s, the year when they allowed the catcher to step outside the batter's box to receive an intentional walk.

 

Who knows how the 1951 World Series would have turned out if Mueller could have played?  Alas, he broke his ankle sliding into third just before Bobby Thomson's momentous playoff home run. Mueller was 7 for 18 when the Giants swept the Indians in 1954.

 

Ray Mueller, a little older than Don, actually had a better career than I remembered - 14 years mainly as a backup catcher, hitting .252 slugging .368. But pretty much a nondescript career which over time might be where Robert Mueller's role in history winds up.

 
An electoral repudiation in 2020 of our current pre-fascist Presidency will serve our society best.  I try to buoy myself by the inspirational quote I saw on the Illinois Wesleyan University website:  "The past is immutable, but history is up to us."    

 
Meanwhile. more sad news hit the New York area baseball community when veteran baseball writer Marty Noble, 70, collapsed and died at the Mets spring training base in Port St. Lucie this past weekend. 

 
His long-form baseball writing was always incisive and leavened with humor. For many seasons he covered the Mets for "Newsday" and later mlb.com. I noted in my last blog his recent penetrating piece on Tom Seaver that appeared on the blog "Murray Chass On Baseball". 

 
He deeply appreciated baseball scouts. I once told me how the legendary Cardinals scout George Kissell walked speedster Vince Coleman  - the Cardinal star who became a so-so Met - to an outfield wall to demonstrate the many bounces a ball took. Marty also wrote a gem about the life and times of the great scout Al LaMacchia.

 

HERE'S ANOTHER SHOUT-OUT FOR COLLEGE BASEBALL:

As the Orioles face a likely 100-loss season or worse, I'm taking solace in the good Ivy League start of my Columbia Lions. On this excruciatingly windy past Saturday, senior southpaw Josh Simpson (Stafford, CT)  hurled a complete game 3-0 shutout.

 

Simpson struck out seven and got stronger as the game went on.  Imagine that, analytic Kool-aid guzzlers. He even faced the same lineup three times and threw 110 pitches.  

 
Columbia fell 4-3 in the first game of the Sunday double header as the Big Red scored all four runs in the 5th inning off junior southpaw Ben Wereski (Orchard Park, NY Buffalo suburb). Ben was brilliant for the first four innings, striking out 8 of the first 11 batters. Cornell junior reliever John Natoli (Fairfield, CT) blew away the Lions in the late innings, striking out the last six batters. 

 

Columbia rebounded in the second game to win 13-8 and thereby capture the series. They came from behind three times with the big blow being Fresno Calif.'s senior first baseman Chandler Bengtson's grand slam. 

 

Senior righthander Ethan Abrams (Encinitas, Calif.) pitched four solid relief innings. Always nice to see pitchers like Abrams and Simpson regain form after serious arm surgery. Here's an abiding hope that the TJ epidemic declines as parents and coaches don't let youngsters throw too hard too soon. 

 
Another big weekend looms this Sat and Sun as perennial contender Dartmouth comes to town. It will be strange to see former standout Lions third baseman David Vandercook in a Dartmouth uniform as assistant coach. But glad he's moving up in his chosen career.

 

Weather should be warmer but there is always a potent breeze off the Hudson River so football attire is never out of place at Satow Stadium just north of the football stadium at the Baker Field complex. First game on Sat. is 1130, single game on Sunday starts at noon.

 
IMO the college baseball season is too short, but academic schedules and the existence of pro minor leagues make change very hard. However, once you get used to the sound of the metal bat - hard for baseball purists I know -, the game is the same and often played with more fundamentals than you see these days on the major league level.

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

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