Friday, December 30, 2005

'A Walking History of the Orioles'

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 23, 2005

Elrod Hendricks could make you laugh without making any sense. His voice was a thick gumbo of island patois (he was raised in the Virgin Islands), crab-soaked Bawlmer-ese and regional accents picked up from the many small towns in Mexico and the American south where he played as a minor leaguer. The voice had the grizzled texture of a baseball lifer, and everything "Ellie" said seemed to come out as one jumbled (and often profane) grunt -- "Scragglyoldsumbitchgawnwhompupsidedathead" -- and was inevitably followed by a laugh so booming, its shock waves triggered involuntary spasms of laughter in your own chest, whether you understood him or not.

"It wasn't until the second or third year I worked there until I finally got to where I could understand him," said Rick Vaughn, the Baltimore Orioles' public relations director from 1984 to '94. "But you knew, whatever it was, it was funny -- because everybody was laughing."
Soon enough, once the shock and the sadness wear off a little, there will be laughter all over Baltimore, as folks start thinking back to their favorite memories of Hendricks, who died Wednesday night of a heart attack. Hendricks, who wore an Orioles uniform -- first as a player, then as a coach, 37 years total -- for more games than anyone in history, would have been 65 yesterday.

"This is a tremendous shock," Orioles legend Cal Ripken said, through a spokesman. "Elrod has been such a big figure in Baltimore for so long. He was as much a mainstay in the Orioles organization as anyone I can think of."

"We lost the most beloved Oriole of all-time," said Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, in a statement issued by the team.

Think of the biggest number you can imagine. That's approximately how many pitches Hendricks caught in his lifetime. He caught for parts of 20 years as a professional player, including 11 seasons with the Orioles. He then spent 28 seasons as the Orioles' bullpen coach, warming up one pitcher after another, day after day, from the first sunny mornings of spring training until the last bitter night of the season -- and sometimes during the winter as well.
"He'd be at the fantasy camps, catching all of us pitchers," said former Orioles pitcher Scott McGregor. "You'd be pitching to some 80-year-old guy, and [Hendricks] would put down the sign for a curveball. And you'd throw a curve -- just buckle the old guy's knees -- and Elrod would be back there, just laughing and laughing."

Hendricks caught Mike Flanagan when the latter was a rookie in 1975, then 16 years later warmed him up in the bullpen just before Flanagan entered for the ninth inning and threw the final pitch in the history of Memorial Stadium.

"He was a walking history of the Orioles," Flanagan said.

"It's amazing to think about, but if you add up all the hours, I've probably spent 12 complete years of my life with the man," former Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller said. "He was the core of Orioles baseball, an ambassador for the organization."

They ought to bury Hendricks in a catcher's crouch, wearing his shin guards, with his catcher's mitt on his left hand and his mask propped up on top of his head. That's how many people remember him the most, lugging a big old bag of baseballs out to the bullpen to catch another side session some three hours before a game.

"He wouldn't gloss anything over," said Jim Palmer, a Hall of Fame pitcher and now an analyst for Orioles telecasts. "He'd be catching you in the bullpen [before a start], and when you were done, he'd say, 'Well, you'd better hook 'em' " -- throw lots of curveballs -- " 'because your fastball is horse----.' "

Ask Hendricks's friends for their favorite memories of him, and inevitably they ask whether you want only the printable ones. Hendricks's aptitude for cursing -- in complex conjugations, between syllables, in multiple languages -- was legendary.

"One day, Elrod is back there catching, and Palmer is yelling at him from the mound, and [Manager Earl] Weaver is yelling at him from the dugout," said Richard Justice, who covered the Orioles for The Washington Post in the 1980s and '90s. "And finally, the umpire says, 'How do you put up with this?' And Elrod says, 'I'll tell you what. You throw one of them out of the game, and I'll go beat the [expletive] out of the other.' "

It seemed everybody in baseball knew Hendricks, and half of them had played with him in some godforsaken place years ago.

Did you know you could pick any player in baseball history and, by examining historical team rosters for links, arrive at Hendricks in a maximum of four moves? Call it Four Degrees of Elrod Hendricks. Go ahead, try it.

Babe Ruth? That's easy. Ruth played with Frankie Crosetti (1934 New York Yankees), who played with Yogi Berra (1948 Yankees), who played with Joe Pepitone (1963 Yankees), who played with Hendricks on the 1972 Chicago Cubs.

Ty Cobb? A little trickier, but still doable. Cobb played with Jimmie Foxx (1928 Philadelphia A's), who played with Granny Hamner (1945 Philadelphia Phillies), who played with Billy Martin (1959 Cleveland Indians), who managed Hendricks on the 1976 and '77 Yankees.

But if Hendricks seemed to have a link to everyone in baseball, that was doubly so in the community. He signed so many autographs, folks used to joke that the only people who didn't have Hendricks's signature were the handful who had never tried. He was Santa Claus at the office Christmas party every year. He was the go-to-guy for the community relations staff whenever there was a charity appearance no one else was willing to make.

"I have this image of us driving to Cumberland [in far western Maryland] in the dead of winter, in January," said Vaughn. "We couldn't beg anyone else to do that one. And he had a blast. Everywhere he went, he knew everybody, and everybody knew him. To me, he's in the same circle as Brooks [Robinson] and Frank [Robinson] and Palmer. For what he's meant to this organization, he's in that circle."

"He just loved being in the organization," McGregor said, "loved being an Oriole."

The worst thing in baseball is a rain delay, but even rain delays had one redeeming quality for those who knew where to wait them out. That would be in the Orioles' dugout, where inevitably, Hendricks would be sitting there, spinning tales.

The young players in the clubhouse, with their Xboxes and iPods and cell phones, had no idea what they were missing. But the rain was beating down on the infield tarp, and the videoboard was showing clips of ancient games, and Hendricks was cursing up a storm, telling stories. And they were funny -- or at least you thought they probably were, if you could have understood what he was saying.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Opening Day

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"There is no sports event like Opening Day of baseball, the sense of beating back the forces of darkness and the National Football League." - Author George Vecsey in A Year in the Sun (1989)

For over a century, baseball has been hailed above all other sports as America's National Pastime. And no other game during the regular one-hundred sixty-two (162) game season has been as eagerly anticipated as Opening Day. Just look at any die-hard baseball fan's calendar. Vacation? Holidays? Anniversaries? All are often forgotten and pale in comparison with the coveted first game of the season. Ask any fan what the "official" start of Spring is. Chances are their answer will be Opening Day. Much more than just an event, it is an experience.

Major League Baseball's first officially recognized franchise the Cincinnati Reds were historically awarded the privilege of "opening the Openers" and hosted the outings from 1876-1989. Only twice during this time (1877 and 1966) were they forced to debut on the road due to rain. Finally in 1990, the tradition was broken and the Reds were scheduled to appear as the visitors against the Houston Astros. Despite the prestige of being christened as baseball's opening act, Cincinnati has posted an average record of 50-52-1 that has been shadowed by the countless spectacles off the baseline including parades, fireworks, circus performances and the opening of new ballparks in 1884, 1894, 1912 and 2003.

A national event, Opening Day has also become a "political pitcher's" arena for U.S. Presidents to show their "stuff." On April 14, 1910, President, and baseball enthusiast, William Howard Taft attended the home opener in Washington D.C. Since then, eleven (11) sitting U.S. presidents have tossed out the season's ceremonial first pitch. One standout, Harry S. Truman, showcased his ambidextrous talent when he threw out balls with both his right and left arm in 1950.

Beyond Presidents, Opening Day has witnessed many other historical performances:
Ted Williams was a .449 hitter in openers, with three (3) home runs and fourteen (14) runs batted in during fourteen (14) games. "Teddy Ballgame" also boasted at least one (1) hit in every Opening Day game he appeared in. Williams' first Opening Day (April 20, 1939) was especially noteworthy as he faced the rival New York Yankees and Lou Gehrig, who was playing in his 2,123rd consecutive game.

Opening Day 1940 witnessed one of the most famous pitcher's duels as Cleveland ace Bob Feller and White Sox ace Lefty Grove went head-to-head. Despite sitting down every Indian he faced for 7 1/3 innings, Grove blinked first and surrendered a single to shortstop Cecil Travis. Feller remained in control and tossed the only Opening Day no-hitter in history.

Hammerin' Hank Aaron ignited the crowd at Riverfront Stadium on his first swing of the 1974 season when he tagged Cincinnati Reds for his 714th career home run to tie Babe Ruth on the all-time list.

Unfortunately, Opening Day has also been marred by riots and civil disobedience. At the start of the 1907 season, the New York Giants opened against the Phillies following a heavy snowstorm. In preparation for the game, groundskeepers were forced to shovel large drifts of snow onto the outer edges of the field in foul territory. After falling behind 3-0, the disappointed fans at the Polo Grounds began hurling snowballs onto the playing field, disrupting play. As the melee progressed, chaos ensued and fans began rushing onto the field to continue the snowball fight. After being pelted, Home plate umpire Bill Klem had enough and called a forfeit in favor of the Phillies.

Statistically speaking, how important is Opening Day to a team in regards to a championship season? The answer is not that much. The record for most consecutive Opening Day wins by a team is nine (9), shared by the St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets. Currently (through 2004) the longest winning streak on Opening Day is three W's, shared by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Toronto Blue Jays. Still every fan looks forward to starting off the season with a win.

Individual Opening Day stats however, speak volumes on the career accomplishments of a player. On the mound, Greg Maddux is a sure thing with a perfect 6-0 record in seven (7) career starts. Jimmy Key holds the record for most wins on Opening Day without a loss, with seven (7) and other perfect Opening Day hurlers include Wes Ferrell at 6-0, and Warneke and Rip Sewell with 5-0 scorecards.

At the plate, Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson hit eight (8) career / record setting home runs on the first day of the season, while Willie Mays and Eddie Mathews each belted seven (7) Opening Day round-trippers. Above all others Walter Johnson was perhaps the greatest ballplayer ever to don a uniform on Opening Day. In fourteen (14) season openers for the Washington Senators, Johnson hurled a record nine (9) shutouts with a nine and five (9-5) overall record. His two (2) most famous starts include a 3-0 masterpiece against the A's in 1910 and a 1-0 marathon victory while battling fifteen (15) innings against Philadelphia's Eddie Rommel.

Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn, who played for the Washington Senators, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, summed up the essence of Opening Day when he said, "An opener is not like any other game. There's that little extra excitement, a faster beating of the heart. You have that anxiety to get off to a good start, for yourself and for the team. You know that when you win the first one, you can't lose 'em all."

Regardless of the outcome, Opening Day still remains as the number one date in the hearts, minds (and on the calendars) of baseball fans everywhere. The official countdown begins after the last pitch of the World Series when we can't wait to hear those two magic words again, "Play Ball!"

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Lasorda's Wild Start

May 5, 1955
Ebbets Field

By Hogan Chen

One of the most famous -- but least heralded -- members of the World Champion 1955 Dodgers was a mediocre lefty who appeared in just four games. The addition of Sandy Koufax to the roster had ended his chances of making the starting rotation, and within three years his big-league career would be over. But in his first major-league start on this day in 1955, Tom Lasorda matched a National League record -- with three wild pitches in one inning.

A brash southpaw with a decent curveball, Lasorda was brimming with confidence when he was tried out for the club in 1954. "I don't intent to let anyone push me off this club," announced Lasorda in the spring, "regardless of the record he has." But the Dodgers were already well-stocked with twenty-game winner Carl Erskine, proven gamers Russ Meyer, Billy Loes, Clem Labine and emerging stars Koufax and Johnny Podres. Lasorda's first start didn't come until the following May.

He blew it. After taking the mound in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals, Lasorda walked leadoff batter Wally Moon and promptly threw a wild pitch to Bill Virdon. Shaken, he uncorked two more with Stan Musial at the plate to tie the National League record. Adding insult to injury, Moon took the opportunity to deliver a painful souvenir when the record-setting wild pitch rolled to the backstop, spiking Lasorda as the hurler covered home plate.

Despite the wounds to his leg and his psyche, Lasorda came back to strike out Musial and Rip Repulski and induced a groundout to end the inning, allowing only one run. But Dodgers manager Walter Alston had seen enough of Lasorda and pulled him out of the game. Lasorda's career as a starter with the Dodgers lasted one inning.

After his two forgettable seasons in Brooklyn, Lasorda bounced around the minor leagues and had one final major-league stint in Kansas City where he pitched in 18 games in 1956, starting 5 games and finishing 0-4. He had a career ERA of 6.52.

Shrugging off his ignominious debut, Lasorda gained fame in his second career with the Dodgers. After replacing his former manager in 1976, Lasorda led the club to seven division titles, four pennants, and two world championships -- a six-game victory over the Yankees in 1981 and a five-game upset over the Oakland Athletics in 1988.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Gilbert Ready to Step Up in Scouts' Honor

By Ross Newhan
Special to The Los Angeles Times
December 13, 2005

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

Foundation he founded to benefit baseball's bird dogs will stage its awards banquet Saturday, with Koufax and Bonds among the recipients.

It already has been an emotional fall for Dennis Gilbert. The Los Angeles activist and lifetime baseball man contributed to the Chicago White Sox's World Series victory as special assistant to the chairman, but lost out in bidding for the Dodgers' then-vacant general manager position.

Now, Gilbert has another big moment coming up on Saturday when the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, of which he was the principal founder in 2002, stages its third "In the Spirit of the Game" awards banquet and memorabilia auction at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The banquet, which raises money for ill or financially troubled scouts who are often left unprotected by the clubs for which they have worked, already has become one of the biggest of its kind in the country, generating more than $600,000 in the first two years.

The third edition features a marquee list of baseball luminaries. Among the award recipients will be Sandy Koufax, Barry Bonds, Tom Lasorda, Buzzie Bavasi and his baseball family, former big league manager Preston Gomez, longtime scouts Frank Malzone and Dick Wiencek and the late Gene Mauch.

Larry King will serve as master of ceremonies, with Willie Mays, Reggie Jackson and Bret Saberhagen among the presenters and special guests. For Gilbert, a former minor league outfielder, longtime player agent and Beverly Hills insurance man who financed the building of an inner city diamond at Southwest Community College and has been a major contributor to baseball's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program, the scouts banquet has become another year-round project.

"Between this and RBI," he said, "we've been able to help a lot of people and touch a lot of lives. It's been rewarding."Gilbert was rewarded in another way in October when the White Sox, for whom he does some advance scouting and contract negotiating as the assistant to Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, won the World Series. Gilbert rode in the victory parade next to good friend Reinsdorf."It was an amazing experience for me, and especially to be around Jerry for that period," Gilbert said. "The whole organization wanted to win for him. I've never been around a more well-liked person."

The high of that experience was punctured some when Gilbert interviewed with Dodger owner Frank McCourt for the general manager role and lost out to Ned Colletti."They gave me an opportunity to interview and I'm grateful for that," Gilbert said. "They decided to go in another direction, but I'll still have my season tickets."

Banquet information: Debbie Marks, (310) 858-1935.

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

Sunday, December 11, 2005

It ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught

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Thursday, September 27, 2001

By Rob

Editor's note: This column originally appeared on February 13, 2001

It's rare that somebody writes about baseball history and it hits the front pages. But two weeks ago, events nearly 50 years old did hit the front pages: first The Wall Street Journal, and then a few other great newspapers. The architect of all this? A talented, enterprising writer named Joshua Harris Prager, who turned some old, dusty rumors into a hard, cold fact: in the latter stages of the 1951 season, at the end of which they captured the National League pennant, the New York Giants employed a sophisticated system for stealing catcher's signs and relaying them to the batters.

The sign stealing began on July 20. From that point through the end of the season, the Giants played 28 games at their home ballpark, the horseshoe-shaped Polo Grounds, and won 23 of them. Over the same span, they went 29-13 on the road.

According to Prager, only about half the Giants hitters -- Bobby Thomson, among them -- did want the signs. If we figure 40 plate appearances per game, and half of those going to hitters getting the signs, we might (very roughly) estimate that approximately 560 plate appearances were conducted under questionable circumstances. That's a lot of plate appearances, and certainly leads to the question, "Does the sign stealing take anything away from the Giants' accomplishment?"

Before answering that question, it's worth noting that sign stealing, above and beyond the garden-variety, baserunner-on-second-peering-between-catcher's-legs version, has a long tradition, going back at least a century.

In 1900, the Philadelphia Phillies went just 30-40 on the road, but played brilliantly at home, going 45-23 at Philadephia Park (later renamed Baker Bowl).

As it turned out, the Phillies almost certainly employed an elaborate sign-stealing scheme, with the help of two part-time players.

Utility man Petie "What's the Use" Chiles often coached third base, where (as researcher Joe Ditmarr reports) "he had an unusual twitch in his legs at times and often stood in one position, right in the middle of a perpetual wet spot, in the corner of the coach's box."

Backup catcher Morgan Murphy rarely played, and when he wasn't in the lineup he was also absent from the bench and field area.

On September 17, with the Cincinnati Reds in town for a doubleheader, Chiles and Murphy were exposed. According to Ditmarr,

"In the third inning of the first game, Tommy Corcoran, the Reds shortstop and captain, began frantically scratching with his spikes in the third base coaching area. Acting like a demonic chicken searching for grain ... Just below the surface Corcoran struck the lid of a small metal box. Opening the box exposed an "electric buzzer device" with protruding wires. It was thought that Chiles' cohort, Murphy, was stationed in the clubhouse behind the center field wall with some sort of pirate spyglass with which to steal the catcher's signs. Murphy, it was then assumed, would relay the information to Chiles' feet and he would verbally signal the batter as to whether the next pitch was to be a fastball or curve."

Not much came of Corcoran's discovery. But 12 days later in Pittsburgh, the Cincinnati shortstop sniffed out another scheme, this time in Pittsburgh. It was reported that the Pirates and Phillies knew of each other's chicanery, and had even agreed to not spy on each other. Of course, there's little honor among thieves, so we can imagine that both clubs were on the lookout for truce violations.

After the season, Philadelphia baseball writer Charles Dryden confirmed the details of the Phillies' sign-stealing scheme. Also after the season, Petie Chiles was arrested in Texas for involvement in a con-artist scheme and sentenced to two years of hard labor. In 1902, eight months before his scheduled release, Chiles escaped from custody. He was arrested for assault in 1903, reportedly played semi-pro baseball that same year, and that's the last we know of him. When and where he died remains a mystery.

In 1940, the Tigers edged the Indians by one game to capture the American League pennant, after a three-and-a-half-month duel. In the process, the Tigers beat Bob Feller -- who finished the season 27-11 and was generally considered the AL's best pitcher -- six times. There were rumors that the Tigers had sign-stealing spies in the center-field bleachers, and Feller echoed these rumors in 1990 when I asked him about it. "Yeah, they had a guy with binoculars out there," he said, "and he'd signal to the hitter what I was going to throw. Cost us the pennant."

In 2000, rumors abounded that the Blue Jays had rigged up a sign-stealing system in SkyDome. I asked two men very close to the team about this, and one of them snorted, "These guys? There aren't five of 'em smart enough to use a system if there was one."

These incidents are just a small sampling. In his piece, Prager also mentioned schemes from the early 1960s (Milwaukee's County Stadium) and the 1980s (Chicago's old Comiskey Park), and of course there must have been many more attempts, if not successes.

A few points about the Giants in 1951:
Everybody knows that after July 19, the Giants went 52-18 and surged to the National League pennant. And now everybody knows that, over that same span, they employed a sophisticated system for stealing signs. But how many people know how effective that system actually was?
Dave Smith of Retrosheet has the game data for each game of the Giants' 1951 season, so he checked the "before and after" numbers. The results are, to say the least, surprising.

Thru July 19: 814 Home OPS; 725 Road OPS
After July 19: 761 Home OPS; 758 Road OPS

Yes, the Giants actually hit worse at the Polo Grounds after they started cheating. As Smith points out, the real improvement came in their road hitting, and especially the pitching. Before July 19, the Giants pitchers posted a 3.47 ERA at home, 4.49 on the road. After July 19, they lowered those figures to 2.90 and 2.93. So the pitching improvement is the real story of the Giants' second-half comeback.

Of course, this doesn't mean that stealing the signs didn't help them. Perhaps without cheating, their home OPS decline would have been more severe. And of course, had the Giants won just one fewer game, there would have been no pennant, because there would have been no playoff series with the Dodgers.

So let's make no mistake -- the Giants did cheat. True, it wasn't until 1961 that a rule was instituted banning the use of mechanical devices for spying on the opposition, which means that manager Leo Durocher and the rest of the club didn't do anything violating the letter of the law.

But the Giants cheated, and they knew it. I've got a lot of baseball books in my basement, and a fair number of them were written by men who knew what was going on in 1951.

Giants center fielder Willie Mays has done a couple of autobiographies, including a fine 1966 book with Charles Einstein. There's no mention of sign stealing.

Giants shortstop Alvin Dark dictated a book, "When in Doubt, Fire the Manager." Not only is there no mention of sign stealing, but Dark says of the Giants' comeback, "It couldn't be pinned to any precise moment, yet suddenly we were a different team."

And then there's Leo Durocher. Understand, Durocher was not one to shy away from controversial statements. Spend just a few minutes leafing through Durocher's book -- the wonderful "Nice Guys Finish Last" -- and you'll read about Giants owner Horace Stoneham's alcoholism and Ernie Banks' single-minded devotion to his public image. Yet there's no mention of sign stealing in "Nice Guys Finish Last." In fact, Durocher claims that he told Thomson to expect a fastball, both on the first pitch (that Thomson took for a strike) and the second (that he hit over the fence).

Giants right fielder Monte Irvin did a book in 1996 called "Nice Guys Finish First." There's no mention of sign stealing.

Nearly every other Giant has been quoted in various books -- I've got one called "The Miracle at Coogan's Bluff," and another called "The Home Run Heard 'Round the World" -- and none of them includes a mention, an inkling, even the tiniest hint of any chicanery. Now, I certainly don't blame any of the Giants for failing to volunteer such information. After all, when finally confronted with pointed questions by Josh Prager, they all 'fessed up. But earlier, not one player wanted to be the one to spill the beans. Personally, I have no ill feelings for any of the Giants, any more than I have ill feelings for Gaylord Perry or Whitey Ford. Baseball's always been like Wall Street or tax time: It ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught.

In answer to the question, "Does the sign stealing take anything away from the Giants' accomplishment?" I would direct you to the Giants themselves. Clearly, they believed that it did. Knowing that, you can decide for yourself.

P.S. One thing bothered me about Josh Prager's article ... If the Giants won the National League pennant thanks to chicanery in 1951, then what about 1952? And '53 and '54 and '55 (Durocher was gone in '56)? Prager told me that according to Giants pitcher Al Corwin, they did not steal signs in 1952 (when they finished in second place, six games behind Brooklyn) or 1953 (fifth place), but they did cheat in 1954, when they won both the National League pennant and the World Series.

Rob Neyer is a Senior Writer for

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Rice's Chances Were Never Better

Courtesy of the Boston Globe

By Dan Shaughnessy, Globe Columnist
December 6, 2005

The planets are in line. This is Jim Rice's best chance to be elected to the Hall of Fame. More than 500 ballots are in the hands of the baseball scribes and must be mailed before the end of the month. The election announcement will be made Jan. 10.

Rice has been on the ballot 11 times and never gained the 75 percent of votes cast required for admission to Cooperstown. This is his best shot because it's not a strong ballot, the Red Sox are formally making a strong case for him with a mass e-mailing to voters, and Rice's power numbers look better in the wake of the recent steroid scandal.

Still, he's hardly a lock. Rice received 59.5 percent of the vote last year. He got 307 out of 516 votes which means he was 80 votes shy. That's a lot to make up in a single year, but there's reason to believe it might happen.

There are 29 names on this year's ballot. Writers are allowed to vote for no more than 10 candidates. Among those not elected last year (when Wade Boggs and Ryan Sandberg were enshrined), Rice had the second-highest vote total. Among the also-rans, only Bruce Sutter received more votes.

Happily for Rice, there are no strong new candidates on this year's ballot. The best new players are Albert Belle, Will Clark, and Orel Hershiser. It would be hard to justify a vote for any of them ahead of Rice. Next year's ballot will introduce Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn, and Mark McGwire (there's a whole new problem), which means Rice may fade into the background again if he doesn't make it this time. He has only three years left on the ballot after this, then his candidacy would be turned over to the Veterans Committee, which has not elected a candidate under its new system.

Players become eligible five years after they retire, so Rice debuted on the ballot in 1995, when he got 30 percent of the votes. It has been a slow, steady climb since then, peaking with last year's 59.5 percent.

Do not underestimate the steroids backlash. Voters dread the day they'll be asked to pass judgment on the Hall worthiness of artificially inflated sluggers who hit 500 home runs with help from illegal substances. Rafael Palmeiro's 500 homers were reduced to fool's gold once it was revealed that he tested positive for steroids. McGwire's unfortunate day on Capitol Hill is difficult to forget, and the same goes for Sammy Sosa. Let's not even go near the combustible Barry Bonds issue.

All of which means that voters are going to look at Rice's combination of power and average and see him in a new light. He hit 46 home runs at a time when few were doing that. In 1978, his MVP year, he became the first American League player to compile 400 total bases since Joe DiMaggio. Rice was a man who could provoke an intentional walk even if the bases were loaded. And he did it the old-fashioned way: with brute strength, bat speed, and hand-eye coordination.
Red Sox vice president/historian Dick Bresciani has put together a dossier that makes a compelling argument for the Sox slugger. The numbers show what our eyes told us: Rice was the dominant slugger of his time.

Other than Rice, the only retired players with at least 382 homers and a career average of .298 are Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams. Of the 17 players (who've been on the ballot) boasting at least 350 homers and a .290 average, all are in Cooperstown -- except for Rice and Dick Allen. He is the only player in major league history with three consecutive seasons of 35 homers and 200 hits. In the 12 seasons spanning 1975-86, Rice led the American League in games, at-bats, runs, hits, homers, RBIs, slugging, total bases, extra-base hits, multihit games, and outfield assists. Pretty good, folks.

Nice work, Mr. Bresciani. Rice should send him some new golf clubs if he makes it.

On the minus side, it can be noted that Rice hit more than 40 points higher at Fenway than on the road. He was a liability on the basepaths, average (at best) in the outfield (though he did work the Wall tirelessly in practice), and did not do much in the postseason. He hit .159 in the ALCS and failed to drive home a run in his only World Series (1986). He also lost his skills overnight in 1988 when his eyes, right elbow, and right knee gave out simultaneously. He was all done by the time he was 36.

Managers loved the guy. He played hard and he played when he was hurt. You could pencil his name in the lineup every day, and he never said much, until the end when he grappled with Joe Morgan after Tollway Joe sent up a pinch hitter for him. But a lot of players have a difficult time facing the truth when their skills diminish.

Lastly, there is the unfortunate churl factor. Rice was not a friend of the baseball writers. He was nasty. He was at his best when asked to explain one of his own mistakes or failings, but had little use for discussion of his magnificent achievements. And he had no time for chitchat. He went out of his way to be difficult when it would have been easy to recite clich├ęs and get it over with. He seemed to enjoy busting chops, making people wait and wait, then bailing altogether.

Ten years ago, when he got the paltry 30 percent of votes the first year he was on the ballot, I asked him if he felt his poor relationship with writers cost him votes. ''It probably did," he answered. ''But are you basing a guy on being your boyfriend or are you basing it on his ability to play baseball? If you want someone to kiss you, that's fine, but if you want someone to go put some numbers on the board, that's a different thing."

In retrospect, does he wish he'd been nicer to the media?

''No," he said. ''I didn't say that. If you want to talk baseball, I talked baseball. That's what hurt me a lot. I think a lot of writers came to me because of the leadership that I had, they wanted to say certain things. They wanted to use my name and I didn't let them get that way. That's where I was lost in the confusion. They tried to put words in my mouth and I didn't go for that."
It's too easy to say Rice isn't in the Hall because he was nasty to the writers. Eddie Murray made Rice look like a combination of Winston Churchill and Kevin Millar, but Murray sailed in on the first ballot -- on the strength of 500 homers and 3,000 hits.

Still, there may be voters who do not give Rice a vote because he was nasty. That's just plain wrong. That's not what this is supposed to be about. I never liked the guy back in the day when he played, but I still vote for him. It's not their job to help us do our job. Rice's demeanor doesn't make him any less Hall-worthy.

He's by no means a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, but he's looking pretty good at this hour. Imagine Jim Ed Rice -- the first real winner of the steroid scandal.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist.
His e-mail address is

Courtesy of the Boston Globe;

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Dick Allen: Another View

Dick Allen: Another View
by Craig R. Wrightas originally published by SABR magazine.

Courtesy of

Editor's Note: A quarter-century after he retired, Dick (nee Richie) Allen remains one of baseball's greatest enigmas. One of his biggest critics has been sabermatician Bill James, much of it based on his conjecture of Dick's role in hurting the performance of his teammates and thus his team's won-loss record.

Does James' theory hold up? What are the viewpoints of Allen held by the very people James claims were hurt by Allen? That's what baseball scout and author Craig Wright wanted to know. What he found might surprise you and stands as a very different viewpoint from those commonly believed about the former Sox star.

With Craig's permission, here in its entirety is the article he authored as published by SABR magazine. It is easily the most complete analysis of the subject available anywhere on the internet. White Sox Interactive is pleased to bring it to you.

In recent years, I have been surprised at the harsh assessments of the career of Dick Allen, from his brief bio in "Total Baseball" to Bill James' scathing comments in his otherwise excellent book on the Hall of Fame, "The Politics of Glory" A grudging respect is given to Allen's offensive numbers which are easily understood and irrefutable in their excellence, but in the grayer areas of player evaluation, it seems that great liberties have been taken to shed the worst possible light on his career.

For example, the assessment of Allen's defense in Total Baseball begins with the mocking comment, "He came to the Phillies a professed third baseman," and goes on to note that he led the league in errors a couple times and ended up being shifted to first base. The truth is that Allen never played third base in the minors, and had the unenviable task of learning the position while breaking into the majors at age 21. Allen was error prone, but it is inaccurate to suggest to future generations that he was a brutal third baseman whose poor fielding led to his move to first base.

From 1964 to 1967, Allen had more assists and started more double plays at third base than any NL third baseman except Gold Glover Ron Santo. And that was true even though a dislocated throwing shoulder kept Allen from playing 3rd base for nearly half the 1966 season.

In recent years, I have been surprised at the harsh assessments of the career of Dick Allen, from his brief bio in "Total Baseball" to Bill James' scathing comments in his otherwise excellent book on the Hall of Fame, "The Politics of Glory" A grudging respect is given to Allen's offensive numbers which are easily understood and irrefutable in their excellence, but in the grayer areas of player evaluation, it seems that great liberties have been taken to shed the worst possible light on his career.

For the balance of the article, please go to

Courtesy of

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Last One to Steel Home Twice In a Game

Courtesy of the L.A. Times

Vic Power, 78; 4-Time Baseball All-Star Won 7 Gold Gloves
From Associated Press

Vic Power, a flashy-fielding All-Star and the last major leaguer to steal home plate twice in a game, has died. He was 78.Power died Tuesday of cancer in a hospital in a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico, his family said.
A four-time All-Star who won seven Gold Gloves at first base from 1958 to 1964, Power was known for his showy, one-handed snags. He hit .284 with 126 home runs and 658 RBIs in a 12-year career, mostly with the Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins."I think Vic was one of the best-fielding first basemen of all time," former Indian roommate Mudcat Grant said Tuesday. "He'd catch balls on one hop, two hops, all sorts of ways."I remember once when he missed a pop-up over his head, down the right-field line. After the game, he took his glove into the clubhouse and cut it into little bitty pieces," Grant said. "He said he didn't need that glove anymore."

Power achieved a rare feat in 1958, joining only a handful of players to steal home twice in the same game.His swipe in the 10th inning led Cleveland to a 10-9 victory over Detroit; curiously, Power had only three steals the whole season. Power had five siblings and at least 13 children, 11 of whom are still living, said his son, Victor Hugo Pellot.

Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Power was among the first Latino players in the major leagues. Traded from the New York Yankees' farm system in December 1953, he made his big-league debut in 1954 with the Philadelphia Athletics.

"He got along very well with every baseball player," said longtime major league pitcher Juan Pizarro, a fellow Puerto Rican and two-time All-Star. "He was always making jokes. But when it was time to take the field, you had to play hard because he didn't like joking in the field."

Power went with the A's when they moved to Kansas City in 1955 and was traded to Cleveland for Roger Maris in the middle of the 1958 season. That year, Power became the Indians' first Gold Glove winner.

He also played for the Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies, and finished his career with the Angels in 1965. Later, he played first and third base and worked as a manager in the Puerto Rican League. In 1985, while managing the Caguas, Puerto Rico, franchise, Power was suspended for the season's final week and fined $1,000 for punching an umpire.

That led to a strike by umpires who said he should have received a longer suspension and been declared ineligible for the playoffs.

In retirement, Power set up a baseball academy for young players and managed an amateur team that participated in international competitions.

Courtesy of the L.A. Times