New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Berra watches players during a workout at the team's spring training camp

The Greatest Living Ballplayer: Continued

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Yesterday’s post about the Greatest Living Ballplayer for each team struck a nerve. Lots of folks around the Internets linked it and talked about, which doesn’t happen a lot with my stuff. Indeed, I tend to think that people mostly read what I write and either nod politely or roll their eyes and then move on without comment for fear that I’ll just be a jerk and argue about it. It’s not an unreasonable fear.

Larry Granillo has a great followup at Baseball Prospectus this morning, asking who held the title of Greatest Living Ballplayer — overall — at any given point since 1900.  I don’t think I disagree with any of his choices, including the decision to not name Joe DiMaggio — the man whose handlers more or less invented the title — Greatest Living Ballplayer at any given time.  Because he wasn’t.

And you all had some great followups in the very long comment thread following my post. Highlights:

  • There was a ton of dissent on the Yankees, with very few people buying Derek Jeter as GLB. I realized this as soon as I hit “post” yesterday, and hastily added Yogi Berra’s name, though intellectual honesty prevented me from taking off Jeter’s seeing as though I had already published the thing. If I had a do-over I name Berra, no questions asked. Many of you, however, were pro-Mariano Rivera. This seems a bit nuts to me in that I don’t see how a closer can be the guy who carries the team banner — and that’s part of this I think — but I guess I get it.
  • Many dead people — Eddie Matthews, Willie Stargell, Kirby Puckett, etc. — were suggested for the title of Greatest Living Ballplayer. I can’t decide if this is a function of people simply having lives and not following baseball news as closely as I do or if it’s some audacious statement about the sheer power of certain players. I’d like to believe it’s the latter.
  • Someone noted that Ted Williams really does complicate this list.  I mean, really, if I’m wrong and cryogenics is legit, I’m going to have an awful lot to answer for when The Splendid Splinter is walking among us again.  Of course, given that they only froze his head, it’s an open question whether he’d still be the Greatest Living Ballplayer or merely Baseball’s Greatlest Living Baseball Mind.
  • Much disagreement on my choice of Nolan Ryan for the Rangers given his relatively short tenure in a Texas uniform.  Very good point on that. I guess I fell for Nolan Ryan the cultural phenomenon as opposed to Nolan Ryan the Rangers pitcher.  And many people think that he should have been the choice for the Angels instead.
  • The Indians choices of Belle and Manny drew criticism. Some said I was sleeping on Jim Thome, who played there longer and had more overall career value. Maybe, but I also think it’s reached a point where he’s excelled for so many other teams for so long that he fails the homogeneity test. Another person mentioned Kenny Lofton. Unlike Thome, yeah, I did just whiff on him (though I probably wouldn’t pick him).  My overlooking of Lofton, I think, may be a precursor to what will happen when he’s Hall of Fame eligible. He’s way more valuable than anyone ever gives him credit for. Yet we so often give him short shrift. I’m not proud of this.
  • Many disagreed with my statement that Cal Ripken was the easiest choice, pointing to the continued Earthly existence of Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer. Noted. I still think I pick Cal — there is a fame and personality aspect to all of this that, while I don’t want to overstate, seems important — but those guys are way closer than I considered yesterday.
  • Speaking of Orioles, Frank Robinson’s name came up.  He’s like a lot of players of more recent vintage such as Roberto Alomar in that he played and excelled for a couple of teams. Which, somewhat perversely, harms your chances on this list. In my view Robinson falls just short of making it for the Reds and the Orioles and that’s just how it goes.
  • Speaking of the Reds, almost no one agrees with me on Joe Morgan, including Rob Neyer (who himself is in the conversation for Greatest Living Baseball Blogger). The beef: not enough time in a Reds uniform for Little Joe.  I think I have to agree. Neyer likes Rose. Bench gets the nod from most people. He probably gets it from me if for no other reason than I don’t want to encourage the Pete Rose lobby, which consist of a lot of frightening people.
  • People did not like that I called Todd Helton “the most boring Greatest Living Ballplayer for any team.”  To which I’d ask: who’s more boring on that list than Helton? He played football. So what? He has occasionally sported some interesting though not terribly original facial hair. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a slam on Helton. Lots of people are boring. Al Kaline has held the title of GLB for the Tigers for 50 years and he’s boring. I may be the most boring baseball writer there is. It’s OK to be boring. Maybe Helton has a rich life away from the diamond of which I’m simply not aware, but c’mon, where’s the flavor with this guy?
  • Finally, many people think I should have named Larry Walker for the Rockies instead of Helton. That’s an interesting idea. Probably a good one too. Indeed, mentions of Helton and Carl Crawford and stuff make me wonder if the rule Granillo made for his Baseball Prospectus list — no active players can hold the title — isn’t a good one.  That would be hard for the Rays and a few other young teams, but there is a lot of merit until waiting until a guy is retired to bestow the honor. I mean, the whole idea of GLB was so that Joe DiMaggio could be announced that way when he walked onto the field or up to a lectern for some promotional event or public speaking engagement.  Can’t really do that as an active player.

Thanks for all the feedback, folks. It was one of the more fun things I’ve written and talked about in a while.

Jackie Robinson: “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag”

FILE - In this April 11, 1947 file photo, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers poses at Ebbets Field in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Robinson's widow said Major League Baseball has yet to fully honor her husband's legacy. "There is a lot more that needs to be done and that can be done in terms of the hiring, the promotion" of minorities in the sport, Rachel Robinson said Monday, Jan. 18, 2016 during a Q&A session with TV critics about "Jackie Robinson," a two-part PBS documentary airing in April.  (AP Photo/John Rooney, File)
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One more bit of baseball via which we may reflect on the Colin Kaepernick controversy.

In 1972 Jackie Robinson wrote his autobiography. In it he reflected on how he felt about his historical legacy as a baseball player, a businessman and as a political activist. A political activism, it should be noted, which favored both sides of the aisle at various times. He supported Nixon in 1960, supported the war in Vietnam and worked for Nelson Rockefeller. He did not support Goldwater and did support the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He supported Humphrey against Nixon in 1968. He was no blind partisan or ideologue. When you find someone like that you can usually rest assured it’s because they’re thinking hard and thinking critically in a world where things aren’t always cut-and-dried.

As such, this statement from his autobiography, describing his memory of the first game of the 1947 World Series, is worth thinking about. Because it came from someone who spent a lot of time thinking:

There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.

Colin Kaepernick is not Jackie Robinson and America in 2016 is not the same as America in 1919, 1947 or 1972. But it does not take one of Jackie Robinson’s stature or experience to see and take issue with injustice and inequality which manifestly still exists.

As I said in the earlier post, the First Amendment gives us just as much right to criticize Kaepernick as it gives him a right to protest in the manner in which he chooses. But if and when we do, we should not consider his case in a vacuum or criticize him as some singular or radical actor. Because some other people — people who have been elevated to a level which has largely immunized them from criticism — felt and feel the same way he does. It’s worth asking yourself, if you take issue, whether you take issue with the message or the messenger and why. Such inquiries might complicate one’s feelings on the matter, but they’re quite illuminative as well.

(thanks to Kokujin for the heads up)

Former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is a sports owner once again

File photo of Frank McCourt leaving Stanley Mosk Courthouse after testifying during his divorce trial in Los Angeles
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There aren’t many major league ownership reigns which ended more ignominiously than Frank McCourt’s reign as Dodgers owner. He was granted access to one of business’ most exclusive clubs — one which being a convicted criminal or even a Nazi sympathizer cannot get you kicked out of — and somehow got kicked out. The clear lesson from his saga was that saddling your team with debt, using it as your own private piggy bank and exercising bad judgment at every possible turn will not get you drummed out of baseball but, by gum, having it all go public in a divorce case sure as heck will.

McCourt landed pretty safely, though. By sheer luck, his being kicked out of ownership coincided with the vast appreciation of major league franchise values and the expiration of the Dodgers cable television deal. He may have left in disgrace, but he also left with a couple of billion dollars thanks to the genius of capitalism. At the time it was assumed he’d ride off into the sunset, continuing to make a mint off of parking at Dodgers games (he retained a big piece of that pie) and not get his hands messy with sports ownership again.

Such assumptions were inoperative:

The soccer club has suffered from poor financial decisions in recent years. So I guess it was a match made in heaven.