Results tagged ‘ Ernie Banks ’

Price is right for Jeter at 2,999

Derek Jeter moved within one of the 3,000-hit plateau with a leadoff single in the first inning Saturday in an impressive, eight-pitch at-bat against Rays lefthander David Price. Jeter worked the count full against the overpowering Price and had the fans standing in anticipation after he fouled off two 95-mph fastballs. Price came back with another 95-mph heater but got too much of the plate. Jeter hit a hard bouncer between third base and shortstop for career hit No. 2,999.

It is a sun-kissed afternoon at Yankee Stadium, the sort of day that used to make Hall of Famer Ernie Banks suggest, “Let’s play two!”

Uh, maybe we don’t want to get into that. The Yankees wanted to make up for Friday night’s rainout by scheduling a dual-admission doubleheader Saturday, but the Rays voted it down. That left two games remaining on the homestand for Jeter to get the two hits he needs for 3,000. Make that one now.

Is Munson Hall-worthy?

On the 31st anniversary of Thurman Munson’s death in a small plane crash, discussion among Yankees fans often centers on why he is not in the Hall of Fame. The answer is simple. He was not elected. The question is: Why?

Munson is one of the strangest cases in Hall of Fame voting, which is conducted by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America of members with 10 or more consecutive years of coverage. On the face of it, his credentials are impressive. The hard-nosed catcher earned Rookie of the Year (1970) and Most Valuable Player (1976) honors from the BBWAA, drove in 100 or more runs three times, batted .300 five times, won three Gold Gloves, was named to seven All-Star teams and was one of the centerpieces of Yankees teams that won two World Series.

So what went wrong come election time? For one thing, his career was short. Munson played in 11 seasons and hit .292 with 113 home runs. Hall of Fame voters tend to lose for comparisons when voting. There was one obvious comparison for Munson, and that was Roy Campanella, the Brooklyn Dodgers catcher of the 1950s whose career was also shortened (to 10 years) because of a tragic auto accident that paralyzed him.

In his decade in the majors, Campy batted .276 with 242 home runs, played on five World Series teams (winning only once, in 1955), drove in more than 100 runs three times, hit .300 three times, was named to eight All-Star teams and was the National League MVP three times. The Gold Glove was not established until 1957, his last season, but he was acknowledged as one of the game’s best receivers and handlers of pitchers. The writers elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1969 in his fifth year of eligibility.

There does not seem to be much difference, does there? Well, there was one major difference between the two, and that was the matter of personality. Munson was popular with many of his teammates, from Bobby Murcer to Lou Piniella to Jim “Catfish” Hunter to Goose Gossage and beyond, but he was not as well liked by writers for the most part.

Munson had a prickly relationship with the press. He was gruff and impatient. Campanella, on the other hand, was one of the nicest human beings to grace a major-league clubhouse. Extremely popular with teammates and the press alike, Campy’s departure from the game left a definite void, and writers felt he was deserving of Hall recognition eventually.

Should how a player treats the press matter in Hall voting? No, and in most cases it doesn’t. Truth be told, Mickey Mantle wasn’t very sweet with writers during his career. Neither were Willie Mays or Hank Aaron or Warren Spahn or Frank Robinson. And BBWAA members could write encyclopedias about how nasty Eddie Murray was to them. Not everybody in baseball is Yogi Berra or Stan Musial or Ernie Banks. Yet the malicious ones were voted into the Hall by writers anyway, so it is not about that.

What did hurt Munson was that perhaps due to his standoffishness with the press he had no one or previous few championing his case other than Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, whose opinion was prejudiced to say the least. The Boss felt his players should have won every award for which they were candidates and berated voters if it didn’t happen, so his campaigning carried no weight.

Munson’s best vote total was his first year on the ballot, in 1981, when he received 62 votes for 15 percent. He never got more than 10 percent of the vote after that. Munson remained on the ballot the full 15 years, which is amazing considering that he annually gathered only 30 to 40 votes.

My own view is that Munson’s chance to make the Hall was hurt by his going on the ballot immediately. The five-year waiting rule that went into effect in the mid-1950s is waved in the case of players who die. When Roberto Clemente was killed in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve in 1972, there was a movement by writers to override the five-year wait and vote him in. A special election was held during spring training in 1973 and Clemente received 93 percent of the vote.

Clemente was a fairly obvious Hall of Fame choice, however, with 3,000 hits, an MVP Award, a World Series MVP and a dozen Gold Gloves, even though his relationship with the press was along the lines of Munson’s.

The five-year waiting period is a good rule. It allows perspective to become part of the equation in evaluating a player’s career. Campanella had to wait five years because he did not die. Munson went on the ballot too soon for his supporters’ good. Had writers been able to step back for five years and then look at his career, I feel that his chances would have been better.

Now Munson’s case falls to the Veterans Committee. As chairman of the BBWAA’s Historical Overview Committee which forms the Veterans Committee ballots, I can tell you that Munson get his day in court and just may make it one of these years.

Long stay at shortstop

Derek Jeter turned 36 Saturday. That may not be an age that is considered a milestone, but I have always thought it was. After all, once you’re 36 for the first time in your life you’re closer to 50 than 20. You may not be starting the back nine of your life, but the halfway house is clearly in view.

As for a professional athlete, 36 is definitely on the back nine, unless you know anyone playing in the pros in his or her 70s, excluding Minnie Minoso, of course. Yet in this day and age of dedication to conditioning and nutrition, the pro athlete can endure far long than his antecedents, and there are few in baseball in better shape than Derek Jeter.

It is hard to think of him as getting old. Other than natural maturity, I have not seen any great change in his approach or demeanor from the 21-year-old kid who came to the Yankees’ spring training camp at Tampa, Fla., in 1996 ready to assume the role of shortstop.

The plan was for regular Tony Fernandez to move to second base and be ready to switch back if Jeter did not handle the job. Fernandez got hurt and was out for the year while Jeter went on to win Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year honors and help the Yankees win their first World Series championship in 18 years.

Long ago and far away, sure, but all these years later Jeter is still a main cog on the Yankees at one of the sport’s most demanding positions. And he is in no mood to think about playing someplace else, not in a different city and not at a different position.

Yet Jeter has reached that age which historically players at his position often move to another position. No better example exists than Cal Ripken Jr., a player Jeter admires and emulates, who was shifted to third base in 1997, the year he turned 36. He played only three games at shortstop after turning 36, not counting the 2001 All-Star Game.

Two other Hall of Famers, Ernie Banks and Robin Yount, were moved from shortstop in their early 30s due to arm injuries that hampered their effectiveness in the middle infield. Banks went to first base, and Yount to center field.

A couple of years ago, I sat down with Jeter and talked to him about the Yount move. This was a time when Bernie Williams’ career was winding down, and I queried whether he had given any thought to playing center field in the future.

Not a word, just a blank stare from those piercing green eyes. “I just thought maybe we’d talk about it,” I said.

He grinned and said, “Then I guess you’ll have to find someone else to talk to about that.”

Needless to say, I never brought the subject up again, and I am not going to do so here, either. I have been of the opinion since that day that shortstop is where Derek Jeter belongs for as long as he wants to play it. If he was not coming off shortstop for Alex Rodriguez, he wasn’t coming off shortstop for Jack O’Connell.

And why should he? It is not as if he is Phil Rizzuto, who hit .195 at age 36 and was a part-time player the next year and a half. Or Pee Wee Reese, who won a World Series with the Dodgers at that age in 1955 but was moved to third base two years later. Or Joe Cronin, who played very little shortstop after the age of 35. Or such Hall of Famers as Joe Tinker, Travis Jackson, Arky Vaughan and Lou Boudreau, who were retired as players before they turned 36.

Further research shows plenty of evidence that moving off shortstop is not all that warranted. Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Luke Appling played more than 130 games at shortstop when each was 41. Rabbit Maranville, another Hall of Famer, finished 10th in the National League MVP race when he was 36 in 1928. Dave Concepcion was the Reds’ regular shortstop until he was 38, and as late as the age of 40 Omar Vizquel played 143 games at shortstop.

There are two shortstops that really stick out to me and with whom I hope Jeter will keep company – Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Smith. They share an amazing distinction. Shortstop was the only position they played in their entire careers – 2,518 games for Little Looie and 2,511 games for the Wizard of Oz. Each made the All-Star team playing shortstop at age 36, which Jeter will do next month.

Aparicio’s last year was 1973, the first year of the designated hitter but he was never used in that spot, and Smith spent his whole career in the DH-less National League. Jeter has been a DH in 17 games, but the only position he has played in the field is shortstop. He celebrated his 36th birthday with game No. 2,193 – and counting.

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