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OUT BY A STEP

About 10 years ago, the Shalin brothers, Mike and Neil, wrote a book about 100 players that just missed getting elected for the Baseball Hall of Fame because their career accomplishments fell just short. Several of those have since been inducted. Gary Carter, Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and now, Ron Santo. Both Mike and Neil are writers. Mike has covered baseball for the Boston Herald and Neil is a freelance writer in Chicago. I am one of those 100 players they list and profile.

If you are a year around baseball fan you probably know that the Veterans Commmittee announced yesterday that Ron Santo has been selected for induction in 2012. I fell 2 votes short. The committee is comprised of 16 guys, former players, executives and writers that were involved in the game during what has been designated ‘The Golden Era”. Pretty cool to have been part of that era. The committee members were Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, fellow MLBlogger Tommy LaSorda, Juan Marichal, Brooks Robinson, Don Sutton and Billy Williams from the players arena. Paul Beeston, Roland Hemond, Bill DeWitt, Gene Michael and Al Rosen from the executive branch. Dick Kaegel, Jack O’Connell and Dave Van Dyck from the media. You need 75% or 12 votes to earn election. You had to have played at least 10 seasons in Major League Baseball and been retired for at least 21 years.

Enough about specifics. I am honored to have been considered for election several times by the Veterans Committee after falling well short of election by the Baseball Writers Association of America voters during that eligibility period. I was more curious and somewhat optimistic this year than ever before. Why? Because I was being judged by my peers. I got a fair hearing. I fell 2 votes short. I am not disappointed. I would not have celebrated with a ‘whoopee’ or thrust a fist in the air if I were to have been chosen. Out of respect for so many whose careers are close to HOF caliber but ‘Out by a step” I would have felt humbled and grateful. Players like Dick Allen, Tony Oliva, Ken Boyer, Luis Tiant and many more too numerous to mention. It’s a very select fraternity to gain admission unlike being elected President of the United States where a little over 50% will be enough.

I am grateful for those 10 who supported me and I have a pretty good idea who they are. Many have told me personally that I belong and that is an honor in itself. When former players like Brooks, Sutton and Marichal tell you to your face that you belong that is very gratifying.

Shed no tears for me or feel no animosity toward the 6 who didn’t feel I belonged. When I think of the 460-plus teammates I played alongside of and the thousands of players who made it to the big leagues and thousands more who aspire to get there, missing election to the Hall of Fame by 2 votes doesn’t diminish my career or life one iota.

For fun, strictly tongue-in-cheek, I have told some people who ask me why I think I haven’t been elected yet that there are 2 possible reasons.

1. I played too long. If my career ended after 1975, my pitching numbers from 1961-1975 were exceeded only by Bob Gibson when you consider wins, era, innings, complete games, etc. My last 8 seasons were a combination of being less effective than the first 15 and I was a lefty relief specialist the last 5.

2. I was blessed with more athletic ability than most pitchers. I was used as a pinch runner on several occasions. In 1972, the last year before the DH, I was having a good season at the plate as well as on the mound. 10-2 nearing the All-Star break. Batting close to .300. Slid into 2nd base and broke my wrist. Cost me a half-season. Another baserunning injury occurred in 1976. I could never defy a manager’s authority, especially in the dugout in front of my teammates. But…when Danny Ozark called on me to pinch run for Greg Luzinski in St. Louis one day, I cringed. I was 37 years old. Late in the game, legs not loose or any forewarning that I might be used. Jay Johnstone hit one in the gap and I scampered, as fast as a 37-year-old without warming up can scamper, into third. Slid in hard and cracked my right kneecap. My pitching record at the time was 10-6 and I was on a pretty good roll. I finished the season 12-14 and was never considered a regular starting pitcher after that incident. To this day I wish I had politely said to Danny, “I’m not ready to pinch run.”

So,2 injuries that probably prevented me from reaching 300 wins which usually qualifies as automatic election to the Hall were not pitching-related but baserunning issues.

I tell you these stories not with an attitude of ‘Woe is me” or ‘sour grapes,’ just as unusual reasons for being compromised as a pitcher.

I think if Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts were alive and were on the Veterans Committee, I would be going to Cooperstown in July. There have only been a few starting pitchers inducted in the past 20 years — Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan and my friend and teammate Bert Blyleven.

Life is good, baseball was good to me and for me and I feel relieved that this year’s process is over. It is by far the fairest way to decide who belongs and who doesn’t. I am happy for Ron Santo’s family. I know Billy Williams was pushing hard for Ronnie to be selected and I’m happy for him and Fergie Jenkins and Ernie Banks who, I’m sure, feel great about it as well. I’m also sad that this process wasn’t in place years ago so Ron would be alive to enjoy it. I was a teammate of Ronnie’s in 1975 when he finished his career with the White Sox. A frustrating time for him being on the South side of Chicago instead of in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.

I wish I could personally thank all of those who reached out to me to express their disappointment that I missed earning admission to the Hall of Fame. I have no regrets about being “Out by a step.” I enjoyed the game, I played the game and I continue to be involved in the game. I am a blessed man.

Wow! Another ‘Oh What a Night”!

A little over a week ago I blogged about a great night I experienced at the MLB Players Alumni Association dinner in New York. Last Friday, courtesy of Rawlings Sporting Goods, I think I had an even better one.

I’ll give you the overview first. The theme was Gold Glove Awards. The emcees were Joe Piscopo with help from Dennis Haysbert. If Dennis’s name is not familiar to you he is the new “Voice of God” since Bob Sheppard is no longer with us. He was Chico in the movie Major League, and currently does the TV commercials for Allstate. A warm, gentle guy.

Here’s something I found out about Dennis while chatting with him at the VIP reception. He was a linebacker in high school. Grew up in Northern California. Intercepted a pass one night thrown by…..Keith Hernandez! Dennis and Keith got a chance to reminisce about their high school football days.

I’ll fast-forward to the final events of the program. Jerry Seinfeld performed 30 minutes of the funniest stuff I’ve ever heard. What a talent. Good, clean, clever humor. And then, to close it out… the original cast from Jersey Boys sang a few songs finishing with… “Oh What a Night”!

We have Mike Thompson, Senior VP of Marketing for Rawlings and Robert Parish, CEO of Rawlings to thank for by far the most enjoyable awards dinner I have ever attended. They had a lot of help from a lot of people too numerous to mention. The Alumni Association helped get us former players involved. This year’s awards were presented to the recipients by former Gold Glove winners, including my former teammates Bob Boone, Keith Hernandez, and Ozzie Smith. Ozzie also was inducted into the Rawlings Gold Glove Hall of Fame. He is the fifth inductee. The others: Brooks Robinson, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and — here’s the shocker — me! I was so humbled to hear my name mentioned with those four Hall of Famers. Very cool — or maybe in today’s culture I should say, “Wicked cool!”

I had one other personal best moment. Yogi Berra was presented with the Rawlings Lifetime Achievement Award by my friend and broadcast partner, Bob Costas. When I presented the pitchers awards to Mark Buerhle and Clayton Kershaw, I told the audience how cool it was to tell people I had the privilege of facing Yogi in 1960! He is an American treasure. Tommy Lasorda was awarded the Heart of Gold Award. Here’s the full list of this year’s winners. The other presenters were Frank White of the Royals, new White Sox mananger Robin Ventura, Dave Winfield, Tony Gwynn, and Andre Dawson.

Here is an example of how baseball has grown in public appeal as far as the number of fans and media exposure: When I was awarded my first gold glove after the 1962 season, I didn’t even know they had such an award. I was raised by a dad who was an avid baseball fan. Read The Sporting News cover to cover back when it was “The Baseball Bible.” (It never mentioned other sports. When they started covering other sports, he cancelled his subscription.)

So, I’m reading The Sporting News after the 1962 season, and I see my picture along with Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson and others who were voted by the players, coaches, and managers as Gold Glove winners. I called my dad and told him, “I just won an award I never heard of. Something about being a good fielder.”

The following season, a Rawlings rep presented it to me before a game. My teammates Earl Battey and Tony Oliva also won those awards during their careers. Now, we have a special night attended by several hundred people with all this top entertainment in a prestigous New York hotel, The Pierre , to honor the winners. The gloves and baseballs on the trophies are laced with 24-karat gold! I was going to ask Rawlings if they could retrofit the 16 I have plus the special Gold Glove Hall of Fame edition with 24-karat gold!

It was truly a night to remember and I hope Rawlings continues to stage it. In the early 90s, Brooks Robinson and I were the first two inductees in the Gold Glove Hall of Fame. We had a dinner event at the World Trade Center to commemorate it. Cal Ripken received one of his Gold Gloves at it. Then… poof! The awards dinner disappeared. Don’t know why, but I’m glad they’ve brought it back.

Last Friday night was another example of how priviliged I feel to continue to be involved in the great game of baseball for over 50 years. And to add to the night, there was a singing of the national anthem with the National Guard Color Guard standing on stage and a salute to veterans and wounded warriors in attendance. Proceeds from the dinner were given to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Rawlings, thank you for a 24-karat gold night of enjoyment!

random stuff

It’s Hot Stove season. Know what the term Hot Stove means? a lot of you long time fans know. Before some of the other sports became popular Baseball was “The Game”. Most kids who were gifted with athletic ability wanted to be big league ballplayers. All the major league teams were in the East and midwest. Cold in the winter. So, men sat around a hot stove at the local general store and started talking about what their team needed to improve the next season. That was called the Hot Stove season. We’re in it now.

I was just thinking about some things that have happened since the end of the World Series and thought I’d share them with you. First, a sad item. My former teammate and friend Bob Forsch passed away last Thursday night at his home in Florida. Most of you have probably read about it. “Forschie” was a great teammate and a classy, stable individual…notice how most of us players or former players all have nicknames that have an ‘ie’ or “y” at the end. like little kids. Which is what we are and always want to be. “Forschie” was one of those quiet competitors. Didn’t show a lot of outward emotion but had that determined game face on the day he pitched. This was a real shocker. No apparent medical issues. Had settled into a nice position with the Reds coaching in the minor leagues. Looked great throwing out the cermonial 1st pitch before game 7 of the World Series. My friend Tim McCarver has often said to me after sad news like this, “We’re all like snowflakes.” All of a sudden we’re just gone. Sad but true. I try my best to cherish the memories I have of great ffriends and teammates I’ve had that have died.Thurman Munson, my Yankee teammate and friend in 1979, Zoilo Versalles, Earl Battey, Cesar Tovar, Bob Allison, Harmon Killebrew, my teammates from the 1965 AL Champion Twins. Many more. Not to get ‘preachy’ but these losses are reminders to live life to the fullest way you know which I hope is to treat people the right way, be thankful if we’re healthy and vibrant. Next year Whitey Herzog is planning a reunion celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1982 St. Louis Cardinal World Series Champions.Those of us that will be fortunate enough to be there will reminisce about ‘Forschie” and “Snivy”. That was Darrel Porter’s nickname. Don’t know why. He was just 50 when he passed away.

On to happier news. I mentioned to Jim Thome at the Baseball Players Alumni dinner this past Thursday what a cool thing it would be for him to join his mentor Charlie Manuel in Philadelphia because of Ryan Howard’s injury. He didn’t react at all. Poker faced. And lo and behold, that’s where he’s going. I don’t know how strongly the Twins will pursue keeping “Cuddy”, Michael Cuddyer’s nickname; but if the Phillies signed him they would have 2 of the classiest, most stable players in baseball. He and Jim Thome.

Awards time. Glad I don’t vote..some tough choices….I wish the MVP award was named the ” Player of the Year”..reserved for position players only. That would make it easier. Pitcher’s have the Cy Young. But it is the MVP. hard to go against Verlander. Of course, being a former pitcher, I tend to think they’re very valuable even though they don’t perform everyday. Has anyone been more valuable to one team than Mariano Rivera for the past 15 years??
Clayton Kershaw seems like an obvious choice for NL Cy Young. MVP?? Braun, Kemp, Fielder, Pujols..be interesting to see who the writers choose. I find it hard to speculate on who some of potential winners without talking to their teammates and opponents. They’re the one’s who really know the best choices.

Well, the Hot Stove season has begun. More things to blog about every week from now intil spring training starts in February.

MY APOLOGIES

MY APOLOGIES TO THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF DAN WHELDON AND ALL RACING FANS. AT THE TIME I POSTED MY BLOG ABOUT WHAT A GREAT DAY SUNDAY WAS FOR A SPORTS FAN  I WAS NOT AWARE OF THE TRAGIC ACCIDENT AND SUBSEQUENT DEATH OF DAN  IN THE RACE IN LAS VEGAS.  HAVING BEEN A TEAMMATE AND FRIEND OF THURMAN MUNSON, THE YANKEE CAPTAIN WHO WAS KILLED IN  A PLANE CRASH IN 1979, I AM VERY AWARE OF THE SHOCK AND SADNESS PEOPLE FEEL WHEN THEY HEAR ABOUT THE DEATH OF AN ATHLETE WHO WAS NEAR AND DEAR TO SO MANY PEOPLE. WE TEND TO THINK OUR SPORTS HEROS ARE IMMUNE TO TRAGEDIES THAT WE READ ABOUT THAT HAPPEN EVERY DAY.

WITH ALL THE JOYS OF VICTORY AND DISAPPOINTMENTS OF DEFEAT THE ACCIDENT IN LAS VEGAS PUTS LIFE IN IT’S PROPER PERSPECTIVE. THEY’RE ALL JUST GAMES. LIFE IS MORE PRECIOUS THAN A GAME.

HEARFELT CONDOLENCES TO DAN’S WIFE AND CHILDREN. WORDS SEEM SO HOLLOW AT A TIME LIKE THAT BUT ALL WE COULD TELL DIANE MUNSON AFTER THURMAN’S  DEATH WAS…..CHERISH THE MEMORIES.

Performance count or Pitch Count

I was going to wait until the day or days off between the LCS’s and the World Series to vent and/or rant about pitch counts but a stimulating conversation with my friend, former teammate and analyst for Fox, Timmy McCarver, has motivated me to write something now while it’s fresh in my mind and on the heels of Justin Verlander’s performance a couple nights ago. Forgive me for throwing a lot of numbers at you because I try my best to tell baseball stories without confusing numbers. I hope you’ll find these numbers meaningful and appropriate.

This blog is about the ‘trap’ good baseball people have fallen into and it is a trap..I have been guilty of referring to pitch counts on TV and I cringe after I do it because I say to myself, “You know better”, “It should be about the performance not the pitch count”  Justin Verlander was the winning pitcher in game 5 and kept the Tigers alive in the ALCS. But for his last pitch to Nelson Cruz, it would have been spectacular. It was still very good but he seemed to get more publicity, even from his manager, for the number of pitches he threw and not his performance.

I have great respect for Jim Leyland, anyone who wears a big league uniform, players, coaches, and managers. But, it continues to puzzle me that good baseball minds that have never ‘toed the rubber’ in a major league game can tell how a pitcher’s arm feels after a certain number of pitches. How do they know? Is there a data base somewhere that measures fatigue, injury, heart, crispness of pitches that we don’t know about or have never seen??

So, here are some numbers to digest and the I’ll give you my take after 25 seasons and over 4500 innings of pitching in the majors on the ..excuse my bluntness..stupidity…of pitch counts as they are used today.

July 2, 1963 Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal hooked up in a classic pitcher’s duel. Many of you that are avid fans or baseball history buffs are familiar with that game. Willie Mays hit a home run off Spahnie in the 16th inning and the Giants won, 1-0. Marichal also went the distance. Quick side story. I confirmed this while visiting with Juan at this year’s Hall of Fame induction weekend. Alvin Dark, the Giants manager, asked Juan after 12 or 13 innings if he had enough and wanted to come out of the game….Marichal’s response was something like..”The other pitcher is 42 years old. If he’s not coming out, I’m not. Marichal was 25 at the time.. A few more numbers. After that game Spahn’s record was 11 wins 4 losses, Marichal’s 13-3. 5 days later, Wow! they gave them each an extra day of rest. Normal would have been to pitch on the 4th day. Marichal went 7 innings, gave up 2 runs. lost to Bob Gibson and the Cardinals. Tim McCarver caught Gibby’s shutout and went 1 for 4 . Spahn pitched a 5 hit complete game shutout. Spahn ended the season with a record of 23-7, 22 complete games, 259 innings pitched. Marichal went 25-8, 18 complete games and 321 innings pitched. I did not see any record of how many pitches they threw in any of their games. 

Yes, I am being a touch cynical here but the pitch count craze is pretty frustrating for some of us who have been a part of this game and actually experienced what  your pitching arm felt like after games and seasons. Now, here are some really astounding numbers compiled right in Detroit where Justin Verlander pitches. I wonder if any Tiger  personnel have ever asked this pitcher how his arm felt after a certain number of pitches. I’d love to hear his comments. His name is Mickey Lolich. Ask many left handed hitters in the AL during the 60′s and 70′s and they will probably say he was the toughest lefty in the league to bat against. He was the 1968 World series hero. He pitched 3 complete game wins in a 7 game series. Outdueled Bob Gibson in game 7. From 1971-74 Mickey Lolich pitched on average…on average! 330 innings, won 19 games, 23 complete games. Those were his AVERAGE numbers over 4 seasons ! You can go to baseballreference.com and see the individual season numbers. 373 innings pitched one season.

My most memorable personal experience in an extra inning game was when I hooked up with one of my boyhood hero’s, the late Robin Roberts, in the early 60′s. Robby was toward the end of his hall of fame career. I was in my 2nd full season. We each went 11 innings. My arm felt light and loose. My delivery was effortless. I felt like I could have pitched all night. I was fortunate to have won that game. Just a little gloating here about hitting as a pitcher. I actually hit a triple to drive in the lead run. we won 3-1. In several starts during the 60′s I had to face the Detroit Tigers when they had Al Kaline, Willie Hoton, Mickey Stanley, Bill Freehan. All tough right hand batters. Kaline, along with hall of famer Brooks Robinson ranks as ‘my personal toughest out’. After 4 or 5 innings of working through that batting order my arm felt heavy and drained in a lot of those start. The point being, you can throw a high number of pitches in a game where your pitching effectively and efficiently and your arm feels better than in a start like the ones I had against those Tigers where my pitch count was low, [no one knew what the number was, we didn't care]  but I didn’t have the same rhythm or fluid motion.

Here are a few examples of what I learned in my early days as a professional pitcher from some good, knowledgeable, caring teachers. Jack McKeon at age 27 in 1958 was my playing manager. He was our catcher. Our team was the Missoula Timberjacks. Bob Uecker was catching for the Boise Braves!  When I had a few men on base to deal with in the 6th or 7th inning Jack would jog to the mound, spit a little tobacco juice on my spikes and say, “Well kid, let’s see if you can  figure out a way to get out of this mess.”.Some times I did. Some times I didn’t. But I learned how to pitch out of jams and minimize damage. We didn’t have to come out of those games because we were at a certain number of pitches. Unfortunately, today’s pitchers don’t get to do that in the minor leagues.  In spring training, Johnny Sain, my favorite pitching coach, would say. “If you want to be in condition to pitch 9 innings you have to train by pitching more than that. So, after a 6 or 7 inning outing in spring training I would go down to the bullpen and pitch 4 or 5 innings of a ‘simulated’ game to get 11 or 12 innings of work. Eddie Lopat, crafty soft tossing lefty who was a big part of the Yankees success in the late 40′s and early 50′s, taught me to ‘become my own relief pitcher’. His theory was, You may have to pitch Mickey Mantle differently in the 8th inning of a close game so don’t show him everything the 1st at bat or 2. those little tips helped me survive for 25 seasons in the major leagues.

So, I don’t know where the executives, coaches, agents, managers, stat freaks have based their thinking on how a pitcher’s arm feels after a certain number of pitches or innings and I hope, because they are supposed to be intelligent, capable, caring people, they are consulting with the Lolichs and Marichals and Gibsons and many more who have actually experienced what it feels like. I know Nolan Ryan is trying to go in that direction with the Texas Rangers.

I’m almost 73 years old. I love baseball. I love to watch the art of pitching. not the science, the art. I hope in my lifetime I see the elimination of the little box on my TV screen that tells me how many pitches and what % of balls and strikes a pitcher has thrown. Her’s a suggestion. Take all the radar guns that are used to clock pitch speed, the little metal gadgets that coaches click in the dugout to count pitches, melt them all down and have a sculptor create a statue of Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal with a plaque showing their pitching lines from July2, 1963, stand it in front of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with a line at the bottom of the plaque that says. “We don’t know how many pitches they threw!”

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