Tag Archives: jeff bagwell

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’.

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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.

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: My Job as Hall of Fame Executioner

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 I Wish They All Could Be David Eckstein. 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.

bagwell.jpgI always hate the very end of the year. It’s so bleak and depressing. You have to put away the Christmas decorations and box up all the
packages your presents came in. The ground is covered with huge banks of dirty snow. The guy who usually plows your driveway can’t do it anymore, because he ran off to Cancun with your wife.

But one thing brightens my day during this season: Hall of Fame voting. It is truly an honor and a privilege to decide who will be enshrined in the hallowed halls of Coopersville. To know that those immortal plaques that hang upon the wall hang there because of you. It’s an amazing thing to behold. At least it will be when I actually get to visit. I tried to go once, got off at the wrong exit, and accidentally spent three days in York, Pennsylvania. Had a great time, but my editor was not pleased by my 5000-word column on the majesty and grandeur of the Weightlifting Hall of Fame.

There’s some truly deserving candidates on this year’s ballot. I think Roberto Alomar is a shoo-in, and I have no problem voting for him now that he’s had a year of eligibility to think about what he did.

I’m hoping this is the year Jack Morris finally gets in, since he was inarguably the greatest pitcher of the 1980s. Of all of his accomplishments, perhaps his biggest is keeping his greatness confined within one decade, rather than straddling several like Bert Blyleven did, which makes it much easier for me recognize said greatness.

Speaking of Blyleven, I always struggle about whether I should vote for him or not. He did have some fantastic years with the Twins and some other teams (can’t remember which ones, exactly). But according to the BBWAA rules, we can only vote for him or Morris. A bit unfair, perhaps, but rules are rules. If I vote for both, they take away my $10-per-flight per diem, and I can’t be caught off guard if I get on a place without complimentary Nutter Butters.

Morris and Alomar are the only people I feel comfortable voting for. We are now at the point where these Hall of Fame ballots include so-called players whose careers flourished in the infamous Steroid Era, which will forever be known as the most sinister, unspeakably dark time in baseball history. Sure, there were decades when black people couldn’t play the game and players were little more than chattel to the owners. But all those things happened many, many years ago, which automatically makes them not as awful as the era of performance enhancement.

So I can’t vote for anyone I suspect of having done steroids. Who do I suspect? I can’t tell you. Why do I suspect them? I’m not sure. What exactly did they do? The answer to that is murky. Where was I when I began to suspect them? Probably at a Perkins, since that’s where I do most of my serious thinking.

Call me old fashioned, but I think the Hall should only welcome in the purest players. And by “pure,” I mean completely unsullied by accusations of PED use. I realize that’s difficult, because nearly every player who ran on a major league field in the 1990s and 2000s has been accused at one time or another, even if in only the most cursory way.

For instance, I once heard Buster Olney say in the press booth, “Hey, I heard Jim Edmonds did steroids…ha ha, just kidding!” Kidding or not, I have to take every accusation seriously, and that’s why you will never see me vote for Edmonds for the Hall. In fact, if I see him walking down the street, I will cross to the opposite side and spit while I do so.

That’s how seriously I take this. I’m sure Buster would agree, if he were still speaking to me. (We’ve been on the outs since we roomed together during the All Star Game one year. He didn’t appreciate giving up his bed to accommodate my vintage white noise machine.)

Certainly, some players are more guilty than others. I’ll never forgive Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for putting on a phony home run show back in 1998. Back then, we were so much more innocent. At the time, I was a mere 20-year newspaper veteran! Mark and Sammy’s longball contest made me feel like a kid again.

When I found out it was all a scam, that made me feel like a kid again, too, but more like the time Tommy Flanagan down the street stole my GI Joe doll, wiped himself with it, and shoved it under my nose. Some wrongs you can never erase from your memory. Some smells, too.

And don’t get me started on Rafael Palmeiro. That fraud lied in front of Congress about taking steroids, and he still wants us all to believe that he never did them. I can’t believe he would think we’re all so gullible, just because we in the press didn’t catch on to him for several decades.

Now, I’m not completely doctrinaire in my opinions. You won’t find a bigger Andy Pettitte fan than me, except perhaps for his mom, and Yankee fans, and Astros fans, too, I guess. But after all those people, there’s me.

I’m fully aware that Andy Pettitte initially lied about steroid use, then said he only used them to recover from injury. Normally, I think there’s no excuse that can pardon steroid use, and yet I believe and forgive him. The deciding factors for me were the fact that he finally came clean after nearly a decade of lying, and he also won several World Series, which I believe proves his character is above reproach.

I admit I had a long internal debate about whether I should vote for Jeff Bagwell. I did my usual Internal Debate ritual, where I lock myself in my study, with only a notepad and seven boxes of Mallomars. I make sure my study does not have any reference materials or internet access, because I don’t want stats or detailed facts to interfere with my arguments. Then I make a quick list of pros and cons. In Bagwell’s case, here’s what I came up with.

Amazing offensive production for an extended period of time

Vague, undocumented whispers of PED use
The goatee

Because of this, Bagwell did not get my vote. The case against him as a steroid user is far from airtight. In fact, I can’t remember any serious evidence against him, really, just little rumors here and there. But the fact of the matter is, someone somewhere sort-of and perhaps not entirely seriously accused him. It may be vague and completely unfair, but it’s enough for me. Well, that and the goatee.

I’m aware that Bagwell has denied using steroids many times. But I’m also pretty sure that’s exactly what someone who used steroids would say. I won’t believe him until he says he used them. And then I’ll be forced to never vote for him, because he did steroids.

Are flimsy accusations enough to convict someone of cheating? Certainly not in a court of law. But in the court of Hall of Fame, all players are guilty until proven innocent..Because if you think about it, putting someone into the Hall of Fame is like giving them a death sentence. If you are not absolutely sure they are deserving of such a fate, you can not in good conscience vote for it. And in my book, only the purest of pure deserve 50,000 volts of bronze.