Results tagged ‘ Lee Smith ’

AL reliever award to be named after Rivera

Mariano Rivera’s legacy received some more added cache Wednesday with the announcement by Major League Baseball that from now on the American League Relief Pitcher of the Year Award will be named after him. The corresponding award in the National League will be named after Trevor Hoffman, who was the first reliever to reach the 600-save plateau and whose record of 601 Mo obliterated by running the number to 652.

The new award replaces the Delivery Man of the Year Award that was presented to one reliever every year instead of one in each league as was done previously with the Rolaids Fireman of the Year Award. Rivera won the Delivery Man of the Year Award three times and the Fireman of the Year Award five times. Hoffman was a two-time Rolaids Award winner.

Those awards were based strictly on statistics. The Rivera and Hoffman Awards will be a vote of nine former relief artists. In addition to Rivera and Hoffman, the other committee members will be Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage as well as former closers Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner.

The committee members may vote up to three pitchers in order of preference with a tabulation system awarding five points for first place, three for second and one for third, similar to that of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year Awards.

Other MLB awards named after former players include the Henry Aaron Award for offensive performance and the Edgar Martinez Award for the top designated hitter in the AL. The BBWAA’s Most Valuable Player Award trophy is named for former commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. The writers’ pitching award is named for Cy Young.

“Both Mariano and Trevor represented our sport magnificently on and off the mound and earned the universal respect of our fans in their legendary careers,” commissioner Bud Selig said. “I believe it is important to redefine an existing award in honor of their contributions to baseball, and I am delighted that many of the most respected relievers decorated relievers in history will select the winners.”

Mo gets to 1,000

A Yankee Stadium crowd of 43,201 on a sun-splashed afternoon not only got to see the Yankees win a game against the Blue Jays but also to watch Mariano Rivera step into another level of baseball history. In what was not a save situation but an opportunity to get in some work for the first time in a week, Rivera made the 1,000th appearance of his major-league career and pitched a shutout ninth inning.

Rivera became the 15th pitcher to reach four figures in games – all are pitchers, primarily relievers – but the first to do so with just one team, an extraordinary accomplishment in the free agency era of player movement. His reaction to the milestone was similar to so many of his other reactions – tinged with humility.

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “I mean, when I first started, something like this never crossed my mind. I was just happy to be in the big leagues. This is special, especially to do it with one team, the Yankees, and be able to play with so many great players. They showed a lot of faith in me in the early days. I thank God for his help and the support of my wife and family.”

Mo was quick to point out that he lost the first game he ever pitched for the Yankees, a start May 23 at Anaheim when he gave up five runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings of a 10-0 loss. He also mentioned that he blew two saves in his first week as the team’s closer in 1997, the year after he had been an outstanding setup reliever for John Wetteland, whose pursuit of free agency opened the door for Rivera to begin a run as the greatest closer in baseball.

The Yankees’ catcher in those years was Joe Girardi, now the manager who brought Rivera into Wednesday’s game.

“I reflect on when I first came here in 1996 and caught him in spring training.” Girardi said. “I remember thinking, ‘Who is this kid?’ His stuff was excellent. He threw 97 [mph] and put the ball where he wanted it. He elevated. I was a National Leaguer. I had never heard of him, but I knew this kid was something special. Even before he became the closer, he was special. In those days, if you didn’t get to us by the sixth inning, the game was over.”

Rivera entered games in the seventh inning in 1996. A year later, he took over the ninth and has made that inning his ever since, to the point that when he does blow a save as he did last week at Baltimore it is headline news. Closing relievers are like housekeepers; nobody notices your work unless you don’t do it.

“I was surprised,” Rivera said about being named the Yankees’ closer in ’97. “We had just won the World Series. It was a lot of responsibility, but I took it as a challenge. You have to be proud of what you do.”

Of the other 14 1,000-game pitchers, four have connections with the Yankees, including the all-time leader, Jesse Orosco, who appeared in 1,252 games over four decades and 24 seasons. His best seasons were with the Mets in the 1980s, and Orosco was reunited with former manager Joe Torre with the Yankees in 2003, the lefthander’s final season in the majors.

Second to Orosco on the list is another lefthander, Mike Stanton, with 1,178 games. Stanton was an integral part of the Yanks’ bullpen from 1997 through 2002 and a portion of the 2005 season. Lee Smith, who held the saves record before Trevor Hoffman broke it, is tied with Jose Mesa for 10th place on the list with 1,022 games, eight of which were with the Yankees at the tail end of the 1993 season.

The most prominent former Yankees reliever on the list is Goose Gossage, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008. Goose was the Yankees’ closer from 1978 through ’83 and came back to pitch for them briefly (11 games) in 1989. He ranks 14th with 1,002 games.

What those who pitched for the Yankees save Rivera have in common with nearly everyone else on the list is that they wore quite a few different uniforms. Orosco and Gossage pitched for nine teams apiece, Stanton and Smith eight each.

The least traveled 1,000-game pitchers prior to Rivera were John Franco, Kent Tekulve and Hoffman, each of whom who played for only three teams. Franco is third on the list with 1,119 games, Tekulve eighth with 1,050 and Hoffman ninth with 1,035.

The other pitchers to appear in more than 1,000 games with the number of their teams in parentheses were fourth-place Dennis Eckersley (5) with 1,071 games; fifth-place Hoyt Wilhelm (9) with 1,090; sixth-place Dan Plesac (6) with 1,064; seventh-place Mike Timlin (6) with 1,058; 10th-place Mesa (8) with 1,022, tied with Smith; 12th-place Roberto Hernandez (10) with 1,010 and 13th-place Mike Jackson (9) with 1,005.

Eckersley, Wilhelm and Gossage are the only Hall of Famers on the 1,000-game list. Wilhelm was elected in 1985 and Eckersley in 2004. Hoffman retired this year and won’t be eligible for the ballot until 2016. Rivera, of course, is still active – very much so.

Tough Hall ballot for former Yankees

Last week’s Hall of Fame election was a tough one for those players with ties to the Yankees. Of the eight players on the ballot who spent time with the Yankees, five failed to get the five percent required to remain in consideration and were dropped. The three players who will remain on the ballot next year did nothing to improve their chances of election anytime soon, if ever.

With a record total of 581 ballots submitted by Baseball Writers’ Association of America members with 10 or more consecutive years of service, 436 votes were needed for election to satisfy the 75-percent requirement. Second baseman Roberto Alomar with 523 (90.0 percent) and pitcher Bert Blyleven with 463 (79.7) were the only ones to make the grade; Alomar in his second time on the ballot and Blyleven in his 14th and next to last time.

Kevin Brown, who pitched for the Yankees in his later years after having been a Yankees Killer with the Rangers early in his career, did the best of those who wore the pinstripes that failed to make the cut, with 12 votes, which reflected only 2.1 percent of the ballots cast. First baseman Tino Martinez, one of the franchise’s most popular players, got 6 votes (1.0 percent), and pitcher Al Leiter and first baseman John Olerud received 4 apiece (0.7). Shut out entirely was outfielder Raul Mondesi.

Brown has become sort of a darling of the SABR (Society of Baseball Research) set, who love his statistics. I admit Brown had a better career than a lot of people may think (211-144 record, 3.28 ERA, 2 ERA and WHIP titles, 6 All-Star appearances), but the Hall of Fame is for the great, not just the very good. Brown’s time with the Yankees was one of the areas that worked against him. His impact was less than minimal; it was non-existent. Martinez also falls into the very good category, as did his old buddy Paul O’Neill, who was a one-and-done candidate four years ago.

The others had their moments in the sun, which is why they were on the ballot in the first place, but Cooperstown just was not to be their destination.

As for those who remain, the outlook is not good, since each lost ground in the voting. Reliever Lee Smith, who pitched in eight games for the Yankees in 1993, is stuck below 50 percent. He might have been expected to get to the half-way point in this year’s election but instead fell to 45.3 percent – two percent below his 2010 showing. He has up to six more years for consideration (players may stay on the ballot up to 15 years provided they get 5 percent of the vote each year), but he appears to be going backward.

The same holds true for outfielder Tim Raines, whose candidacy is based more on his high-profile years with the Expos and White Sox rather than his role-playing time with the Yankees. I would have thought that appreciation for Raines’ record as a leadoff hitter would have heightened after Rickey Henderson’s election in 2009, but Rock is also moving in reverse. He went from receiving 37.5 percent of the vote last year to 30.4 percent this year. Time at least is on Raines’ side; this was only his fourth year on the ballot.

Very much like Smith, time is running out on Don Mattingly, the Dodgers’ new manager whose entire playing career was spent with the Yankees. The 2011 election was Donnie Baseball’s 11th year on the ballot. He fell from 16.1 percent last year to 13.6 percent this year. Mattingly has never done better than the 28.2 percent he got in his first ballot year of 2001. He is down to less than half of that now and has only four years possibly remaining for consideration.

The 2012 ballot will feature another Yankees favorite, Bernie Williams, the switch-hitting center fielder and cleanup hitter on four World Series championship teams. This is just a hunch, but he is bound to do better than the first-year candidates with Yankees pedigrees this time around.

Another holiday list

As each year comes to a close, baseball writers center on their annual responsibility of voting for the Hall of Fame. Ballots are mailed out to writers Dec. 1 and due back in the hands to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America by a Dec. 31 postmark.

So it is not just Santa Claus who makes a list and checks it twice come the Christmas season.

As secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, I have conducted the election since 1995, the year Mike Schmidt was elected. I will be busy with Hall of Fame business the next few days but will find time to share some thoughts with Yankees fans about the election. Results will be announced at 2 p.m. Wednesday on bbwaa.com, baseballhall.org, MLB.com and the MLB Network.

The ballot contains 33 names this year, eight of whom spent a portion of their careers with the Yankees, including two of the most popular figures in the franchise’s history, first basemen Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Others on the ballot who spent time with the Yankees are pitchers Kevin Brown, Al Leiter and Lee Smith, outfielders Tim Raines and Raul Mondesi and first baseman John Olerud.

Mattingly has been on the ballot for 10 years and has never done better than 28 percent of the vote going back to his first year. To gain entry into Cooperstown, 75 percent is required. Mattingly was at 16.1 percent last year. Martinez, his successor at first base for the Yankees, is a first-time candidate this year. It is doubtful writers will find Tino’s candidacy all that compelling, any more than they did another Yankees fan favorite Paul O’Neill two years ago. Martinez’s goal should be to get five percent of the vote necessary to stay on the ballot, which players must do to stay in contention for the full 15 years of eligibility. O’Neill failed to do that and was dropped after one year.

Brown, whose time with the Yankees was filled with controversy, had a fine career, but New York fans rarely saw him at his best except when he pitched against the Yankees for the Rangers. Yankees fans know Brown for breaking his pitching hand in anger and his implosion on the mound in Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship, the franchise’s worst moment.

Leiter started and ended his career with the Yankees but had his best seasons with the Blue Jays, Marlins and Mets. His 162-132 record and 3.80 ERA does not spell immortality.

Raines, on the other hand, is an interesting case. He came to the Yankees after years with the Expos and White Sox and was a key role player on the World Series title teams of 1996, ’98 and ’99. With 2,605 hits and 808 stolen bases, Raines has some Hall of Fame numbers, but after three years on the ballot he has done no better than 30 percent.

Smith, Olerud and Mondesi had limited time in pinstripes. Olerud and Mondesi are on the ballot for the first time and are not likely to get the five percent of the vote necessary to stay on the ballot. Smith, who pitched in only eight games for the Yankees in 1993, once held the major-record for saves with 478 but has yet to attract even half the vote in eight previous elections.

The favorites this time around are second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven, each of whom came close last year. Blyleven was on 74.2 percent of the ballots cast and missed by five votes. Alomar missed by eight votes at 397, or 73.7 percent.

The only player not to get elected when eligible the year after getting more than 70 percent in the vote was pitcher Jim Bunning. He was on 74 percent of the ballots in 1988 and missed by four votes. The next year, however, with a thicker ballot consisting of first-year inductees Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski and fellow pitching greats Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins, Bunning lost 34 votes and dropped 11 percent in his final year on the ballot. He was eventually elected by the Veterans Committee in 1996.
 
The most accomplished of the new names are first basemen Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro and outfielders Juan Gonzalez and Larry Walker. Palmeiro and Gonzalez will have a rough time.

Despite being only the fourth player in history to get more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, Palmeiro is a long shot because of his positive test for anabolic steroids in 2005, the same year he testified before Congress that he had never taken them. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, the only other members of both the 3,000 Hit and 500 Home Run Clubs were elected in their first years of eligibility.

Gonzales, a two-time AL Most Valuable Player, showed up in the Mitchell Report as a steroids user, which could hurt his chances for a big vote. After all, Mark McGwire with his 587 home runs has been on the ballot for four years and is hovering at 23 percent.

Bagwell, who had an amazing career (.297, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBI, 1,517 runs, .408 on-base percentage, .540 slugging percentage), never failed a drug test but faced suspicions of possible performance-enhancing aid after he felt in love with the weight room in the mid-1990s. Walker, like Bagwell a National League MVP, had some very good years in Montreal and then some monster years in Colorado. Will the Coors Field effect hurt his chances?

See, this voting stuff isn’t easy. After thorough study, I finally filled out my ballot.

Checks went to Alomar, Bagwell, Blyleven, Walker, Mattingly, Raines, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff and Jack Morris.

My take on Bagwell was that he is innocent until proved guilty. Larkin is following a path not dissimilar to another NL MVP middle infielder who took a few years to get to Cooperstown, Ryne Sandberg. Ask any Yankees fan who watched the 1995 Division Series about Edgar Martinez, who was simply one of the greatest right-handed hitters I ever saw. McGriff, who came through the Yankees system but was traded away, slugged 493 homers the clean way and made a major difference on the only Atlanta Braves team to win a World Series. Morris was the ace of every staff for which he pitched, including three teams that won the World Series – the 1984 Tigers, ’91 Twins and ’92 Blue Jays.

Let the arguments begin. I’ll be back after the election.

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