Results tagged ‘ Frank Thomas ’

Torre steps into immortality

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The annual pilgrimage to baseball’s mythical birthplace never ceases in its appeal. It provides the chance to reflect on all that is good about the game as the Hall of Fame opens its doors to a new class of immortals.

And what a class in 2014! Former Yankees manager Joe Torre has more than 300 friends and relatives scattered all over this area to witness his induction Sunday alongside fellow managers Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa as well as pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, the longtime Braves teammates, and first baseman Frank Thomas, one of two players with that name in town.

The other Frank Thomas, who was with the original Mets of 1962, is also here signing autographs on Main Street with Hall of Famers and non-Hall of Famers like Darryl Strawberry and Pete Rose. Also John Rocker, although I must say I have no idea why anyone would want his autograph.

Torre was feted Saturday night by the Yankees and Major League Baseball at a private party in a local brewery. Commissioner Bud Selig and Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner spoke glowingly of Torre’s contributions to the game and the franchise. Joe was gracious in his remarks, a sort of test run for the big speech he will on stage at the Clark Sports Center Sunday.

The city is abuzz with former Yankees here and there, including Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Dave Winfield, Phil Niekro, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson and Goose Gossage. (Yogi Berra, not feeling well after a recent fall, canceled at the last minute. His boyhood friend from St. Louis, Joe Garagiola, also could not travel here to accept his Buck O’Neill Award Saturday at Doubleday Field but sent a taped message.)

Others here to witness Joe’s induction include actor-comedian Billy Crystal, Yanks chief operating officer Lonn Trost, Gene Michael, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Lee Mazzilli and others. Among the Hall of Famers who have longstanding relationships with Torre are Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax, plus Tim McCarver, last year’s Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting.

This year’s Frick Award winner, Eric Nadel, the Brooklyn-born Texas Rangers radio voice, gave a lusty speech at Saturday’s ceremony. There was also a wonderful acceptance speech by New Yorker magazine’s ageless (93 actually) Roger Angell, this year’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner for baseball writing.

This is perfect company for Torre, whose 12 seasons at the helm of the Yankees continued the franchise’s connection with success. He turned around the attitudes of many a Yankees hater from 1996 through 2007. His ascension into the Hall’s gallery is long overdue.

Hafner matches Frank Thomas with HR

Travis Hafner had a somewhat historic moment Monday with his first-inning home run in the Yankees’ 11-6 victory over the Indians. It marked only the second time in major league history that a player homered in his first at-bat of the first game played against a former club for which he had hit at least 200 career home runs.

Hafner hit exactly that number in his 10 seasons in Cleveland. His bomb at Progressive Field Monday gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead. The only other player to do what Hafner did was Frank Thomas May 22, 2006 for the Athletics against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. Thomas had hit 448 home runs during his 16 seasons in Chicago.

Hafner’s homer was the 100th of his career at Progressive Field, the third highest total in that yard behind only Jim Thome (190) and Manny Ramirez (132).

Hafner had the opportunity for another three-run home run in the first inning Tuesday night when he came to bat with one out and runners on first and third, but he grounded into a double play.

Yanks got last licks on Ted

There were reminisces aplenty about Tuesday’s 50th anniversary of Ted Williams’ final at-bat in the major leagues in which he hit a home run, career No. 521, which at the time was the third highest total in history behind only Babe Ruth (714) and Jimmie Foxx (534). A lot has changed in half a century. Teddy Ballgame now stands in a three-way tie with Willie McCovey and Frank Thomas for 18th place, and Barry Bonds (762) and Hank Aaron (755) have long since passed the Babe.

As for what Williams did his last time up in the big leagues, thousands of words have been written about the grand style in which he ended his career by lofting one into the right field seats at Fenway Park. That is all well and good, but for me that is just the usual batch of Red Sox Nation tripe.

I have a personal beef about the whole matter from the mindset of a pre-teen who got stood up by the guy they called the “Splendid Splinter.” He wasn’t much of a splinter by then, nor at 42 did he fit his other nickname, “The Kid,” and from my point of view he damn sure wasn’t splendid.

Here’s why. Do you know what little piece of information all those Boston boors leave out of their Teddy’s last at-bat stories? How about this: nobody in the yard knew it was Williams’ last at-bat until after the game. That’s right. The Red Sox still had three more games to play, at Yankee Stadium, but after the game Williams told the writers that he wasn’t going to New York. The Yankees had already clinched the American League pennant, the Red Sox had been dead meat for a month, so there was no point in his making the trip.

Now doesn’t take a bit of the bite out of that story. I mean, it would have rung truer if he had told the press before the game that he wasn’t playing any more. To Red Sox fans, this was the perfect ending to a Hall of Fame career by admittedly one of the game’s greatest hitters. But to Yankees fans holding tickets to games that weekend, it was a big gyp. The only allure of the series was to see Williams bow out, not watch Carroll Hardy in left field.

My uncle, Bill Gallagher, had gotten tickets for the Friday night game Sept. 30, 1960, and we talked about Williams on the ride to the Stadium. I was really into baseball in those days and was amazed at how vital the two great aging stars of that time, Williams and Stan Musial, still were. Musial, in fact, would play three more seasons, and I would get to see him three home runs in one game at the Polo Grounds in 1963 when he was 42.

God bless Casey Stengel, then in his last year as manager of the Yankees. Although the Yankees were already set for the World Series, ‘ol Case started his regular lineup. Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and the rest. The Red Sox? No Ted Williams. What?

Unlike today’s 24/7 media whirlwind, information from out of town came slowly in those days. A man sitting in the seat next to Uncle Bill said that he heard that Williams decided not to accompany the team to town. Truth be told, I had not been much of a Yankees fan to that point in my life, but I cheered my head off for them that night. To make matters worse, the Red Sox almost won the game.

What follows comes from my old, pencil-scribbled scorecard, boys and girls (I still score in pencil).

Bill Monbouquette, a wonderful guy whom I would get to know more than 20 years later when he was the pitching coach for the Mets, was Boston’s best pitcher and took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but he was replaced by lefthander Tom Brewer after Bobby Richardson led off with a single. Brewer gave up a single to Gil McDougald, and the Yankees had a rally going.

Tony Kubek, another terrific person I would get to know years later, flied out, but Hector Lopez and Maris followed with singles to tie the score and put runners on first and third. Mantle had come out of the game earlier, and his spot in the lineup was taken by Bob Cerv, the thickly-built, right-handed hitter.

Boston manager Pinky Higgins brought in a right-handed pitcher I had never heard of, but a year later he would almost be a household name – Tracy Stallard, the guy who gave up Maris’ 61st home run. On this night, Stallard would be done in by his second baseman, a September callup named Marlan Coughtry. Thanks to him, I learned something important about the game – the need to remain calm in a crisis.

Cerv hit a grounder to Coughtry, who considering Cerv’s lack of speed should have thrown to second base to start a double play. Instead, he decided to tag Maris in the base path and then throw to first. Maris, who never got enough credit for being a heads-up player, put on the brakes and went into reverse. Coughtry took the bait. Lopez broke for the plate. The rookie tagged Maris eventually for the second out but in hesitating lost any chance to get the third out as Lopez scored the winning run.

Talk about a satisfying finish! It made me forget all about Ted Williams, who insulted baseball fans in New York so that he could have all his Beantown acolytes wax poetic about his going deep in his last big-league plate appearance.

Why Joe D. had to wait

I need to take issue with a discussion on YES between Michael Kay and Ken Singleton on Sunday’s telecast of the Yankees-White Sox game. It is not a criticism but rather an explanation or, better put, an attempt at one.

Former White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas, a two-time American League Most Valuable Player, was honored Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field and had his uniform No. 35 retired. In reviewing Thomas’ career, Kay and Singleton fittingly talked about his credentials as a candidate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There was even a text-message question to viewers on the topic.

Thomas retired after the 2008 season and will be eligible for consideration by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on the 2014 ballot. I have no dispute here about Thomas’ legitimacy as a candidate for first-ballot election. Interestingly, the result of the text poll was 71 percent yes and 29 percent no, which means that according to texters the “Big Hurt” is not first-ballot worthy, since 75 percent of ballots cast is required for election.

But in the discussion about the writers’ vote, Kay and Singleton save some examples of first-ballot electees and questioned why Joe DiMaggio isn’t among them. At one point, Singleton said, “What were the writers thinking?”

Well, here goes. First off, the rules were different when DiMaggio, an obvious choice for the Hall of Fame if there ever was one, first went on the ballot, which was 1953. He had retired after the 1951 season when he was only 37 years old (the 1952 ballot had already been formed by the time of the announcement, which is why he was not on it).

Unlike today, there was no five-year waiting period before a player become eligible for the ballot. DiMaggio went on the ballot one year after he retired. Remember, no one had been elected on the first ballot up to that time since the original class of 1936 (Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson). Lou Gehrig was elected by acclamation by the BBWAA in 1939.

According to veteran writers I talked to over the years, it was not uncommon for voters at that time to dismiss first-year candidates out of the thinking that the player might un-retire. There was no five-percent rule at the time, either, which came about in the mid 1980s requiring candidates to get at least five percent of the vote to stay on the ballot.

There was apparently some feeling at the time that DiMaggio, still in his 30s, might get himself back in shape and return to the Yankees. This was a period not too far removed from World War II when former players, most notably Jimmie Foxx, did precisely that.

In fact, that is one of the reasons the five-year rule came into being in 1954, which was DiMaggio’s second year on the ballot. Joe D. was actually the first test case. The writers allowed anyone who had received more than 100 votes on a previous ballot to be grand-fathered onto the ballot without having to wait five years. The only player to which that applied was DiMaggio, who came close to being elected in 1954 (69.4 percent) before making it in 1955 (88.8).

Another rule of thought in voting in those years was that players had to “wait their turn.” One writer once told me that he could not vote for DiMaggio while Joe Cronin and Hank Greenberg, who preceded Joe D. to the majors by quite a few years (10 for Cronin, six for Greenberg) were not yet in. They were elected in 1956, the year after the “Yankee Clipper.”

I am by no means saying that I agree with the thinking of that time, only that it was different. I am fairly confident that if DiMaggio did not go on the ballot until 1957 in satisfying the five-year waiting period he would have been elected on the first ballot. As it was, he got into the Hall two years earlier than that.

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