The Baseball Hall of Fame voting procedures are a joke, now even more so with random rule changes to ensure that those big bad steroid users everyone loved at the time and weren’t breaking any rules don’t get in. A sensible way to improve those voting procedures is to expand the number of people voters can choose. Of course, baseball will probably react to this by lowering the number since everyone knows that baby boomers’ childhood nostalgia of the right kind of baseball players is the real important dividing line between who belongs and who doesn’t.
My wife is a historian of Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico. So that means that I spend some time here when she is doing her work. Such is now. It’s not exactly a vacation, as I am finishing the edits on one book and the manuscript on another, but the work is interspersed with an amazing lunch every day, the likes of which you would be jealous of if you understood how awesome the food is in Oaxaca. Seriously, just put Oaxacan food in Google Images.
Anyway, Oaxaca is home to a Mexican League team, the Guerreros. And over the last two summers, I have had the great enjoyment of attending some games. The Mexican League is considered AAA level. I’d say this is a bit generous. There are decent number of ex-major leaguers in it. There are also some serious out of shape players and poor fundamentals at times. It’s probably more akin to AA except without the future stars that often play there. But it is quality baseball overall. A lot of pitchers throwing in the mid to high 80s with some hard throwing relievers who have too many control problems to stick in the majors.
Like in AAA games, one of the joys of seeing a Mexican League game is recognizing the ex-major leaguers. The Tijuana team for instance has a great collection of washed up major leaguers holding on, including Russell Branyan, Miguel Olivo (no word if he has bitten off the ear of any players yet), Jose Contreras, and Ramon Ortiz. That’s pretty sweet. The Guerreros are led by former Orioles catcher and Oaxaca native Geronimo Gil, who is now in his late 30s, really slow, but still has some pop. This team also has Eliezer Alfonso, who played a few years, mostly for the Giants and Padres and evidently with the Mariners but I don’t remember it. Last night, they were playing the Quintana Roo Tigres, a team noted for having the very tough home town to play in of Cancun. They were led by Karim Garcia plus 30 pounds since he last played in the majors a decade ago.
While you’d think the food at a Mexican League game would be great, especially in Oaxaca, you’d be wrong. Mostly it’s even worse versions of American ballpark food than you’d get in the U.S. Bad nachos, revolting looking hot dogs and the like. There are some standard empanadas you can get covered in onions that are OK. On the other hand, you can sit right behind home plate for 50 pesos (about $4) and buy a tallboy of Victoria for 30 pesos. So that ain’t bad.
And then there’s Tato and the cheerleaders. Tato is the mascot you see above. He is like a character The Simpsons would have created back when it was good in the 90s. He’s the mascot with big-time attitude. At one game last year, he was out between innings doing his thing. He pulled out a chair and sat on it. A female mascot that looked the same but with long hair came out. She then proceeded to give him a lap dance. This was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen at a ball game. At another game, he put a can of silly string up to his crotch and sprayed it toward the fans behind home plate. The cheerleaders are a whole other deal. 6 or 7 young women wearing very skimpy costumes, doing dance routines a couple of times a game between innings, and getting their picture taken with young Mexican boys whose fathers are training them in heteronormativity. Or with the occasional American frat bros who show at the game and who make me want to be Canadian.
The game was pretty good. Despite the Quintana Roo pitcher having no control, he managed to go 5 innings and give up 1 run thanks to two of the worst baserunning mistakes I’ve ever seen live. The Tigres went up 4-1, but a 5 run 8th brought Oaxaca back. This was great because the crowd was going crazy. They have organized chants. A guy was playing a cowbell with a screwdriver handle (last year there was a very old man banging a drum the entire game. He wasn’t there this year, which worries me). They also started doing the Tomahawk Chop to stereotypical “Indian” music from westerns like they play at Braves and Florida St. games. Now this is interesting because here you have people engaging in Indian “savage” stereotypes which I hate–except that nearly everyone in that stadium was at least part is not full blooded indigenous. I don’t think they had any ethnic identity with North American Indians. It’s just what you did. Life is complicated.
Anyway, the Guerreros closer came in for the top of the 9th to Hells Bells. Not original but still effective. He got the 1st batter out easily and then the control went away big time. By the time there are 2 outs, Quintana Roo has scored a run and there are men on 2nd and 3rd. Karim Garcia is up. He hits a groundball to the first basemen. Slight bobble which means he can’t run it to 1st himself. The pitcher is slightly late getting to the bag. Bang-bang play but because Garcia can’t run anymore because he’s kind of out of shape, he’s out after sliding headfirst into the bag. Game over. Oaxaca wins 5-4.
Good times if you are ever in Mexico.
I know I am supposed to be all doom and gloom all the time. But that’s only true 99% of the time. Sometimes there are victories. Such as the concession workers for the San Francisco Giants who just ratified their first contract with 98% of the members voting yes.
Instead, it took place in the stands where 800 seasonal concession workers organized by UNITE HERE Local 2 just ratified by 98% a contract with Centerplate, the subcontracted concessionaire at Giants Park and one of the largest hospitality companies in North America.
The agreement provides the best wages and benefits in the country for their type of work.
The terms included an immediate raise of $1.40 an hour with some back pay, strong job security protections, dental insurance and fully paid family medical coverage without co-pays through the contract’s 2019 expiration date.
The agreement will also fund a big improvement in pension benefits and will tie future health care and wage increases to San Francisco’s big hotels – so when Local 2 hotel workers get wage and benefit increases, Centerplate will match them at Giants stadium.
This convergence of interests is not accidental.
Local 2 members regularly discuss the importance of solidarity. Membership unity across job classifications and work sites strengthens the union and, as results indicate, increases its bargaining leverage considerably.
Tying their salaries with those of the hotel workers in a strong local is a big deal.
Given that baseball players are not the most intellectually curious of people, the battle for dumbest player can be tough. But Colby Lewis has a strong case given his outrage after Colby Rasmus committed the unpardonable crime of bunting against a shift with two outs and the Blue Jays up two in the 5th. I mean, have you ever heard of such a thing? Trying to get a runner on base up 2 with half the game left! I’m surprised Lewis didn’t throw at his head in the next at bat!
LGM has some principles shared across writers. For one, we like booze. For two, although I guess this is not fully confirmed among everyone, most of us at least think Cubs fans are subhuman. No offense to any Cubs fans who are readers, but really, you might want to reexamine your life. Still, sometimes the first point outweighs the second. Especially when the Cubs are not yet involved. Mr. Harry Caray, ladies and gentlemen, who decided to keep a diary of his alcohol purchases in 1972 so he could expense them:
Saturday, Jan. 1, lists four bars: the Back Room, still on Rush Street, plus three long-ago joints: 20 E. Delaware, Sully’s and Peppy’s, with expenses for each $10.30, $9.97, $10, and $8.95. This in a year when a six-pack of Old Style set you back $1.29.
You needed to cite who you entertained to get the write-off, so on New Year’s Day he lists Dave Condon, the Tribune sports columnist; Billy Sullivan, who owned Sully’s; and Joe Pepitone, the former Yankees first baseman who had been traded to the Cubs.
And so it begins. A chain of old-time Chicago bars — Riccardo’s, Boul Mich, Mr. Kelly’s. A posse of early 1970s sports figures — Wilt Chamberlain, Don Drysdale, Gale Sayers. Plus a few unexpected blasts from the past: boxer Jack Dempsey, comedian Jack Benny.
“These guys did nothing but go out and have a few cocktails,” said Jimmy Rittenberg, who owned Faces, which Caray visited 14 times in 1972. “I don’t know how they did it. They were 20, 30 years older than me and I couldn’t keep up with them.”
Jan. 16 something unusual happens. Caray is in Miami, yet there are no expenses, just one enigmatic word, “Super.”
After that break, if indeed it was, comes 288 consecutive days in bars, not only in Chicago, but New York City, and of course on the road with the Sox, beginning with spring training in Sarasota.
288 days in a row. 288. This is great too,
Toward the end of the diary, on Dec. 24, comes the kicker. After spending at least 354 of the previous 357 days in bars (DePorter counted 61 different tap houses) Caray writes, in a bold hand, “Vacation in Acapulco. Then “Vacation” every day until the year runs out.
Which makes me wonder how he knew he was on vacation. I guess if nobody was playing baseball in front of him and when he looked over the rim of his drink he saw Mexico, then he knew he was on vacation.
But give Caray credit. As old-fashioned, and perhaps even pathological, as the bar-crawling seems today, there is another truth worth mentioning: Harry Caray could have taken his drinks at home. He went out because it was his job.
This is when work meant something in this nation.
I mean, really, when you put George Jones to shame, you have reached impressive heights. Harry has no concern about aging 20 years in 5. He destroyed his body as a young man and just never stopped.
Despite working for the Cubs, I think Harry Caray deserves a place in the LGM Hall of Fame.
Some of you might be familiar with the first ever baseball strike, but this is the first I’ve ever heard of it, started when Ty Cobb went into the stands to beat a heckler. When Cobb was suspended, the Tigers went on strike.
But as he ducked into the dugout before batting in the fourth, Cobb hurled an insult at the man, according to Cobb’s biographer Charles Alexander. The man, a Tammany Hall page named Claude Lucker (or Lueker, in some accounts), who had lost all but two of his fingers while operating a printing press, continued taunting Cobb.
The Tigers’ Sam Crawford asked Cobb what he intended to do. And with that, Cobb suddenly vaulted into the stands toward Lucker, seated about 12 rows up in the grandstand. Knocking Lucker down, Cobb began kicking and stamping him.
“Cobb,” someone cried, “that man has no hands!”
“I don’t care if he has no feet!” he yelled, continuing the attack with his cleats. Some fans tried to intervene, but several teammates who had followed Cobb into the grandstand held them off with bats. An umpire and a police officer finally pulled Cobb away.
He was ejected from the game, which the Tigers eventually won, 8-4. Johnson, in the midst of touring A.L. parks, witnessed the incident and suspended Cobb indefinitely. Cobb’s teammates rallied to his defense two days later in Philadelphia, sending Johnson a message that they would strike in protest.
“If the players cannot have protection, we must protect ourselves,” the Tigers wrote.
That put Detroit Manager Hughie Jennings in a quandary. The Tigers would incur a $5,000 fine if they forfeited their May 18 game against the Athletics, so the team owner, Frank Navin, ordered Jennings to field a team. With the help of Joe Nolan, a sportswriter for The Philadelphia Bulletin, Jennings quickly cobbled together a roster of semipros and amateurs.
The scab Tigers lost 24-2 and the strike ended the next day. Cobb was suspended 10 games.
Tonight’s Pathe film shows a psychological experiment from 1960 revolving around teaching a chicken to play baseball. Sound is lost.
Really, this chicken would be in the upper half of the players who have graced a Cubs uniform in the last century.
Happy Opening Day. For that, here’s two of the best songs ever written about an individual baseball player. First, there is Buddy Johnson’s “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?”
Count Basie had a hit with this the next year that I think is the most famous versions, but I’m going with the original here.
Second is Tom Russell’s “The Kid from Spavinaw,” about Mickey Mantle. Of course, it’s incredibly depressing like most of the rest of American folk music.
Not that this is any more depressing than the 2014 Mariners.
In related news, I’m not entirely sure we need a feature film based on the life of R.A. Dickey.
I had never read this 1985 Al Stump remembrance of Ty Cobb’s last days. This is pretty amazing stuff.
But hey, at the least the Hall of Fame is full of only the most upstanding characters, so thank god those modern cheaters doing nothing actually against baseball rules are being kept out of it.
On December 24, 1969, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood wrote a letter to Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn protesting a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies and asking to be declared a free agent. Thus began a process that freed professional sports athletes from total control by the owners and began the period of free agency, when athletes were finally paid fairly for the revenues they generated.
Major League Baseball had long exploited its players. The key tool for this was the reserve clause. This gave owners total control over player labor, allowing the movement of players from team to team only through trade, release, or retirement. In other words, when the owner was ready to dispense with them or the player decided to quit.
Flood referenced slavery in his letter, writing, ”After 12 years in the major leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.” This was a shot at the total control white owners had over all players’ labor, who were supposed to be happy that they could play a kid’s game and appreciative of the father figure-owner who gave them the opportunity. This labor of course made owners an incredible amount of money, of which the players saw very little. Flood made $90,000 in 1969, the equivalent of $555,000 today. That’s not nothing, but for a well above-average outfielder in a profession with a relatively short work life, it was not nearly enough for the profits he generated through his work.
When Kuhn denied his request, expressing some outrage at the slavery comparison, Flood sued for his release. He claimed not only did the reserve clause violate antitrust laws, but also the Thirteenth Amendment, doubling down on the slavery comparison in a time of great racial tension in the United States. The Major League Baseball Players Association was trying to become a real union. It was established in 1953 to provide some level of representation but was weak in its early years. Luckily for Flood, he had an ally at the MLBPA in lawyer Marvin Miller. Hired by the MLBPA away from the United Steelworkers of America in 1966, Miller desperately wanted to turn the organization into a force that would, among other things, destroy the reserve clause. He had won credibility with players by winning a collective bargaining agreement from the owners in 1968 that raised the minimum salary from $6000 to $10,000, which was pretty significant. Miller convinced the other players, many of whom were skeptical and turned off by the slavery rhetoric (the white ones anyway), to bankroll Flood’s case.
Miller himself was outraged by the reserve clause. As he put it, “Yes, you’re an American and have the right to seek employment anywhere you like, but this right does not apply to baseball players.” Miller told Flood this would kill his career but Flood was willing to go to the mat in order to improve the lives of baseball players in the future. Flood himself had a long history of activism, including attending civil rights rallies in Mississippi in 1962, a risky move for any African-American but perhaps even more so for an “outsider,” coming from Oakland as Flood did. In 1964, Flood successfully sued a man who had sold Flood his house in the Oakland suburb of Alamo, CA without meeting him; when Flood arrived, the owner pulled a shotgun and refused to let him and his pregnant wife entrance. So Flood, a political man with a great deal of courage, was willing to take this sacrifice and use racially charged language in doing so.
The case cost Flood his career. Although he was beginning to fade in his age 31 season, he likely had at least one more good year in him. He did manage to play 13 games in 1971 for the Senators, but was out of baseball after that. It’s also worth noting the atmosphere of fear Flood faced. When Flood testified in court, not a single other active player showed up because they were terrified of the owners. Only the retired stars Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg attended. In 1972, Flood lost his case before the Supreme Court, 5-3, after the Anheuser-Busch stock owning Lewis Powell, who would have voted in his favor, recused himself from the case and a last second change of mind by Warren Burger. Flood was granted free agency but the baseball antitrust exemption could only be removed by an act of Congress.
In the short-term, the marginal nature of Flood’s victory gave Marvin Miller greater leverage in his battles with owners and he forced them to agree to binding arbitration for grievances. But it was not until 1976 that an arbitrator ruled Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally free agents that the reserve clause fell away and the modern era of free agency began.
Of course, owners resisted free agency in all sports as strongly as they could. In baseball, owners colluded in the mid-80s to not bid up free agents, a direct violation of the collective bargaining agreement. This was coordinated by MLB commissioner Peter Uberroth, who wanted the owners to run their teams as a business and not spend millions of dollars for the best players. Between 1985 and 1987, only a few players changed teams. But further lawsuits forced the end of that strategy and player salaries skyrocketed by the late 1980s. The 1994 strike that nearly destroyed the game was the final major battle in this war and the determination of the Yankees to win every year and other new owners willing to spend to catch up with them pretty much ended any concentrated owner resistance to high salaries. The growth of television contracts has only pumped more money into the game, making the salaries of today’s baseball players far beyond the dreams of Curt Flood.
Flood’s actions began the modern professional sport labor union movement. The long-term effects has been to unionize each of the four major sports leagues, creating titanic salaries for a few and pretty good salaries for most everybody. The sports unions have had a contentious relationship with the American public who hated to see “their” players leave for other teams and even go on strike. But ultimately, Flood is one of the great heroes of the American labor movement in the late twentieth century.
This is the 85th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.
A year ago yesterday, ESPN ranked its top 100 baseball players of all time. @oldhossradbourn provided running commentary. I had not seen it all collected into one site until now. A few highlights:
83. M. McGwire. Would be ranked higher but angered all the scribes when the fellatio they gave him in 1998 gave them oral cancer in 2005.
67. M. Rivera. Aided by guts, courage, and by being a 1/4 time player in a masturbatory media market which needed to pen a hagiography.
9. M. Mantle. American hero who never lived up to his talents or the money lavished on him, much like the generation which venerated him.
48. L. Jones. Remember when he hit .364 as a broken 36-year-old and faced no scrutiny? It’s nice to be white.
56. “Yogi” Berra. Italian catcher, the worst of two worlds. Yet it is fun to throw things at Italians. Cursed us all with his son, Dale.
There are many good ones to choose from.
While I have no problem with Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony LaRussa getting elected to the Hall of Fame, evidently the standard for being a great manager is working for a high-revenue team over a very long time. What I’d like to see is some attempt to measure managers through a win/dollar statistic adjusted for baseball inflation over time. Maybe this exists in some form, I don’t know. Because it seems to me that being moderately successful for a long period of time with low budgets is equally as valuable as working for owners constantly willing to fork over $100 million plus budgets. This doesn’t even take into account the marginal effect managers seem to actually have on teams, not to mention the blaming of and cycling through of managers when you have incredibly incompetent GMs and ownership.
One person who comes to mind here is Tom Kelly, who won 2 titles with the Twins despite being hamstrung by significantly lower budgets and greater limitations than most teams. Yes, his career record is under .500. Bobby Cox would have a similar record with those teams.
….A related point. Roy Halladay is retiring today. David Cameron makes the case for him in the Hall. I completely agree.
…..Also, in case it isn’t clear, I actually would vote for any of the three managers for the Hall of Fame. I think they are all clear calls. But I also think Tom Kelly is basically just as deserving for what he did with no resources. And as someone mentioned in comments, Joe Maddon may have a very interesting case in 20 years.