Results tagged ‘ Frank Robinson ’
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.
Sometimes, the numbers don’t lie. That is why statisticians keep them. No sooner had I looked up what Alex Rodriguez had done in his career against Twins reliever Matt Guerrier that A-Rod padded those stats big-time. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had just ordered Mark Teixeira intentionally walked to bring up Rodriguez, whose power has been under question this season what with only three home runs in 125 at-bats entering play Friday night.
In came Guerrier, whose luck against Rodriguez had been horrid. A-Rod was 4-for-6 with a double, three home runs and four RBI against the righthander. Two swings later, that was amended to 5-for-7 with a double, four home runs and eight RBI. The grand slam thrust the Yankees into the lead toward an 8-4 victory
It was another late-inning disaster for Gardenhire, whose Twins bit the dirt against the Yankees in all 10 games they played against each other last year, including three in the American League Division Series when Minnesota blew a lead in each game.
Gardenhire is one of my favorite people in the game. I have known him for nearly 30 years. We first met in 1981 when I was covering the Mets and he was called up from Triple A, a prospect from Oklahoma who had been a top college shortstop at the University of Texas. I’d see him periodically when he was on Tom Kelly’s staff as a coach with the Twins and have bemoaned his being the runner-up in AL Manager of the Year Award balloting four times.
But, Gardy, Matt Guerrier for Alex Rodriguez?
“We were aware of the numbers,” Gardenhire said later, “but Matty is our best right-handed setup guy. You have to forget about the numbers and go with your best in that situation. With their 3-4 hitters, it’s pick your poison. We put Teixeira on because we wanted to set up a possible double play and hope A-Rod hits the ball on the ground. It didn’t work out.”
What that move did in costing the Twins the game was also to take Yankees manager Joe Girardi off the hook. He played it by the book in the top of the seventh by bringing in lefthander Damaso Marte to face lefty-swinging Joe Mauer with a runner on second and two out. Mauer promptly singled to center, tying the score. Marte didn’t have any luck against lefty-swinging Justin Morneau, either. Morneau doubled home Mauer to give Minnesota a lead that was to be short-lived as so many seem for the Twins against the Yankees.
With numbers in mind, A-Rod reached heady company with the drive off Guerrier. It was career number 587 for Rodriguez, who passed Hall of Famer Frank Robinson for seventh place on the career list. No. 6 is Sammy Sosa at 609. It was also A-Rod’s 19th career grand slam, tying Hall of Famer Eddie Murray for third place on that list. The record belongs to Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig with 23, followed by the Dodgers’ Manny Ramirez with 21.
Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, who followed a double by Juan Miranda with a triple in the eighth, raised his league-leading batting average with runners in scoring position to .769 with 14 RBI in 13 such at-bats.
Few things are more satisfying for the Yankees in their rivalry with the Red Sox than sweeping a series at Fenway Park. It would have been particularly fulfilling to do it this weekend because it would have put the Yankees alone atop the American League East.
Sunday night’s 9-3 loss ruined that possibility, but let’s put what occurred in perspective. A Yankees sweep might have had fans believing the Red Sox were buried, which could be dangerous.
It is far too early to count any team out of the running, even a club like Boston’s 2010 edition that has not yet played to its potential. The Yankees have done a good job of not underestimating the opposition, and what happened Sunday night was a reminder that the Red Sox still have some life.
You don’t have to go back too far to find an example. How about 2009? On this date a year ago, the Yankees had a 14-16 record, which is even worse than the Red Sox’ 16-16 mark today. The Yankees were in fourth place, 5 ½ games behind first-place Toronto, 4 ½ games behind second-place Boston and 1 game behind third-place Toronto. Heck, the Yankees were only 1 ½ games ahead of last-place Baltimore.
Remember also that the Yankees dropped their first eight games against the Red Sox. A lot of people were writing the Yankees off. Mark Teixeira snoozed through April, and Alex Rodriguez didn’t join the team until the first week in May.
So how did 2009 turn out? I am by no means suggesting that the Red Sox will duplicate this year what the Yankees did last year but only that 30 games into a season is no time to disregard the competition.
So what a team does after a disappointing loss is dwell on the positives. Nick Swisher, with his second home run and seventh RBI of the series, remains an offensive force. A-Rod gets off a 61-at-bat, homer-less train with career bomb No. 586 to tie Hall of Famer Frank Robinson for seventh place on the career list. Romulo Sanchez hurls 3 2/3 innings of scoreless, one-hit relief in his Yankees debut after the game got out of A.J. Burnett’s control.
What was not positive was the starting pitching, which has carried the Yankees to this point. Burnett’s line (9 runs, 8 earned, 9 hits, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts, 1 home run, 1 wild pitch) is something we have not seen this year, not even from Javier Vazquez. And the guy who put it up was 4-0 before he took the mound. Nothing can be taken for granted.
Athletics starter Gio Gonzalez threw 36 pitches in the first inning but only one to Nick Johnson, who normally works pitchers deep into the count but flied out to left first-pitch swinging. Jorge Posada got a gift hit (and RBI) on a high hopper off the body of first baseman Daric Barton, who misplayed the ball by rushing the play needlessly against the slow-footed catcher. Official scorers sometimes forget these are the big leagues.
The Yankees did their part to take some pressure off Javier Vazquez with a two-out, three-run rally before he took the mound in the first. The Yankees didn’t get another hit until the fifth, a three-run home run by Alex Rodriguez in the fifth off lefthander Craig Breslow, who had just replaced Gonzalez.
The home run was career No. 585 for A-Rod. That’s just one behind Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who is now in seventh place on the all-time list. Robinson ranked fourth in career home runs behind Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays for 25 years before being passed over the past eight years by Barry Bonds, Junior Griffey and Sammy Sosa. Frank Robby bemoaned his fall down the list. He once told me, “I really liked hitting cleanup in that lineup.”