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A Moving Farewell to Hank Aaron + No New Inductees In Cooperstown (updated on Feb 2)

For those who missed it, I am glad that mlb.com has put up a link to the very moving Hank Aaron memorial MLBTV broadcast live from Atlanta on Tuesday Jan 26.  So many heartfelt emotions were expressed.  Here's a partial list.

 

"I wanted to be like him, to dream like him," remembered former outfielder Marquis Grissom.

 

"Chipper, I fear no man when I have a bat in my hand," was Aaron's answer to a question posed by Hall of Famer Chipper Jones about tough pitchers he faced. 

 

Dusty Baker told how Hank promised his mother that he would take care of him when he turned down a college athletic scholarship to play for the Braves. Hank followed through, sometimes providing tough love.

 

Fighting back tears, current Braves manager Brian Snitker thanked Aaron for giving him his first managing job in 1982 when Hank was farm director.  He always cared about everyone on the roster, Snitzer said, especially the grinders who didn't have the big bonuses. 

 

John Smoltz told a story that epitomized the competiveness at the heart of the Hall of Famer. In Cooperstown not long ago, Aaron, Joe Morgan, and Frank Robinson were using walkers to get to a function.  Someone playfully shouted, "Down the stretch they come!"

 

With a look in his eye that Smoltz never forgot, Aaron roared from behind to win that race.

 

RIP to those three gallant men and all of the 10 Hall of Famers lost in last 10 months.

Long live Willie Mays who will be 90 on May 6 and is the oldest living Hall of Famer.

 

As expected the Hall of Fame announced on January 26 that the baseball writers have not elected any new members.  Curt Schilling again came closest falling 16 votes short.

 

As a post-season performer, he was excellent, playing big roles in the 2001 Diamondback and 2004 Red Sox world titles.  He also is the only pitcher in history to have over 3000 strikeouts with fewer than 750 walks.  

 

But if the "character" clause means anything - I understand many feel it doesn't belong - Schilling's incendiary right-wing comments have undoubtedly cost him votes. He supported the January 6th insurrection of the Capitol and is known to possess quite a collection of Nazi memorabilia. 

 

He now wants to have his name removed from the next ballot, the last year he and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will be eligible.  He says he is "mentally done" and will entrust his immortality to the veterans committees.

 

Interestingly, Marvin Miller, who was elected posthumously last year, also asked numerous times to have his name removed from the ballot.  Jane Forbes Clark, chairperson of the Hall of Fame, refused those requests, but has indicated she may be open to Schilling's wish.

 

Certainly no one in the establishment wants to sit through a possibly explosive tirade from the right by the volatile righthander.  Fear of what Marvin Miller might have said from the left was a definite factor in why he wasn't voted in during his lifetime.

 

I probably won't live to see the day when a functioning majority of those in power realize that a baseball diamond is a wonderful model for good governance. But I hope youngsters take heed:  You can hit an occasional homer down the foul lines but up the middle and into the gaps is the best route to success.    

 

The Hall of Fame's induction ceremony will be held on Sunday July 25th, dependent on sufficient recovery from the pandemic.  Last year's winners will be honored:

Derek Jeter and Larry Walker and the veteran committee selections Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons.

 

The broadcasters enshrined will be last year's winner Ken "Hawk" Harrelson - proving you can go a long way with schtick - and Al Michaels. The writers will be last year's winner the late Nick Cafardo and the estimable Dick Kaegel. This ceremony will likely be held on Saturday Jan 24.  

 

Looking forward to new players on the 2021 ballot, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz are the huge names on the ballot.  Though neither failed any tests for PEDs, rumors circulate widely around them, especially A-Rod.

 

RHP Tim Hudson seems like a possible "clean" candidate.  Had great years with contending Braves and Athletics teams and the W-L record really grabs me: 222-133, 3.49 ERA in a PED time, good BB-K ratio 917/2080.  Only 1-4 in 7 post-seasons but a decent 3.69 ERA and steady 22-53 walk-strikeout ratio.

 

Torii Hunter with 2478 hits, great defense, and definite leadership qualifications will deserve some attention. The .277 BA and .331 on-base percentage will be used against him.

 

Let the arguments begin. But morphing Monty Python, Argument is fine, Abuse is in another room and not in my house. 

 

Looking ahead to February, I still believe that the greatest sentence in the English language is:  "The pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training."  But with the pandemic still sweeping through Arizona, local authorities have urged MLB to push back the opening of the camps until late February.

 

No word yet on whether MLB will respond to this plea.  And no signs that the warring camps of MLB management and an angry MLBPA not interested in any curtailed season and cut pay are any closer to basic rules for 2021 - eg. whether the NL will use the DH - let alone a new Basic Agreement that expires the end of 2021. 

 

Always remember: Take it easy but take it, and always stay positive, test negative!  Got my first vaccine shot relatively easily on Jan 23 with second one slated for Lincoln's birthday (my mothers' 119th) Feb 12.  

 

 

 

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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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