Yankee alumni continue to make history in Hall of Fame

There was a lot of talk leading up to Tuesday night’s announcement as to who would be inducted into the Hall of Fame this coming summer. The select few would join Lee Smith and Harold Baines, the two veteran players selected by the Today’s Game Era ballot late last year. And if recent years have taught us anything, no one is ever a solid shoo-in, and certainly no one is ever voted in 100% of the time.

But no one is Mariano Rivera.

For the first time in 75 years of inductions, Rivera was the first player to ever garner 100% of the votes of the members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. And he beat some of the best in the business to get there. Ken Griffey Jr. got really close in 2016 with 99.32% of the votes, breaking Tom Seaver’s previous record from 1992 with 98.84%.

But you really couldn’t find a better person or player to be inducted with the highest honor of unanimous. Mariano Rivera was one of those players who just seemed to get better as the years went on. His 19-year professional career in pinstripes was marked by that special pitch, “the cutter”, something that was just a “lights out pitch” for nearly every batter he faced. He remains the all-time saves leader with 652 saves, was a 13-time All-Star, and was the MVP of the 1999 World Series, 2003 ALCS, and 2013 All-Star Game.

In addition, he was a family man and a man of strong but quiet faith, who brought a great sense of fun, joy, and leadership to the clubhouse and to his community. His family was with him when the announcement was made and their celebrations are just a small preview of all of Yankee Universe’s. The Hall of Fame’s glass ceiling of inaccessibility via unanimous has been broken, and the record holder was not only a Yankee, but one of the best guys to ever play the game on and off the field.

Joining Rivera this year on the stage in Cooperstown will be former teammate Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, and the family of the late Roy Halladay. Halladay enters with 85.4% of the vote. A pitcher with the Blue Jays and Phillies, he passed away in November 2017 in a plane accident near his Florida home, legacy on the field was outstanding, winning 2 Cy Young awards (2003, 2010), completed 7 games, was a 3-time 20-game winner and an 8-time All-Star. His sons continue his legacy, one currently a star pitcher for Penn State, who also got a chance to pitch in a Spring Training game last year against his dad’s former team (Blue Jays).

Edgar Martinez, a Mariners’ power-hitter for 18 seasons, boasts quite a few batting titles and 5 Silver Slugger awards. Martinez worked his way up the Hall of Fame election ladder, this being his 10th and final year eligible for the Hall, and ending up with 85.4% of the final vote.

And Yankees fans will remember Mike Mussina’s now famous moment telling manager Joe Torre to return to the dugout because he was going to finish the game in May 2006. He ended up finishing the game with 101 pitches, fending off the Tigers for the win. But that was just one of many in Mussina’s storied career, first with the Orioles and then with the Yankees for 18 seasons, including 7 Gold Gloves and being a 5-time All-Star. This was his 6th year on the ballot and finally eked over that 75% mark with 76.7% of the votes to become enshrined in the Hall.

Festivities will honor the six men this summer (July 19-22), with the formal ceremony occurring on Sunday, July 21. Seeing as Cooperstown is still in the middle of winter and about to get more snow (already over 2 inches this month alone) this weekend, summer festivities are sounding better and better. Congratulations to the whole 2019 Class on their well-deserved honor!

In quick Yankee news: the Yankees have officially traded starter Sonny Gray in a 3-team deal earlier this week. Sonny Gray and a minor league pitcher were traded to the Reds for an infield prospect and a future draft pick, but the Yankees turned around and sent that prospect to the Mariners for an outfield prospect Josh Stowers.

Gray’s deal was contingent on his acceptance of Cincinnati’s terms, which he ultimately agreed to — an additional 3-years with a club option for 2023. While Gray certainly will be missed in the clubhouse, his struggles at home led to early trade conversations. New York is a hard city to play for, so our best wishes follow Gray to the Midwest as he finds his footing in red rather than pinstripe blue.

And a small reminder: the Yankees’ first Spring Training game is exactly one month from today. Spring is just around the corner.

Go Yankees!

Hall of Fame near miss & other random off-season moments

After several months of speculation and journalists openly sharing their votes, the Baseball Writers Association of America released the much-anticipated results of the annual Hall of Fame election. In December, the Veterans Committee selected 4-time World Series pitcher Jack Norris (1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins, 1992-93 Blue Jays) and his 1984 Tigers’ teammate, 6-time All-Star shortstop and 1984 World Series MVP, Alan Trammel. Joining them, the BBWAA announced newest inductees Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero, all well-deserved honorees.

Elected with 97.2% of the vote, Jones spent his entire 19 year career with the Braves at 3rd base and became a fixture in the Atlanta area. He was part of the 1995, 1996, and 1999 World Series teams, winning a ring with the Hall of Fame worthy 1995 team against the Indians. (Jones joins other 1995 Braves teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddox (HOF class of 2014) and John Smoltz (class of 2015) at Cooperstown.) Jones also earned the NL MVP Award in 1999 and was an 8-time All-Star.

{Worth reminding my primary audience here: the Braves team in 1996 and 1999 faced and lost to the last dynasty of the Yankees. It was 6 games in the 1996 series, before they were swept in the 1999 series by the unstoppable Yankees that year.}

On the other side of that World Series was a noted 1st baseman and fellow 2018 inductee Jim Thome (89.8% of the votes). Thome spent his 22 year career primarily with the Indians (1991-2002, 2011), helping them reach the 1995 and 1997 World Series but failed to get a ring (losing to the Braves and Marlins, respectively). Over the course of his career, he was a 5-time All-Star and led the National League with 47 home runs in his 2003 season with the Phillies. Thome also won the 2002 Roberto Clemente Award for his outstanding contributions both on the field and off.

Reliever Hoffman (79.9%) spent the bulk of his 18 year with the Padres (1993-2008), including the year they met the Yankees in the World Series in 1998. The Yankees swept them in 4 games (again, part of that unstoppable dynasty era). But Hoffman still made quite the impact in his career as a 7-time All-Star and leading the NL in saves both in 1998 (with 53) and in 2006 (with 46).

Guerrero (92.9%) spent his 16 year career in the outfield, the bulk of which first with the Expos (1996-2003) and then with the Angels (2004-2009). He also got a shot at the World Series with the 2010 Rangers, but they fell to the Giants that year. Guerrero was a 9-time All-Star and 2004 AL MVP. He also polishes his well-earned 8 Silver Slugger Awards in his trophy case as part of his career accomplishments.

Falling just short of the 75% of the votes needed included Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, getting 63.5% . Any player receiving less than 5% of the votes are automatically dropped from the ballot the following year (including former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui). However, those above 5% and less than 75% move on to hope for another year including Mussina, Roger Clemens (57.3%), Gary Sheffield (11.1%), and Andruw Jones (7.3%). Mussina keeps missing the mark, while Clemens battles the rumors of his past PED use, similar to Giants legend Barry Bonds (who fell short at 56.4%).

It is also worth noting that there were 422 submitted ballots, including 1 left intentionally blank (because where would the fun be in someone getting elected with 100% of the votes). Of those, only 12 ballots didn’t elect Jones, which is why he only got 97% of the vote. Notably, there was also one voter that only voted for Indians alumni (Thome and Omar Vizquel). And if you’re feeling a weird flashback to high school elections for prom court or student council, you’re 100% on track. Some people use their vote to make a point (the blank ballot or all Indians ballot), some to play favorites (a few intentionally anti-Yankee alumni), and some thought through the process of such an honor and chose players that rightfully deserve legacy status. I have mixed feelings every year — I agree every time with who will be feted in July, but I am always irked by who “falls short” due to those who vote in the first two categories.

No, I don’t have a vote. But I do have an opinion.

In lighter news, and back to focusing on Yankees, the off-season has been pretty good for the boys. They’ve been working out, having fun on the practice fields, and enjoying fan art. Meanwhile, the biggest end of season trend last year was Gary the “Thumbs Down” Guy, a Mets fan who flashed the “thumbs down” during a Todd Frazier home run at the special game at CitiField in September. It became a huge meme and thing for the Yankees to do during something amazing and gave New Yorker Gary Dunaier his 15 minutes of fame (or rather 4 months and counting). Frazier and Dunaier finally met earlier this week at an event on Staten Island.

Legend-in-the-making and video game cover guy Aaron Judge got to practice his swing (and bat flip) in a motion-capture suit. He will premier on the cover of MLB The Show 2018 and show off his home run swing for Play Station come March 27 (or March 23 for pre-orders). I’m sure video game players are eagerly awaiting the chance to be the 2017 Rookie of the Year, but I’m just looking forward to the real live player in Spring Training next month.

In Yankees’ Minor League news: The Yankees AA team, the Trenton Thunder, will honor its 25th anniversary this year by playing every Friday game as the “Trenton Pork Rolls“, starting May 18. I swear this is not a “fake” story. Apparently, it’s a local thing, the pork roll, and I’m sure it’s delicious (albeit not very Kosher). And sadly, that is not the weirdest name (and this doesn’t include the Jumbo Shrimp and the Baby Cakes) of a minor league team in the system. And fortunately, it’s only on Fridays. (But what a thing to have on your resume!)

Meanwhile, the Advanced-A Yankees affiliate (and current Steinbrenner Field residents), the Tampa Yankees, made the announcement last month that they would begin the 2018 season with their own name change — the Tampa Tarpons. The Tarpons were a team for about 3 decades in the middle of last century, though baseball has been played in Tampa for over 100 years, including extensively hosting Spring Training. Locally, the tarpon is a large fish, popular with sports fisherman and found off the Gulf Coast, and a neighboring local city is Tarpon Springs. So the Tampa Tarpons found something steeped in local tradition and lore.

The 2018 season is rapidly approaching. 20 days until pitchers and catchers report (Feb. 13). 30 days until the first Spring Training game (Feb. 23 against the Tigers). 65 days until the first game of the season (March 29 in Toronto). And 69 days until the home opener (April 2 against the Rays).

But who’s counting?

Go Yankees!

It’s almost Spring…

Well, now that the other major American sport has taken its bow, it’s time to focus on the real American pastime. And before you’re wondering, I write a blog about the New York Yankees, which team could I possibly back in the big game last night — the team that plays in Boston or the one that doesn’t?

Anyway, just a couple of days ago, the Yankees posted pictures of their staff loading up all their equipment, loading it onto the truck, and sending it on its way down to Tampa. Many on the current roster and invitees (including quite a few of the Baby Bombers on the top 100 prospects list) are showing up at the minor league complex for early workouts. Tickets to games are being purchased, renovations at the field are almost done, and the countdown in down to mere days. Yes, Yankee Universe, it’s almost Spring Training.

The Yankees have wrapped up the last few weeks of their off-season in many ways. Last month, Chance Adams, Starlin Castro, Clint Frazier, Chase Headley, Matt Holliday, James Kaprielian, CC Sabathia, Gary Sanchez, Justus Sheffield, and Gleyber Torres helped out with the Yankees first ever “Winter Warm-up“, an event designed to introduce new players to New York and its legacy and community with the help of some of the veterans. This included surprising a life-long fan with VIP tickets; touring the City and Yankee Stadium; holding a live-streamed town hall for fans; visiting a senior center, an elementary school, a senior community event, and cancer center; calling season ticket holders personally; and surprising Bronx residents joining them for lunch at a local restaurant.

At a special awards banquet in January, quite a few Yankees were recognized for their contributions in baseball this past season. Last year’s “Warriors Three” (or No-Runs DMC, as some rogue reporters seems to believe they should be dubbed), Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman were recognized by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America with the “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke Award” for their outstanding teamwork this year. What is especially significant is that this three-headed monster was split in July when Chapman went to the Cubs (and got a ring) and Miller went to the Indians (and almost got a ring, settling for the AL MVP instead). Betances took over the closing role to finish the season but is more than willing to slide back to set-up man after the Yankees resigned Chapman in December. The local writers’ group also honored other Yankees at that dinner. Chase Headley received the “Good Guy Award” and Mark Teixeira shared the Slocum Award for Long and Meritorious Service with Boston’s David Ortiz, in addition to a number of other awards given across baseball.

Overlapping Spring Training once again is the World Baseball Classic. As of this posting, only two Yankees have committed to play for the WBC. Didi Gregorius will play for the Dutch team, which is scheduled to start its games March 7 in Seoul against South Korea, Taipei, and Israel. Dellin Betances has committed to play for the Dominican Republic, which starts its games March 9 in Miami against Canada, the United States, and Columbia. There was talk that Sanchez might join Betances on the reigning championship team, but the closer to Spring Training, the less likely the chances. Masahiro Tanaka was offered a spot on the Japanese team, but opted for Spring Training to get back in the momentum of being a Yankee and come out stronger than last year.

In a single day last month, the baseball world lost two of its members in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic. Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, 25, was a key part of the Royals’ 2014 World Series attempt and their 2015 World Series win, even earning Rookie of the Year in 2014. Former third baseman Andy Marte, 33, was originally signed by the Braves in 2005 before spending the bulk of his career with the Indians and most recently the 2014 season with the Diamondbacks and a team in South Korea. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with their families and friends as they mourn their loved ones.

I wish I could tell you the Yankees had some good news about the Hall of Fame results, but it was not to be this year. Instead, the BBWAA (the same guys who recognized Teixeira, Betances, and Headley) decided that just three former players would make it to Cooperstown this year — Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. The trio are the only three who made the cut-off at 75% of the earned votes. Most Yankee fans will probably only remember two names — Mike Mussina (holding on for another year at 51.8% of the vote) and Jorge Posada (who failed to get the minimum 5% voting needed to stay on the ballot next year at 3.8%).

Bagwell spent all 15 seasons (1991-2005) with the Astros, as their star first baseman. Raines is predominantly known as the left fielder of the Expos (1979-1990, 2001), but he also spent some of his 23 seasons with the White Sox, Athletics, Marlins, Orioles, and Yankees. Raines spent his time with the Yankees during the start of the most recent dynasty, 1996-1998, even earning a 1996 World Series ring for his postseason contributions. Rodriguez spent the majority of his 21 seasons with the Rangers (1991-2002, 2009), eventually spending time with the Marlins, Tigers, Astros, Nationals, and Yankees. Rodriguez may be the most familiar to current Yankee fans as he spent the latter half of the 2008 season in pinstripes as back-up catcher. As expected, neither of the former Yankees will be donning a Yankee insignia on their monument plaque in the Hall of Fame, which will be honored and unveiled on July 30.

Okay, so here’s important Spring dates to remember: February 14 — pitchers and catchers report to camp (8 days away); February 15 — pitcher and catchers work out day, Steinbrenner Field open to public if you want to watch the work outs (9 days); February 18 — full squad reporting day (12 days); February 19 — full squad work out day (13 days); February 24 — Spring Training home opener vs. Phillies (18 days); April 2 — Season Opener at the Rays (55 days); and April 10 — Home opener vs. the Rays (62 days).

Yes, it’s almost Spring…

Go Yankees!

Yankee greats fall short of Hall

It looks like the only Yankee headed to Cooperstown this year is Joe Torre.

According to the election rules, the eligible players must receive at least 75% of the votes to be elected to the Hall of Fame. This year, only three made the cut. Former Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine garnered 97.2% and 91.9%, respectively, and former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas earned 83.7%. Maddux and Glavine certainly were part of the dynamic Braves dynasty in the 90’s that led them to the World Series three times — the 1995 win over the Indians and the 1996 and 1999 losses to the Yankees. Both were truly outstanding, earning an unheard of number of win in the era of power-slugging with the aid of steroid and PEDs. Thomas had the unfortunate luck of being on the White Sox in a post-season slump era of the Chicago team; Thomas helped the Chicago team at least vie for October in 1993 and 2000, between his outstanding hitting (he ended his 19 year career with a .301 average) and his time at 1st base.

More rules restrict who can appear on the ballot next year. If players fail to get at least 5% of the votes or if they are on the ballot for 15 years without getting the 75% to be elected, they are automatically disqualified from future ballots. A slew of 1st year nominees are eliminated due to low voting and only one 15 year veteran nominee won’t make next year’s list (a total of 16 eliminations).

A few interesting things happened on the ballot this year. 2nd year nominee Craig Biggio (Astros) fell just .2% of the line, which is close enough to believe next year might be the year for him. And another 2nd year nominee Mike Piazza (Mets) came in with 62.2%. Piazza’s been dodging PED rumors for years, which is another interesting revelation about this year’s ballot. Most of those who were either rumored or confessed to using PEDs (like Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, and Piazza) failed once again to make the cut but still garnered enough votes to stay in the running. I think there’s some internal battle between their honest potential and great numbers during the unregulated “steroid era” and the desire to see and keep a clean game now. In the same vein of recognizing and honoring true heroes who exemplify the class and dignity and integrity of the game, I think there will be a continual struggle as more and more from that era continue to age out and retire in the days to come.

Former Yankees Roger Clemens (2nd year), Mike Mussina (1st year), and Don Mattingly (14th year) all failed to make the cut. Clemens, though officially cleared of any misdoing with PEDs, is still tainted in many people’s minds and that could ultimately keep him from the Hall. Mussina earned just 20.3% of the votes, which means he has a steep road to climb to get that 75% one day; the score was awfully low in light of Mussina’s outstanding career, but perhaps in this class with Maddux and Glavine, Mussina gets a little overshadowed. And with Mattingly, I’m guessing he will have to wait for the Veterans’ Committee Ballot one day.

It’s so easy to imagine Hall of Fame inductions for some of the recent and current Yankees, but the truth is that because there’s a voting process, nothing is certain. Sure, players like Mariano Rivera seem like a first ballot shoo-in (and most people believe he should be the first 100% ever inducted), but there’s a lot of anti-Yankee sentiment among the Baseball Writers, even for universally admired players like Rivera. Ultimately, it’s a popularity contest, and being on the “wrong team” or associated with the “wrong kind of people” or whatever could very easily leave someone out in the cold. I’m not sure how many people elected to the Hall decades ago would fare with today’s “standards” and today’s 24/7 media coverage, exposing less-than-ideal character qualities and habits in many players we, a few generations later, esteem as the “best of the best”.

Maybe there was a bit of a push in the early days of Cooperstown to fill in as many spots as possible, remembering as many people who played the game we love before they disappeared into oblivion. It seems that more recently the Hall has been more restrictive with its allowances, as if the spots were few and far between. Even now, when people talk about potential Hall of Famers, it’s spoken with due reverence but also as if it’s nearly impossible for even the greats to achieve such an honor. And as the years pass, that standard continues to be raised for every generation, every new class of nominees. But will we keep raising that bar until there is no more elections because there is no perfect player? There is a difference between excellence and perfection. No one expects perfection, but Cooperstown should always honor excellence. If they hit that eventual standard of perfection only, the Hall will undoubtedly be filled with many flawed men from days gone by and that gap between the standard that was and the standard that is will grow until we alienate current generations of little leaguers from professional ball.

Always strive for excellence, keeping that standard high and honoring it wherever you see it. You’ll know it when you see it.

Go Yankees!

Hall-of-Fame ballots out

The 2014 Hall of Fame ballot went out today for all eligible BBWAA member to submit their votes. Since I am not one, I can discuss all my opinions on here with my faithful readers. Last year, the only new members were part of the Veterans’ Ballot, a special election as voted on by a small committee composed mostly of Hall-of-Fame players, executives, and other historians.

This year 19 new names are on the ballot — Moises Alou, Armando Benitez, Sean Casey, Ray Durham, Eric Gagne, Tom Glavine, Luis Gonzalez, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones, Jeff Kent, Paul Lo Duca, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, Hideo Nomo, Kenny Rogers, Richie Sexson, J.T. Snow, Frank Thomas, and Mike Timlin. Making their second appearance on the ballot — Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa. Other repeat candidates: Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, and Larry Walker (4th year); Edgar Martinez and Fred McGriff (5th year); Tim Raines (7th year); Mark McGwire (8th year); Lee Smith (12th year); Alan Trammell (13th year); Don Mattingly (14th year); and Jack Morris (15th year).

Here’s how it works: all the candidates are then voted on by the BBWAA (Baseball Writer’s Association of America). Each voter can vote for up to 10 candidates; though this year, many may have trouble limiting their votes to just 10. Any candidate with at least 75% of the votes is then elected into the Hall of Fame; last year, the highest a candidate scored was 68.2% and thus missed the cut-off for the Hall. (Biggio is thus back on this year’s ballot.) Any candidate with less than 5% of the votes will be dropped from future voting years, unless they are deemed eligible for the Veterans’ Ballot, but they can never appear on a BBWAA ballot. A player who fails to be elected by the BBWAA within 20 years of his retirement can then be selected by the Veterans Committee.

This year the Veterans Committee has selected a variety of nominees for the Hall of Fame that will be voted on by the smaller committee — Dave Conception, Bobby Cox, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Tony La Russa, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons, George Steinbrenner, and Joe Torre.

So for Yankee fans, here’s the Yankee-related news…

Former pitcher Mike Mussina is making his first year on the ballot. Mussina has a close call career of sorts, as detailed by a recent MLB article, as runner-up for a Cy Young Award (1999), one inning short of a World Series championship, and one strike away from a perfect game (2001). Mussina split his 18 years between the Yankees and the Orioles with a career 3.68 ERA, 5-time All-Star, and 7-time Gold Glove winner. Mussina was with the Yankees for the last of his career (2001-2008), and earned his only 20 win season in 2008 with the Yankees.

Two repeat Yankee candidates certainly had very different careers. Roger Clemens, in his 2nd appearance on the ballot, certainly had the kind of career that Hall of Fame voters look for. Originally with Boston and a couple of years in Toronto, Clemens spent some key years with the Yankees (1999-2003), then a short jaunt to Houston, before heading back to finish his career with the Yankees in 2007. With a career ERA 3.12, 354 wins in 709 games, and almost 5000 innings pitched, Clemens seems like a shoo-in, except for those lingering rumors about possible PED usage. Clemens was cleared of those charges in 2012, but rumors do what rumors do best — linger, contaminate, and refuse to die.

Don Mattingly, on the other hand, is looking at his 14th year on the ballot. Donnie Baseball spent his entire career with the Yankees (1982-1995) and never earned a single World Series win. Unfortunately for him, his career landed him in the middle of the low point of the recent Yankees’ history, just a year short of that storied 1996 birth of a new dynasty. Mattingly racked up 2,153 hits, 222 home runs, 1099 RBIs, and a lifetime .307 batting average. And while he will always be beloved by Yankee fans and memorialized as part of Monument Park (#23), Hall of Fame votes can’t seem to cross that threshold to Cooperstown immortality for him. Perhaps, it’s because he’s still technically “in the game” as manager of the LA Dodgers. Or perhaps, the numbers just aren’t enough for the voters.

Here are my quick thoughts to wrap up tonight. I really don’t see them voting in Mussina this early; I’d give it a few rounds. He’s close, but with this ballot, I just don’t think he’s got it made this year. Clemens will forever be chased by those rumors because of all people baseball writers do not forgive and forget any time soon; too many of those still on the ballot have been dodging those rumors for years, and with better numbers. It’ll be a long shot for years to come. Mattingly probably won’t get voted in this year, but I could see a Veterans Committee vote sometime in the next decade. He will end up there eventually, but I’m guessing his current activity hindered him, like it did Torre for so long. Speaking of Torre, he, Steinbrenner, and Martin should all slide into the Hall via that Veterans Committee because of their enormous contributions for baseball in general, let along for the Yankees; but Steinbrenner and Martin were so polarizing, short of some objective sentimentality, it might be a stretch for some votes, who might also have trouble electing a current MLB executive like Torre.

And while I do have an opinion about many of the other candidates (and honestly, some very poignant baseball memories about a couple of them), it will be interesting to see how the voters swing. I’m guessing though, unlike last year, we’ll have about 5 or 6 new Hall-of-Fame inductees this year.

Still on my bucket list: Cooperstown.

Go Yankees!