Julio Franco

Assessing the first time Hall of Fame candidates

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John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle has his Hall of Fame ballot, and he tweeted the first time eligibles who are on it. Here they are with my insta-take:

  • Carlos Baerga:  There were about six months in the mid-90s when people thought he was a mortal lock. Of course, back then people thought Pamela Anderson was all that too.
  • Jeff Bagwell: Should be a first ballot guy, no?
  • Bret  Boone: If you combined him and Aaron together and made them a catcher like Bob, maybe.
  • Kevin Brown: He’s someone who was a lot better than you remember and was always better than he got credit for. I’m not going to spend a ton of political capital making his case, but he’s got a better one than Jack Morris does.  He’ll also fall off the ballot due to lack of support after this year, I imagine.
  • Julio Franco: Can he skip straight to the veteran’s committee ballot?
  • Juan Gonzalez: No chance and not deserving, but I’m curious to see if the old school writers’ overvaluation of his RBIs and MVP Awards will outweigh the old school writers’ overreaction to his PED associations.
  • Marquis Grissom: He falls into the category of “I hope he gets one vote so he can always say he got a Hall of Fame vote, because I liked the guy.”
  • Lenny Harris: He wouldn’t even make the pinch hitter’s Hall of Fame. Longevity, man.
  • Bobby Higginson: I remember when my friends who are Tigers fans tried to talk me into him being a big freakin’ deal. That never really happened, but for a while there he was all the Tigers had.
  • Charles Johnson: If feels like everyone has forgotten about Charles Johnson. Really: when was the last time anyone talked about him?  Kind of crazy for a guy who, for a while anyway, was one of the best catchers in baseball.
  • Al Leiter: Another guy who was probably better than Jack Morris and will get no play whatsoever.
  • Tino Martinez: I can’t think of this guy without thinking about how idealized he was in the years after he left the Yankees. If I had a dime for every time a Yankees fan said “if only we still had Tino . . .” from 2002 until 2004. Him and Brosius could have formed a club.  Martinez actually spent his last year — 2005 — with the Yankees again. If they had won the World Series that year Martinez would probably be getting some moderate “he was a winner!” support.
  • Raul Mondesi: An argument could be made that his late career awfulness ruined it for “toolsy guys” everywhere. Any time I hear someone being described as having “great tools” — which you still do once in a while — I think of Mondesi.
  • Jon Olerud: He has an identical OPS+ — 128 — to Jim Rice. Both of them should have plaques in the Hall of Very Good.
  • Rafael Palmeiro: To the extent I have a coherent philosophy of steroids guys and the Hall of Fame, it’s this: if I think that they were good enough even without steroids (to the extent I can even tell that) I’d vote them in.  If I felt that steroids was the difference between Hall-level performance and merely good performance, I’d leave them off.  This approach has about a zillion problems with it, but I think it’s better than a blanket “never vote for ‘roiders” or a blanket “ignore all PED information” policy.  Among guys who have made the ballot so far, Palmiero is the closest case. I can’t help but think that he’d fall short of Cooperstown numbers without the juice. I also can’t help but acknowledge that he played in great hitting environments for most of his career too.  So if I had a ballot this year, I’d say no. I’d wait. Maybe we’d learn more about PEDs over time and I’d revisit, but for now I’d say no. I think the voters will give him the iciest of shoulders this year. He may not even get the 5% or whatever it is he needs to stay on.
  • Kirk Rueter: I can’t say I ever expected him to make a Hall of Fame ballot, but hey, if you hang around long enough . . .
  • B.J. Surhoff: He was one of many veteran pickups those title-run Braves teams made at the latter, less successful end of the line. In this I can’t make a fair assessment of him no matter how hard I try. He was pretty good for a while though, and versatile. He stands as the best argument for teams having up years and down years as opposed to winning all the time: constant winning spoils you and skews your impressions of otherwise good players. Don’t believe me? Ask Yankees fans to give a brief overview of Lance Berkman’s career. Many of them will describe some journeyman palooka to you.
  • Larry Walker: Another one who is way better than Jim Rice ever was, but who won’t get much support I fear. I haven’t thought terribly hard about him yet, but I could probably be convinced that he belongs.

We’ll obviously have a lot of time later this month to hash out the Hall of Fame arguments.  But it’s nice to get them started, no?

Dee Gordon reinstated from PED suspension

Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon celebrates after hitting a double against the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. Derek Dietrich scored on the double. The Tigers won 8-7. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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The Miami Marlins have reinstated second baseman Dee Gordon from his suspension.

Gordon, of course, has missed the last 80 games while serving his drug suspension. He’s coming off a minor league rehab assignment and will be the everyday second baseman for the contending Marlins. He was hitting .266/.289/.340 with three doubles, two triples, five RBI, 13 runs scored, and six stolen bases in 97 plate appearances when he was popped. He was replaced by Derek Dietrich, who hit a nice .275/.366/.398 with 22 extra-base hits, 30 RBI, and 26 runs scored in 314 PA in Gordon’s absence, so don’t expect a tremendous upgrade at second down the stretch, even if they get a nice upgrade in the utility and depth department.

To make room for Gordon, the Marlins designated utilityman and sometimes hero Don Kelly for assignment. Sad jams.

Chris Sale called “a competitor” for stuff that gets most guys called “head cases”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox reacts during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Chris Sale has had an eventful week.

On Saturday he was scratched from his start and subsequently suspended for five games for cutting up the 1976 throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear, making them unusable. That cost the team over $12,000 and cost the Sox their best pitcher hours before game time.

On Monday Sale gave an interview to Scott Merkin in which he apologized to fans and teammates and explained his rationale for the uniform shredding. Even if his act was over the top, there was a core of understandable motivation at least: Sale said he voiced his displeasure with the untucked jersey months ago and asked to not pitch on a night they’d have to wear them because he believed it would mess with his mechanics and/or mental state. The Sox didn’t heed his request and Sale took issue, as many probably would, with what he felt was the business of throwback jerseys taking precedence over on-the-field stuff.

Of course, there are still some pretty big problems here. Mostly having to do with the facts that (a) the Sox have people on staff who could’ve optimized his jersey any way he needed it to be optimized if he had asked; (b) ballplayers have been wearing throwbacks for a long time now and, even if they don’t like them, they tend to endure them; and (c) he’s a ballplayer who needs to suck things up sometimes like every single ballplayer ever has done. There are a ton of things ballplayers are expected to do which are insisted upon by the business folks. It’s part of the gig.

A little more seriously than that is the fact that Sale pretty publicly threw his manager, Robin Ventura, under the bus :

“Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department,” Sale said. “If the players don’t feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix — it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that’s when I lost it.”

An undercurrent to all of this is Sale being fairly obvious in voicing his desire to be traded.

Today Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story about Sale’s week. It’s sourced largely by Sale’s friend Adam Eaton who defends Sale as a passionate competitor who just wants to win and how all of this stuff of the past week was about his desire to do so. The headline of the story buys in to all of that:

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We heard much the same along these lines when Sale blasted Sox brass following the Drake LaRoche stuff during spring training, going on an expletive-filled rant in a meeting behind closed doors but then bringing the same noise, albeit cleaned up, in front of reporters after it all became public.

Chris Sale is who he is, of course, and I’m not going to too harshly judge who he is. He’s an amazing pitcher and, as most athletes will tell you, the mental part of the game is almost as important or, maybe, even more important than the physical part. Asking Sale to be who he isn’t would probably be counterproductive in the long term.

But I am fascinated with the way in which someone who has behaved like Sale has behaved is described. He’s a “competitor” whose objectively disruptive and literally destructive behavior is explained away as merely a function of his desire to win. His friends on the team, like Eaton, are sought out for damage control and spin and his detractors, which there are likely some, aren’t quoted, even anonymously. He has publicly called out his manager as not wanting to win as much as he wants to please his bosses and he has likewise called out his manager’s bosses and has welcomed a trade, yet we aren’t seeing stories about how that’s a bad thing for the Sox’ clubhouse.

I don’t much care for that sort of stuff, actually, as I suspect most clubhouse controversy stories are somewhat overblown and overly dramatized. But those stories have been go-to tropes of sports writers for decades, and I am trying to imagine this sort of story about players who aren’t Chris Sale. Players who don’t have as friendly a relationship with the media as he has or who don’t have clubhouse allies who do. I feel like, most of the time, a story about a guy who who has done the odd things Sale has done both this week and last March would play a hell of a lot differently.

How does this all play of it’s Yordano Ventura? Or Yasiel Puig? Or Jose Fernandez? How does this play if it took place in the NBA and it was Kevin Durant who shredded up a bunch of short-shorts on 80s throwback night? How does it play if it’s Cam Newton?

I bet it plays differently.