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Ready For Some Baseball Talk? Report from the Banquet Circuit

The last weekend of January has always marked for me the beginning of the baseball season. Because it usually means the annual Hot Stove League dinner of the New York-area baseball scouts.

I have been attending this friendly informative gathering for about 30 years. For the quality of the pithy speeches, this past Friday's gathering at Leonard's of Great Neck ranks as among the best ever.

The scouts have a sense of history, naming the awards after departed brethren.
Here are some of the highlights from the evening:

The Turk Karam Scout of the Year Dennis Sheehan, now with the Diamondbacks after a long career with the Braves and as a NY area coach, urged young scouts "to fight to the end for your kid." He also wryly predicted that his son Joseph Sheehan, now a VP for the Cleveland Browns, would win at least one game in the next NFL season.

Ralph DiLullo College Coach of the Year Dom Scala from Adelphi in Garden City LI said eloquently, "Only scouts can judge the pulse and heart of a player." The onetime 6th round choice of the Oakland A's, Scala was a Yankee bullpen coach for nine years earning a 1978 World Series ring. He then went into scouting and then college coaching.

"I'm proud to be a baseball lifer," he said. Like Sheehan he told the young scouts in attendance, "I hope you find your dream player."

When it was announced that the Marlins as well as the Mets and Yankees had bought tables for the dinner, Scala quipped, "Does Derek Jeter know [this]?" A reference, of course, to the onetime Yankee hero (and heartthrob) who has gotten off to a miserable start as the face of the Marlins' cost-cutting fire sale of star players.

The Herb Stein Future Star award winner Zack Granite was a pleasant surprise. Often young players don't come to the dinner, but the Staten Island Tottenville HS and Seton Hall college star Granite talked movingly about the thrill of his callup in midseason to the Twins - a team, incidentally, that Herb Stein served ably for decades, signing Hall of Famer Rod Carew, Frank Viola, Gene Larkin, and many others).

The biggest plus so far of being a major leaguer, outfielder Granite said, was wearing the single-flap helmet instead of the hockey-like double flap required in the minors.
He created laughter when he told the story of his uncle Tom who braved the wrath of the Yankee Stadium bleacher creatures by wearing a full Twins uniform during their wild card game loss last October.

Last but not least in the evening was Billy Altman's eloquent acceptance of the Jim Quigley Service to Baseball award (that I was thrilled to receive in 2010). Altman memorably covered the Mets for the "Village Voice" and now is one of the
official scorers for the Yankees and Mets. (This Renaissance man is also a pioneering rock 'n' critic who is serving in key capacities for the new St. Louis blues museum and the forthcoming African-American music museum in Nashville).

Altman remembered his first experience at a World Series in 1981 when he stood behind home plate alongside Howard Cosell and Jim Palmer and watched Sandy Koufax in full uniform pitch batting practice for the Dodgers.

Altman suggested that the beauty and democracy of baseball was exemplified last year when during the World Series 6' 7" Aaron Judge stood as a baserunner at second base next to Astros second sacker 5' 6" Jose Altuve.

I didn't go to the baseball writers dinner the following Sunday, but I read that the genuinely humble Judge paid a touching tribute to his parents seated in the audience: “I could never repay you guys for all the baseball tournaments you’ve driven to, the times I forgot my cleats at home and you had to go back and get them.”

I did attend another late January event that is becoming a fixture on the New York baseball, the annual meeting of the Casey Stengel chapter of SABR. Among the highlights were a friendly and refreshing hour with Tyler Kepner, the excellent national baseball reporter for the New York Times.

Tyler passed around the self-published baseball magazine that he created as a teenager in Philadelphia that led him to become one of the youngest credentialed sportswriters in the country. He has never lost his love for the game and the talented players - it surely shows in his writing.

Before I close, let me say that I have no real objections to the six new Hall of Famers players that will be inducted into Cooperstown in the last week of July. It is the largest number since the initial class voted in during the late 1930s. I don't want multiple inductions every year because the Hall of Fame should be for the truly great not just the very good.

But Atlanta’s Chipper Jones was clearly a no-brainer - a switch-hitter with power and a fine third base glove. He even showed some humor by naming a child Shea in honor of the Mets fans who booed him lustily out of grudging respect.

Second in the voting was Vladimir Guerrero who never played in a World Series but his lethal bat and astounding right field arm deserve immortality.

Closer Trevor Hoffman lost the one World Series he played in for the Padres, and on other big stages he always seemed to come up short. But his accumulation of regular season saves and the nice backstory of his conversion from weak-hitting infielder to the mound contributed to his selection.

Slugger Jim Thome’s career number of 612 HRs made him almost a lock for the Hall of Fame. He also was never tainted with suspicion of PED use, maybe because he was such a giant of a man from early on.

His back story is rather neat too. A 13th round pick of the Indians, he was signed as a shortstop out of Illinois Central college near his home town of Peoria. Scout Tom Couston had followed the power bat of Thome since high school and knew he couldn't let him get away. Charlie Manuel as Thome's hitting coach and later manager helped develop Thome's skills, and Jim gave him due credit when he learned of his selection.

Joining these four in Cooperstown in late July will be two Detroit Tiger stalwarts picked by a Veteran's Committee, pitcher Jack Morris and shortstop Alan Trammell. They were teammates on the 1984 World Series champs that went wire-to-wire in the regular season and lost only one post-season game. They were also models of consistency throughout their careers.

That’s all for now. Always: remember - Take it easy but take it!
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Thoughts on Winter Meetings, Hall of Fame Selections, and Doug Jones' Greatest Save

Though more and more it seems to me that these meetings are like a Made for TV event without much action, the Yankees certainly stole the show with the one-sided trade for the Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

Derek Jeter has certainly gotten off to a rocky start as the face of the Marlins, a team saddled with debt and a new stadium that doesn't draw fans. Why should they come because they've seen stars from their past 1997 and 2003 World Series winners sold off and in Stanton's eight years as a Marlin the team never experienced a .500 season.

Jeter didn't even attend the Orlando meetings. He was spotted in a luxury box at Monday night's Dolphins-Patriots game. It is a shame that commissioner Rob Manfred worked overtime to arrange the sale of the Miami franchise to Jeter and the real money man Bruce Sherman, a hedge fund executive whose last enterprise was buying and then selling or disbanding newspapers.

As an Orioles fan realizing that the glow of the Showalter-Duquette revival years starting in 2012 ended with a thud in 2017, there is foreboding that the trades of third baseman Manny Machado and star closer Zach Britton might be inevitable. Both can walk at the end of 2018 and so can manager Showalter and gm Dan Duquette and team leader and genuine Baltimore community presence center fielder Adam Jones.

It is doubtful that Machado can be signed to a long-term contract that could reach the $300 million level. Even in his off-year of 2017, he hit .259 with 33 HRs and 95 RBI along with his usual string of defensive highlights at third base.

He is represented by Dan Lozano of the Beverly Hills Sports Council who represents Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson also eligible for free agency after 2018.
A few years ago Lozano got Angels owner Arte Moreno to give Albert Pujols that lavish 10-year contract.

Since California needs a third baseman it wouldn’t surprise me if the Angels get into the bidding for Machado or Donaldson. Machado supposedly would like to play shortstop, his original position, but the Angels are set at short with the gifted Curacao native Andrelton Simmons.

The White Sox’s incumbent shortstop Tim Anderson is not an All-Star and the Chicagoans are supposedly seriously interested in Machado. But they won't part with the blue chip pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech the Orioles covet.

With the trade of Chase Headley back to the Padres, the Yankees have a hole at third base. Yankee fans have dreamed of getting Machado (and the Nationals Bryce Harper also eligible for free agency after 2018). But would the Orioles trade within the division?

They did it in 1976 on the dawn of free agency after the historic Messersmith-McNally arbitration decision. (See the opening chapter in my first book, “The Imperfect Diamond.”) The Yankee farm system is deep but whether they would aid the Orioles as they did in 1976 trading future Oriole stalwarts pitchers Scott McGregor and Tippy Martinez and catcher Rick Dempsey for pitchers Doyle Alexander and Ken Holtzman and catcher Elrod Hendricks seems doubtful to me.

Southpaw Zach Britton had a record-breaking almost perfect 2016 regular season but injuries marred his 2017 campaign. How long can he continue to throw his magnificent bowling ball-like 95 mph sinker? That is the big question for evaluators.

It might make sense for the O’s to keep Britton through at least the July 31 trading deadline. Machado may be beyond the Oriole budgetary capacity and could be gone before spring training.

My suggestion is that the O's should re-up Adam Jones as soon as possible. He is a genuine fan favorite and respected member of the Baltimore community. His center field defense may have slipped a little but offensively he has been quite consistent. He’ll strike out a lot but he’ll also produce consistent numbers in the 20-plus HR and 80-plus RBI category.

While they are at it, the O's should extend Jonathan Schoop who had a breakout year at second base. Another Curacao native, Schoop might take the home team discount because he has been with the organization since he was 16.

More baseball news of note recently has been the election by a Hall of Fame veterans committee of two Tigers stalwarts, shortstop Alan Trammell and bulldog starting pitcher Jack Morris. Trammell was the model of consistency in the field and at the plate.

One of the greatest tributes he ever received came from Oriole manager Earl Weaver. When Cal Ripken Jr. moved from third base to shortstop early in his career, Weaver’s simple advice to him was “watch Trammell.”

Jack Morris won 254 games in his career, mainly with the Tigers where he was a key part of their 1984 World Series winners that went wire-to-wire after a 35-5 start to the regular season. I will never forget the enormous bear hug exchanged between Morris and catcher Lance Parrish after Morris's no-hitter that same magical year of 1984.

Maybe Morris is most remembered for his 1-0 10-inning shutout for the Twins over the Braves and John Smoltz in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

The regular election to the Hall of Fame will be announced in late January with the Braves’ switch-hitting third baseman Chipper Jones considered a shoo-in during his first year of eligibility. Slugger Jim Thome with his-600 plus career HRs and no taint of steroid use has a chance on his first try, and Vladimir Guerrero who came close last year might get the call as well.

The Ford Frick media award will go to Bob Costas who has served baseball with dignity and class for over four decades. Originally from the New York City area, Costas received his degree from Syracuse University’s powerhouse communications department and then St. Louis became his adopted home.

I love the story that when Costas first went to Stan Musial’s restaurant he left a tip of $3.31 in honor of Musial’s career batting average. That Musial wound up his career with 3630 hits, 1815 at home and 1815 on the road, has always been to me the gold standard for that elusive thing called consistency.

One political note of promise occurred on Tuesday Dec 12 when Democrat Doug Jones won the Alabama US Senate race against the alleged child predator and unrepentant Neanderthal Roy Moore. I like to think that Jones’s narrow triumph will go down in the history of our currently beleaguered republic as a Save far more valuable than the estimable reliever Doug Jones’s 303 career saves in his major league career from 1986-2000.

While I wait for spring training, basketball does involve me somewhat. Columbia’s men’s basketball record is 1-9 but they are young and are playing reasonably close games. Ditto for Wisconsin’s 5-7 record and 1-1 in Big Ten. As Tug McGraw said, “Ya gotta believe,” right?

So always remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
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