Innocent Till Proven Guilty – What a Concept!

mlblogoIt seems new baseball commissioner Rob Manfred believes in the model of the US justice system. In a recent interview with ESPN, Manfred gave his “advice” to Hall of Fame voters in an attempt to stop the holier-than-thou crusades that many of the baseball writers have undertaken. Good for him!

“The only piece of advice that I’m comfortable giving is that I think that everyone should keep in mind the difference between players who tested positive and were disciplined on the one hand, and players where somebody has surmised that they did something on the other. And I think, based on what you read in the media, sometimes those lines get blurred. And I think it gets really important to keep that distinction in mind,” Manfred said.

“I think it’s unfair,” he continued, “for people to surmise that Player A did X, Y or Z, absent a positive test, or proof that we produced in an investigation, or whatever. I just think it runs contrary to a very fundamental notion in our society, that you’re innocent until somebody proves you’re guilty.”

Perfect. Well… almost.

“I think you get to the point, on any individual player — I’m talking about just as a general proposition, not necessarily talking about Barry Bonds,” the commissioner said. “You get to a point where there’s a quantum of credible evidence out there that you can make a judgment that he did something.”

Manfred further clouded his first comments when he referenced the Mitchell report commissioned by Bud Selig. “I think the Mitchell report produced evidence of use,” Manfred said.

Whoa. The Mitchell report did no such thing. It was the equivalent of a witch hunt/McCarthy hearing. Granted, there was pretty solid evidence that some of the players mentioned did use PEDs. However, for others it was a case of “he said, he said,” with no hard evidence to prove anything. If, indeed, Mr. Manfred wants voters to use the innocent-until-proven-guilty philosophy when voting for the Hall, that would include some of the players on the Mitchell Report.

We know guys like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and Alex Rodriguez used PEDs. It is likely Barry Bonds did as well. Hell, he was convicted of perjuring himself on the subject. I am not certain Gary Sheffield did. One FedEx receipt does not a guilty man make. Roger Clemens has spent millions of dollars defending his reputation and has been successful. Granted, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence, but many a legal trial has found defendants not guilty because of a lack of hard evidence.

Hell, in this day of Internet character assassination, people would condemn Mother Teresa because she didn’t quite do enough to help the poor, Abraham Lincoln because he let the Civil War go on too long, and George Washington for losing too many battles during the Revolutionary War.  In my opinion, many of the Hall of Fame voters have joined in this kind of mob mentality when condemning players without the evidence to back it up.

While I applaud the concept of the commissioners comments, the longer the interview went on, the more he confused things. I think he should have stopped and changed the subject when he said, “I just think it runs contrary to a very fundamental notion in our society, that you’re innocent until somebody proves you’re guilty.”

Amen.

 

A Legend Passes Away – Ernie Banks

erniebanksOne of the great ambassadors for the game of baseball and one of the nicest gentlemen you ever want to meet passed away yesterday. Ernie Banks was 83 years old and even in his later years had the enthusiasm for the game of someone less than half his age.

I was fortunate enough to meet him once and it is a memory etched forever in my mind. It’s not every day that you get to meet a Hall of Famer and someone who is arguably the most-loved sports figure of an entire city. Yes, I know Chicago had Michael Jordan, and the Cubs also had Ron Santo who became more popular as a broadcaster than he was as a player. But Ernie Banks was Mr. Cub, and he was also likely the most approachable legend ever. He never got caught up in being “Ernie Banks.” He just loved the game, loved his city, and returned the love of the people who loved him.

Banks started his career in 1953 as a shortstop and won two MVP awards and played in seven All-Star games at that position. He moved to first base in 1962 and played in four more All-Star games there. He wasn’t what you would call flashy in the field, but he was steady. In fact, he won just one Gold Glove at short (1960).

You could also pencil him in the lineup nearly every day. With the exception of his rookie year and the two final years of his career, Banks never played fewer than 138 games in a season. He played 150 or more games 11 times in his 19-year career. He also hit 512 career home runs at a time when 500 homers was a really big deal. And think about this in the day when pitchers are getting 30 million bucks a year, he never made more than $60k in one season. In fact, his rookie year contract was for the whopping sum of $2,000.

I got to watch him play a few times on television in the final couple years of his career, but unfortunately my 11-year old mind didn’t register then that I was witnessing one of the all-time greats. I wish I had. He finished his career in 1971 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.

I do know that when I met him when I was in my early 40s and well into my new hobby of being a baseball geek, I took the time to tell him that I felt honored to meet someone who had given so many people so much joy when he played. I remember him saying, “Aw heck, I was the one having the fun!”

I was in his presence for only about five minutes, and I don’t think he ever stopped smiling. I just hope he’s up there now telling God, “Let’s play two!”

RIP, Mr. Banks.

Looking Ahead to the 2016 HOF Class

cooperstownsignWith the announcement today that Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio were inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame, I thought I would take a quick look at the 2016 ballot listed on Baseball-Reference.com. Baseball fans can’t get enough of this stuff… so why not?

The only new player on the ballot next year that is a slam dunk is Ken Griffey Jr. Trevor Hoffman will be included next year and will definitely get some support,but he’s not getting elected in his first try. Outside of maybe Jim Edmonds, the rest of the first-year guys in 2016 are likely to not get enough votes to stay on the ballot after the first year.

Mike Piazza was close this year, and I think the weak ballot next year means the Hall will be opening their doors to him. Ditto for Jeff Bagwell and, perhaps, Curt Schilling. If the voters are feeling really spunky, maybe Tim Raines gets enough in his ninth year to make it.

I’ve already made my feelings clear on Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds – they belong in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think they’ll make it next year, but I can see momentum building that gets them in in two or three. Let’s remember there were rumors about Piazza, Bagwell, and others, yet the voters seem to be taking it out on two guys. Very hypocritical, if you ask me.

I am also hoping Bud Selig considers lifting Pete Rose’s ban before he leaves office at the end of the month. I would love to see him open Pete’s way to the Hall, while still keeping him from actively participating in current baseball activities. His on-the-field performance earned him a chance to be in the Hall. His off-the-field betting means he shouldn’t be allowed to be a manager or front office executive.

2017’s first-year members aren’t real strong either – unless you count PED guys Ivan Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez. So, there is definitely a chance that the rest of this strong class from the 2015 ballot, including someone like Mike Mussina, will make it in the next two years.

My Hall of Fame Ballot – Part II

BaseballThe second half of my hypothetical Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is where most of the debate will come, I suspect – especially since I left off a guy that got over 50 percent of the votes in 2014. My final five are:

Craig Biggio – He fell just a couple of votes short last season, but certainly deserves to be in. The 3,060 hits he compiled alone are grounds for automatic selection to the HOF. With the exception of speed numbers (stolen bases and triples), Biggio’s numbers are equal to or better than Joe Morgan, who’s already in the Hall of Fame. He had 500 more hits, 200 more doubles, more homers, and more RBI than Morgan. He also batted ten points higher. Morgan has him in OBP, but the previous comparisons alone tell you Biggio belongs in the HOF.

Mike Piazza – Here’s another guy who had PED whispers – yet he seems to get more consideration than Bonds and Clemens. There is no arguing the fact the Piazza is the best hitting catcher in the history of the game. The 1993 NL Rookie of the Year, Piazza was a 12-time All-Star who had 427 career homers and batter .308. The only current HOF catcher with more hits than Piazza is Carlton Fisk – whose career lasted eight years longer.

Tim Raines – Outside of Rickey Henderson, he’s the best leadoff hitter I ever saw play. I think he was as good or better than Lou Brock, who is also in the Hall of Fame. Raines had 808 career steals, which is fifth all-time (the top four are all in the HOF). He hit a solid .294 in his career and won the NL batting title in 1986. He was a seven-time All-Star and stole 40 or more bases 11 times. I wonder if all the moving around in the latter part of his career (five teams in his final six seasons) is what has hurt his candidacy.

Curt Schilling – Look up “winner” in the dictionary and you’ll likely find Schilling’s picture there. He had 216 career wins, 3,116 strikeouts (15th all-time), and a strike out to walk ratio that is second best all-time. He was a six-time All-Star. He never won a Cy Young, but finished second three times. He won twenty games three times – amazingly, all of those were in the final six years of his career. All that aside, he may be the best “big game” pitcher ever. He was 11-2 in post-season play, including a 4-1 mark in the World Series, with a 2.23 ERA and a WHIP of 0.96. Whether you believe the tale of “The Bloody Sock Game” or not, his playoff numbers don’t lie.

Alan Trammell – I put him on my ballot ahead of a couple of others for one reason – he belongs to be in the HOF and his time on the ballot is running out. Trammell was a GREAT shortstop. If you compare his numbers with Barry Larkin (a first-ballot HOFer) you’ll see Trammell compares more than favorably. Larkin hit a few points higher and stole more bases, but the averages of the two men over 162 games are very close. Frankly, I also think Trammell was a better fielder, though he won four Gold Gloves to Larkin’s three – very close. I just feel like one of the better shortstops in modern times is being shuffled aside because of some gaudy offensive numbers by other players.

 

There you have it. Yes, I left off Jeff Bagwell, another player with PED whispers that will eventually get in – but if the writers are going to vote people like him and Piazza in, how can they draw a line and say they’re “clean,” but Clemens and Bonds are less clean. Without definitive proof the members of the BBWAA have are appointing themselves judge, jury, and executioner.

Mike Mussina (a guy I think will get in eventually), and Edgar Martinez (another guy that probably deserves it) also warranted strong consideration. I think some worthy players are going to be left out unless the BBWAA increases the number of players that can be included on the ballot from the current ten to, say, twelve. I think that is even more important now that the Hall of Fame has reduced the number of years a player can be on the ballot from fifteen to ten.

I think Pedro and Randy Johnson are automatic selections for this year, and I think Biggio will also get in. I think Smoltz should, but the BBWAA hasn’t elected four players in one class in the last fifty years. In fact, they’ve only done it three times in 75 years. Smoltz and the rest of us will just have to wait and see what the decision is on January 6.