Results tagged ‘ Barry Bonds ’
In trying to answer the question, “Who is the greatest
living player?,” only a few players even enter the discussion. Willie Mays
comes to mind, as does his controversial godson, Barry Bonds. Fans mindful of
the game’s history may want to include Stan Musial in the conversation. A few
bold contemporary fans might even throw Albert Pujols into the fray, even
though he is still in the midst of career greatness.
The other man who deserves to be mentioned in this
discussion actually visited Cooperstown on
Saturday. Hank Aaron, the game’s longtime home run king who is now second on
the all-time longball list, came to Cooperstown
to participate in the opening of a sparkling new exhibit, known as “Chasing the
Dream,” which details the life and career of “The Hammer.”
Aaron has long wanted the Hall of Fame to honor him with an
exhibit. Clearly, he believes he deserves it. When asked what it meant to join
Babe Ruth as the only men to have entire rooms dedicated to them at the Hall,
Aaron did not supply a politically correct answer that smacked of humility. “It
means I’m supposed to be on the same platform [as Ruth]. I’m proud of what I’ve
I can’t say that I would argue with The Hammer. Given his
ceaseless consistency, his sustained brilliance, his unquestioned success in
the face of racism and hatred, Aaron deserves a special place in the Cooperstown museum. Aaron was not the most colorful or
flashy of ballplayers–he didn’t hit tape measure home runs and he didn’t run
out from under his cap–but he was, if you will, a workmanlike superstar. He was
a true five-tool player who graded out as excellent in all departments:
hitting, speed, defensive prowess, strength of throwing arm, and, of course,
power. And he remained a high-level player well into his late thirties, at a
time when most other stars of his and earlier eras had begun to show
significant levels of decline.
Aaron’s accomplishments become even more impressive in the
face of the shackles that were placed on him early in life. He grew up as part
of a poor family in Mobile,
Alabama. “As a black kid, we
didn’t have that many things to do. You either had sports or you could become a
schoolteacher. There was not many things you could do.”
As a youth, Aaron impressed scouts from the Negro Leagues
enough to merit his first professional contract. “I was signed from the
sandlots of Mobile,”
Aaron told a packed house in the Hall of Fame’s Grandstand Theater. “I got $200
per month. Back then, that was big money,” Aaron said with a chuckle. “I had
been making nothing in Mobile.”
During Negro Leagues stints with the Bears and the Indianapolis
Clowns, Aaron caught the eyes of the Boston Braves, who would soon become the
Milwaukee Braves. The Braves gave Aaron a raise, but sent him to Jacksonville of the South
Atlantic League. Aaron made history by becoming part of a contingent that broke
the league’s longstanding color barrier. “We had three black players on that
team. I had a very good year. I led the league in everything but hotel
Not only did Aaron and his two black teammates have to stay
in separate hotels and eat in different restaurants; they had to endure uncivil
behavior at the games. “The problem we had was with spectators. We had a rough
time in the South. It got ridiculous.
“At some ballparks, we could not dress in the clubhouse. If
you went 0-for-4, the fans would throw bananas at us. After the game, we would
be at the [boarding] house together and say to ourselves, ‘How silly is this?’
Some people were so hateful to us.”
Such abusive and outward racism subsided when Aaron received
his first call to play for the Braves. “Milwaukee
was a great city,” Aaron said unequivocally. “If not for Milwaukee, I didn’t know if I’d be a
ballplayer. The fans were really good. I give them all the credit.”
Aaron not only started his big league career in Milwaukee, but he
finished it there. When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, Aaron moved with them,
staying there long enough to hit his record-breaking 715th home run
in those gaudy blue and white Braves uniforms. After that historic 1974 season,
the Braves sent him back to Milwaukee–by
now the home of the Brewers. Aaron played two seasons with the Brewers as a DH,
before retiring at the end of the 1976 season. He realized that it was
appropriate to call it quits. “The last year in Milwaukee, Del
Crandall was the manager. I slid into what I thought was a base, but the base
was 15 feet away. I knew it was time.”
Just like it was time for the Hall of Fame to create an
exhibit in his honor. It’s tastefully done and aesthetically pleasing, with a collage of
Aaron photos as you first enter, followed by four distinct sections that
chronicle The Hammer’s youth, his minor league days, his halcyon major league
career, and the good work he’s done after baseball, highlighted by his “Chasing the Dream” foundation.
Thirty five years after succeeding Ruth, Aaron and the Babe now stand alone–with rooms all to themselves–right here in Cooperstown.
The Hall of Fame usually avoids controversy like the Bubonic plague, but the ongoing steroids mess has prompted a formal response from the institution’s president. In an e-mail to the Chicago Tribune, Jeff Idelson announced that the Hall has no plans to change its election rules as a way of specifically addressing the issue of steroids. “Election rules are straightforward and include instructing voters to look beyond the statistics and examine a player’s character, integrity and sportsmanship … their overall contribution to the game. To what percentage each quality is weighed is up to each individual voter.” In other words, steroids count in this discussion, but it’s up to each individual writer to decide how much they count. From where I’m standing, especially given the Hall’s longstanding philosophy of including off-the-field behavior as part of its election criteria, that seems like a reasonable and rational approach.
I might, however, be tempted to take Idelson’s pronouncement and push it a step further. The Hall should make it clear to the voters that there must be some evidence of steroid use on the part of a candidate. For example, there needs to be a failed steroids test, formal charges brought against a player, a listing in the Mitchell Report, or some other clear-cut reason (like blatantly stonewalling Congress) for a candidate to be considered a user of performance enhancing drugs. I’m not talking about the level of evidence needed to convict in a court of law, but clearly, rumor and innuendo are not enough.
Some writers, like Joe Posnanski, have been clamoring for the Hall to drop the “character and integrity” clause, especially in response to the steroids issue. Posnanski’s suggestion is designed to clear a Hall of Fame path for people like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez, while reducing the repeated chatter and debate about steroids. Unfortunately, steroids create a complexity of issues that cannot be resolved with one fell swoop. More directly, Posnanski’s suggestion falls short on two counts. First, it’s likely that many of the writers, especially veteran scribes, would disregard the new edict and continue to consider off-the-field considerations like “character,” while continuing to exclude suspected steroid users like Mark McGwire. So at least in the short term, the effect of such a rules change would be nominal. Second, let’s consider a larger issue. Even if some of us do not consider steroid use a moral offense, what about more serious crimes, such as spousal abuse, physical assault, and even murder? To use an extreme example, do we really want someone like O.J. Simpson slithering around the Baseball Hall of Fame during Induction Weekend? I don’t. I want character to count for something.
To this argument, I know that some will counter by saying that the Hall already includes men of questionable “character,” like notorious racist Ty Cobb and confessed spitballer Gaylord Perry. My response? Well, perhaps the writers made a mistake by electing them to the Hall of Fame in the first place. Perhaps there should be a mechanism to remove them (though such a mechanism would be highly problematic and would create a public relations nightmare). But in the meantime, until someone comes up with a better idea than Posnanski’s suggestion, the Hall should continue to include a “character and integrity” clause, emphasizing to the writers that such qualities must be factors in considering a player’s worthiness of induction. They don’t have to be overriding factors, but they should be part of the equation. That seems reasonable to me because the Hall, after all, is about more than just numbers and statistics. Or at least it should be.
Jim “Mudcat” Grant created a bit of a stir in Cooperstown on Thursday when he likened Barry Bonds to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. Basically, Grant said that Bonds has been put under same kind of intense scrutiny of someone running for president, which has made him a target for criticism on so many fronts. Grant defended Bonds in the interview, saying that he deserves the presumption of innocence on the steroid issue. Grant’s defense of Bonds isn’t surprising considering his long friendship with Barry’s late father, Bobby Bonds. Grant pitched against the elder Bonds in the late 1960s and early seventies, when Mudcat played for the Expos, Cardinals and Pirates and Bobby starred for the Giants. Frankly, what Grant said amounted to very little in terms of real controversy, but it did make a few headlines…
I’ve sometimes compared Mudcat to the late Buck O’Neil, as far as their abilities to charmingly spin stories and make friends. Well, O’Neill will officially be honored on Friday afternoon, when the Hall unveils his new bronze statue in a ceremony taking place in front of the Museum. The statue coincides with a new award the Hall has created, the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. O’Neill, who died two years ago, will be named the first winner of the award during Sunday afternoon’s induction ceremony…
I’m off to the Otesaga Hotel, where I’ll be interviewing Hall of Famers Juan Marichal, Luis Aparicio, Orlando Cepeda, and Tony Perez. The material from these video interviews will be used by the Hall of Fame as part of a new permanent exhibit about the Latino baseball experience. The new exhibit will debut in 2009. Hey, I’m just excited about being allowed into the Otesaga. It’s where all the Hall of Famers stay, and security is usually at the level of something that might be employed by the CIA. Hopefully, they’ll let me in the door.
The Yankees’ Tuesday night loss to the Devil Rays underscored two of their biggest problem points this season: shoddy defense and an inability to hit with runners in scoring position. In the ninth inning, rookie second baseman Robinson Cano made three different mistakes, including a botch-up of a routine ground ball up the middle that allowed the game’s winning run to scored. After the initial error, Cano passively played a ground ball by the speedy Carl Crawford, who beat the throw to first base. And then when Crawford took off for second base on a stolen basse attempt, Cano took the throw in front of the bag and tried to sweep the tag backward instead of straddling the bag and applying a more direct tag to Crawford. Fortunately for the Yankees, Crawford didn’t come home to score, but the damage had already been done to Mariano Rivera, who didn’t allow a hard hit ball in the entire inning and deserved a better ninth-inning fate… The Yankees’ offense didn’t perform much better. After jumping on Casey Fossum for three early runs, the Yankees failed to score over the final seven frames. They collected 11 hits on the night, but once again couldn’t put forth the kind of timely hit that would have put the game away against a non-contending team. The ankees also showed a terrible lack of patience in the ninth inning, as Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter both swung at first pitches, Posada grounding out to third and Jeter tapping into a game-ending double play. For the Yankees, it was simply one of their worst loss of the season–and the latest in a long line of 2005 defeats to Lou Piniella’s Devil Rays…
The Pirates made news on Tuesday when they announced the firing of Lloyd McClendon and the hiring of Pete Mackanin on an interim basis. Former Bucs skipper Jim Leyland appears to be the leading candidate for the permanent position, with Pirate coach John Russell also in the running. While Leyland’s resume is superior, he might not have the youthful energy needed for the massive rebuilding project the Pirates face. Leyland was considered a candidate for the Mets’ job last winter, but there were questions about Leyland’s willingness to put in the long hours that the modern day managerial job requires… I’d like to see the Pirates go in a different direction. Why not bring back one of the former players from their glory days, one who remembers what it was like to win in a Pirates uniform and who’s had experience as either a major league coach or minor league manager? Former Pirates outfielder Gene Clines, a coach under Dusty Baker in Chicago, is an intelligent baseball man who relates well to players, even ones with difficult personalities like Barry Bonds. (Clines was Bonds’ hitting instructor with the Giants.) Another possibility would be former Bucs third baseman Richie Hebner, who has loads of experience as both a manager and coach in the minor leagues. If nothing else, Hebner would bring some flavor to the Pirates’ dugout, with his off-color language and old style baseball chatter. As Cosmo Kramer would say, Hebner likes to “let the expletives fly.” Given the Pirates’ performance this summer, a few expletives are probably in order…
Speaking of Bonds, he appears ready to return to the Giants later this month, though it remains to be seen whether he plays the outfield regularly or merely comes off the bench as a pinch-hitter. It’s been revealed that former Giants reliever Jason Christiansen was the teammate that grappled with Bonds in an off-field incident earlier this season. (Not surprisingly, Christiansen has since been traded.) According to several news sources, Bonds struck Christiansen in the jaw and Christiansen responded by tying up Bonds in a headlock. If it had been Cliff Johnson putting the temperamental Giant in the headlock, Bonds’ season might truly be over.