Tag Archives: hall of fame

Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: Shoebox Greetings for the Hall of Fame

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book Why Eckstein Matters. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! You can follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

I apologize that my Hall of Fame column came later than usual this year. I actually handed in my ballot at the last minute. I was searching all over the house for it, then my wife told me she lost it. And while she told me she lost it, she lit the ballot on fire right in front of me. I told her tampering with a Hall of Fame ballot was a federal offense. She said it wasn’t at all and that she was leaving for Ibiza for two weeks with her special friend Marco.

Luckily, I was able to send my choices in by teletype. It’s good to know that the BBWAA still uses the latest technology. Do you know it took me forever to find a teletype machine in my newspaper’s office? And when I did, it was covered in dust, banana stickers, and somebody growing a potato in a jar. When I started in this business, we used teletype to send info back to the newsdesk, and as far as I’m concerned, no machinery has improved on it since. You can keep your Blackberrys and iPans and whatnot. Also, my editor won’t let me get one because the last time I was issued a company cell phone, I gummed up the keys with Mallomar residue.

When Jack Morris failed to get into the Hall of Fame yet again, I poured out a bottle of Yoo-Hoo in his memory. In truth, I knocked over a bottle of Yoo-Hoo onto the hood of my editor’s car, but I retroactively dedicated it to his memory. That and the sizable repaint bill, which is coming out of my paycheck. I had no idea Yoo-Hoo was so caustic.

It’s too bad that we’re letting so many people vote for the Hall of Fame that didn’t watch some of the eligible candidates play. If you look at Morris’s pure numbers, of course he doesn’t belong within a mile of Cooperstown. In order to understand his greatness, you had to have seen him in action, and then remembered that action many, many years later, when most of the finer details are rather hazy in your memory and mixed up with other things you’ve seen on TV. I, for one, will never forget that time I saw Morris pitch a 15-inning complete game and knock in the winning run to save an inner city rec center, aided only by his grit and determination and most of the Harlem Globetrotters.

I truly believe that you can only judge a player if you’ve actually seen him on the field, preferably from a press box view, while ingesting a Skitch Special. That’s when you anchor two hot dogs and a hamburger together with a shish kebab skewer, then drop it into a deep fryer. Some stadiums were better than others in making it for me. The guys at Wrigley were the best; they’d always have two Skitch Specials waiting for me when I showed up at game time, along with a fully charged defibrillator.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite players was Jimmy “Shoebox” O’Leary, backup utility man for the Senators. No one really knows how he got that nickname; some say it’s because he was born in a shoebox, others say it’s because he lived in one. I can’t tell you now why he was my favorite player back then. His batting average always hovered around the Mendoza Line, he couldn’t field worth a lick, and he got a nosebleed every time he ascended the dugout steps.

Still, I thought he was the greatest player in the world when I was six, and to honor that memory, I vote for his induction into Cooperstown every year. My fellow writers keep telling me I’m insane, that he’s not on the ballot, and that they’re going to drum me out if I don’t stop doing this and also bringing my homemade scrapple to the meetings.

If I’m disappointed that Morris failed to get in, that’s how pleased I am that Jeff Bagwell was also denied. As I’ve discussed before, there’s no hard evidence Bagwell ever did steroids, or soft evidence, or even some sort of evidence-mist. However, he did play at a time when many other people may or may not have done steroids at some point or another, and the fact that he didn’t speak up about it is a mark against his character. If someone was around that much cheating at that time and said nothing, they’re just as guilty as those who committed the act. If there’s anything I’m sure of after spending most of the last 30 years in locker rooms, it’s this.

I’m not looking forward to next year’s ballots, full of proven cheaters like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, cheaters by association like Mike Piazza…now that I think about it, it will be easier to vote than ever before. I’ll just draw a huge frowny face on my ballot, check off Morris, write in Shoebox, and be done with it. More time for homemade scrapplin’.

* * *

And now it’s time for Some Things I Think About Things I Think!

  • Tim Tebow has brought joy back to the NFL. Anyone who says something bad about him should be caged.
  • In this strike-shortened season, the play in the NBA has really fallen off, based on what I assume from not having watched a single game so far.
  • Love him or hate him, Shia LeBoeuf is here to stay, folks.
  • I’ve started an online petition to keep egg nog lattes at Starbucks all year round. I have 12 signatures, each from someone named Mike Rotch.
  • Alex Ovechkin is going to have to do a lot more to get my attention. Like play a sport other than hockey.
  • I don’t care for that “Partying Rock” song by L.S.M.F.T. Give me the Little River Band any day of the week.
  • Albert Pujols’ decision to leave St. Louis for the glamor of Hollywood is truly selfish, as it means I will probably have to drive from LAX to Anaheim several times this upcoming season.
  • Insider’s tip: Take a bag of microwave popcorn, poke a tiny hole, pour M&Ms inside, and seal it up before you pop. The result is a delightfully gooey mess and it tastes a bit like metal.
  • Have you guys heard about radishes? Crazy!
  • Stayed up late last night to watch a few old episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati. I really think that show holds up, and the roaring laugh track really helped mask the sounds of Marco and my wife upstairs.
  • Treat yourself to some fried spaghetti this week. You’ll thank me.

Manny Being Test Case

Manny Ramirez retired over the weekend. This in and of itself is pretty noteworthy to me, since Manny is among many players whose monumental debuts and stratospheric heydays I remember. So to me, Manny hanging up his spikes serves as another signal of the relentless march of time. Baseball!

Of course, Manny’s retirement is made even bigger by the fact that he did so to avoid a second suspension for PED use. The immediate reaction among most fans and writers was that this was an intensely stupid thing to do, and that retiring instead of taking his medicine (ahem) was a chump’s exit, both of which I agree with to an extent.

Many also feel Manny’s legacy is irreparably tainted, and that this means no Hall of Fame for him. This may be true, considering the generally old-school views of HOF voters, but probably shouldn’t be.

Sooner or later, somebody who either tested positive for PEDs or admitted to using them is going to get into the Hall of Fame. Maybe Andy Pettitte. Maybe Alex Rodriguez. Maybe Mark McGwire. It will happen, and once it does, it’s going to be virtually impossible to argue that some PED users are more guilty than others. To do so requires verbal and logical gymnastics that no one is mentally limber enough to perform.

Case in point: The Manny news prompted Bill Simmons to tweet, “How roided up was Manny during his crazy ’08 Dodgers run? Had to be on par with Ivan Drago or Arnold in Predator, right?” Maybe, but who’s to say he wasn’t just as “roided up” when he played for Boston? Simmons (who is a Red Sox fan; I’m not sure if everyone’s aware of that) is assigning a blemish to Manny’s time with the Dodgers, while implicitly saying that Manny’s years with his own favorite team are untainted.

We’ve already seen Hall of Fame voters do essentially the same thing. The matter of Barry Bonds getting into Cooperstown is seen as so beyond the pale, it isn’t even discussed. But when Andy Pettitte retired, his chances to get into the Hall were soberly discussed, with his use of HGH mentioned only in passing, if at all.

It may seem ridiculous to put Pettitte and Bonds in the same sentence when it comes to PEDs. But is it, really? They both have the same level of “guilt,” which is being named in the Mitchell Report. Neither ever failed a drug test. There are a few differences, of course. Pettitte publicly admitted to using PEDs (after being caught), whereas Bonds never has. The other big difference is that Pettitte is well liked, and Bonds is a horrible human being. But if we’re going to keep terrible people out of the Hall of Fame, we’d have to retroactively kick out some of the best players ever (Ty Cobb being one huge, racist example).

And if we’re going to keep every “steroid cheat,” real or imagined, out of Cooperstown, we’re going to have some very lean Hall of Fame classes in the years to come. In the last HOF vote, Jeff Bagwell just missed out on induction in his first year of eligibility, despite some Hall-worthy stats, because there have been whispered accusations of PED use about him. He’s never been seriously accused, never failed a drug test, was not named in the Mitchell Report, and yet the vague notion that he may have done something at some point in his career was enough to keep certain voters from selecting him. How is this kind of lunatic reasoning better for baseball than possibly letting in a “cheater”?

The current sanctimony on the part of writers is a far cry from how steroids were discussed at the height of their use. While working on The 1999 Project and In The Year 2000 the last few years, I’ve pored over hundreds of articles written about baseball during those two seasons. You know how many times those articles mentioned PEDs? Zero. Not once. At the absolute zenith of steroid use in baseball, no one in the press was talking about it. In fact, when Steve Wilstein noted the unpleasant fact that Mark McGwire kept androstenedione in his locker during that “magical summer” of 1998, he was roundly criticized–most loudly by his fellow reporters.

The retroactive outrage was spurred in large part by Jose Canseco’s tell-all tome, but Barry Bonds was a huge factor as well. It wasn’t until Bonds, a player everyone outside of San Francisco hated, “threatened” sacred home run records that writers got concerned. In order to take steroids seriously, reporters needed to find a target who they enjoyed digging up dirt on, and who the public would enjoy seeing torn down. Then, for good measure, they ripped McGwire for being a “cheat” to atone for enabling him years earlier.

If you want to keep all PED users out of Cooperstown, I don’t agree with that stance, but I understand it. I find that point of view much more acceptable than the Animal Farm route, where some PED use is more equal than others. Jumping through hoops to explain why a certain player’s “cheating” is more acceptable than another’s is just shorthand for I LIKE THIS GUY BETTER THAN THAT GUY. And if that’s how you want to play the Hall of Fame Voting Game, just own it, rather than trying to justify it through flowcharts and moral calculus.

Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: Skitch vs. The Fact Zealots

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry: How Winning Lots of Football Games Made Them Good Human Beings. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! You can follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

blyleven.jpgEver since I published my Hall of Fame column last week, I’ve been getting tons of email, and I’m heartened to know that many of you support my decision to keep the likes of Jeff Bagwell and Bert Blyleven out of Coopersville. However, many more of you disagree. About seven times as many, according to my math. Granted, math was never my strong suit in school. Same goes for science. And English. And shop class. And homeroom.

First of all, I want to apologize if I’ve been slow to respond to your letters. Back in 2005, while checking my work email, I clicked something bad or pressed the wrong key, and it caused a server meltdown at my newspaper. And when I say “meltdown,” I mean that the paper’s servers literally liquified themselves. The IT guys said they’d never seen anything like it. Several of them wept openly.

After that, my boss has tasked one intern with printing out all of my email and reading it out loud to me. I tried to convince my editor that I could read a printout all by myself, but he didn’t want to take any chances. I also told him that doing this every day would leave me a lot less time to write, and he said he was perfectly fine with this.

For the last few days, I’ve had to sit in my office while a 19-year-old college student recites extremely insulting emails. Needless to say, this made me very uncomfortable. Not so much for myself, but for the delicate sensibilities of the young man doing the recitation. Some of the language you people used was so vile, it almost caused him to retch. At first I thought he might be covering up laughter, but the intern assured me he was merely trying to contain his nausea.
Continue reading Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: Skitch vs. The Fact Zealots

Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: All Hail the Hall!

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. It’s great to hear from him, because the last time I spoke to Skitch, he was getting lost and possibly assaulted at Yankee Stadium.

You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book Playing Stickball with Mickey Mantle, and Other Weird Dreams I Had. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! You can follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

Each winter, I have a great responsibility. And no, it’s not shoveling the driveway! And no, it’s not picking up my wife from the drunk tank after the office Christmas party!

No, I’m talking about my Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. It is quite an honor to participate in the voting every year and help decide who will be immortalized in Cooperstown. There are no halls in the history of halls that are more hallowed than the Baseball Hall of Fame. Perhaps The Halls of Medicine in the old Halls cough drop commercials, but those ads haven’t been on the air in several years. Or perhaps the Halls of Justice, but that’s more of a concept than an actual place.

No, for an actual, physical set of halls, the ones in Cooperstown are the best. But those halls would mean nothing without the people who inhabit them. Not literally, of course. I mean the legends immortalized there in plaque form, or in a video loop on a TV in the lobby. That’s why I take my voting very seriously. I think long and hard about who gets my vote and who does not, because I know I have a hand in solidifying baseball history.

Unfortunately, this year I was less serious about mailing my ballot in, since I accidentally dropped it behind the Xerox machine some time last month. I would have dug out my ballot, but me and electronic equipment do not get along! Like the time I dropped my laptop in a koi pond and electrocuted several hundred fish! Boy, the people at Benihana’s were not happy about that!

andredawson.jpgI did intend to vote for Andre Dawson, and I’m very glad that he made it in. You could argue there were more deserving candidates than him, and his career was hampered by injuries, and I never got to see him play too often, now that I think about it. But I do remember “Hawk” having one unbelievably awesome year where he won the MVP. You certainly can’t argue with that! At least not until I remember exactly what year that was.

I’m very disappointed that Jack Morris still has not made it to Cooperstown. Because when you talk dominant starting pitchers of the 1980s, you have to talk about Jack Morris. Sure, you have to talk some about other guys first, like Fernando Valenzuela. And Doc Gooden. And Roger Clemens. And Jimmy Key and Frank Viola and Nolan Ryan and Orel Hershiser and Bret Saberhagen and Steve Carlton and Bruce Hurst and Dave Stieb and John Tudor and Mike Scott. But eventually, you have to talk about Jack Morris.

Morris may not have had the gaudy stats that some of those other guys did. But he did have that wonderful 10-inning duel against John Smoltz in game 7 of the 1991 World Series. That’s one of the most famous pitching performances of all time. Plus there were three or four other really great games he pitched whose details escape me right now. That’s good enough for the Hall in my book.

Remember, we’re talking about The Hall of Fame, not The Hall of Obscure Statistics. Bert Blyleven had a great career, but I can’t think of a famous moment involving him. Same goes for Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, and Barry Larkin. Until those guys have a transcendent moment, I can’t in good conscience vote to enshrine them. Unless somebody reminds me of a moment I couldn’t recall. In which case, welcome aboard, fellas!

How do you define a moment? I can’t say. Can you define a beautiful sunrise? The wonder in a child’s eyes? The magic of Christmas? (I hope the folks at Hallmark won’t mind; I adapted those last few lines from a “To a wonderful great-aunt” birthday card.) A moment is a lot like pornography: you know it when you see it. Most moments don’t involve hardcore nudity, of course. At least not in baseball. But I think you get my point.

alomar.jpgAs for Roberto Alomar, who missed The Hall by a few votes, I think that is fair punishment for spitting on an umpire many years ago. I’m aware that the umpire, John Hirschbeck, forgave Alomar publicly for his actions. But to simply let him into Cooperstown on the first ballot would be a slap in the face to all those other players who did not spit on umpires. I’ll be perfectly happy to vote for Alomar on the next ballot, after he’s had a full year to think about what he did.

What kind of message would it send to our kids to let Alomar into the Hall right away? Spitting is never okay. Unless you’ve ingested poison or sour milk, in which case you should expectorate discreetly into a napkin or paper towel.

It’s hard enough to get kids to stop spitting without seeing major league baseball players doing it. My son has been spitting at me ever since Alomar attacked Hirschbeck with his saliva. And he’s 32! He’s still mad at me for missing several birthdays in a row to cover the XFL championship game. I told him that as a reporter, I have a responsibility to cover my beat, and that responsibility doesn’t disappear just because the league hasn’t existed in several years.

We all need to teach our kids–to show our kids–that responsibility is important. We must meet our responsibilities head on, whether they involve voting for the Hall of Fame, or keeping nasty spitters out of that Hall of Fame, or filing stories on sports leagues that have folded, or making sure my wife doesn’t jump bail again. And we must not foist these responsibilities on others, like when I begged the cleaning lady to get my Hall of Fame ballot from behind the copier with her broom.

Being responsible may not get you into Cooperstown. But it will earn you a trip to the Hall of Respect of Your Fellow Humans. That may be an even greater place to be. Except for the fact that you don’t get a plaque and it doesn’t literally exist.

Rickey Thanks Rickey

rickey.jpgRickey accepts this honor on behalf of Rickey. Rickey hopes that this recognition will finally allow Rickey to get paid like Rickey deserves. Lastly, Rickey would like to thank Rickey for all the support Rickey has show Rickey over the years.

Rickey would also like to congratulate Jim Rice for joining him in Rickey’s Hall of Fame. Sure, Rickey never saw Jim Rice steal no bases. But Rickey thinks there are many paths to the Hall, because Rickey is feeling magnanimous today.

Rickey thinks it’s just a shame that it took so long to get Jim in the Hall, all because a bunch of old fart sportswriters didn’t like him back in day. So what Jim Rice didn’t talk to no reporters? Rickey never talked to no reporters. Rickey didn’t have to. Rickey let his feet do the talking. And his bat. And sometimes both at the same time, which is extremely difficult to pull off. That is, if you ain’t Rickey. Which Rickey happens to be, thank you very much.

As for Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven, Rickey wishes you best of luck next year. Rickey was honored to honor y’all by playing against you.