kirby puckett game 6 1991

Short careers and the Hall of Fame: it’s better to burn out than fade away

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After writing the Dale Murphy post an uncomfortable thought struck me: would it have been better for his Hall of Fame case if he had been hit by a bus in 1988 than for his career to have simply cratered like it did?

I know, I’m awful for thinking that. Trust me when I say this is just a thought experiment. Dale Murphy is by all accounts a wonderful father, husband and human being and he gave me great joy in the early years of my Braves fandom. I’m delighted that he was not, in fact, run over by a bus while crossing a street in Salt Lake City, Utah in January 1988. Because that would be dreadful.

But if it had happened, he would have shuffled off this mortal coil — or at least out of baseball if the bus had inflicted merely debilitating as opposed to fatal injuries — with a damn interesting baseball career.

Our last memory of him would have been putting up a monster year: .295/.417/.580, 44 homers, 105 RBI and 115 runs scored. All for an awful team, so by all rights he shouldn’t have had a decent pitch to hit all year.  At the moment the bus hit him, he’d have a career line of .279/.362/.500 in 12 seasons, which for the era was fantastic: a 132 OPS+.  Oh, and multiple MVP awards and gold gloves at a premium defensive position.

Clearly that would have landed him in the Hall of Fame, right? It had to!  Because let’s look at another center fielder whose career was cut short after 12 seasons:  .318/.360/.477, an OPS+ of 124, and multiple gold gloves. That center fielder was Kirby Puckett, and he was voted into the Hall of Fame with over 80% of the vote in his first year of eligibility.

The difference: Puckett left the game on top, having his eyesight ruined by a freakish onset of glaucoma, ending his career. Murphy, in contrast, had something just as freakish but not as conventionally tragic happen: his skills just somehow evaporated, and he spent another six years in the baseball wilderness, toiling for the Phillies and the Rockies, desperately trying to regain his elite form.

It’s a safe assumption that Puckett would have remained a Hall of Fame caliber player for several more years and would have finished with career stats that more than justified his induction.  But it is an assumption. Dale Murphy is a rare example of a player who just lost it overnight, but he is proof that it could happen to anyone.

I don’t mean to make some sort of political point with this. I don’t think Puckett was unfairly inducted nor do I think Murphy is unfairly being held out.  It’s just one of those strange and uncomfortable realizations about how we as human beings fill in gaps in a narrative. How we mentally honor or reward victims of a certain set of circumstances and give no benefit of the doubt to victims of a different set of circumstances.  Of how we think better of going out on top, no matter how tragic it was that the man in question went out, than we do of someone working hard but ultimately failing to recapture what he once had.

Even for those of us who are really partial to the numbers, it’s never just about the numbers. And I’m not sure how to reconcile it all.

First American League All-Star voting totals are in, Sal Perez leads in the voting

Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez jokes during batting practice before Game 2 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets  Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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It seems early, but this is when it happens: Major League Baseball announcing the early results for All-Star Game voting. Voting started in April which makes it kind of hard to weigh-in with any sort of certainty about how anyone is doing, but it probably doesn’t matter much. It doesn’t matter much for a lot of reasons. Among them:

  • There are different schools of thought about who should be an All-Star. Some people think the biggest stars should always make it. Others think it’s a reward for a good first half of the season. I really don’t care either way, but if you’re a “biggest stars” person, April is fine for voting. Famous stars are no less famous because they’ve had a bad couple of months.
  • Despite the fact that the All-Star Game “counts” for home field advantage, the way it is played ensures that who starts is not super critical. Starters will be gone after a couple of innings. No matter the vote totals, the same general bunch of players will decided the game one way or the other, early or late. It’s the All-Star Game. It’s kind of a circus regardless.
  • Major League Baseball does not really care about the integrity of voting. They encourage you to vote a gabillion times, and it’s all very clearly aimed at getting people to visit lucratively-sponsored web pages in order to do it. Which, hey, good for them for making money, but that’s not how you run a tight voting operation.

That last bit is sort of key. I don’t want to overstate how important this is because, again, it’s just the All-Star Game, but there is laughably obvious fraud going on with the votes. Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten emails from MLB.com and Royals.com thanking me for my maximum five votes that day. Stuff like this:

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That was from a while back. Last I checked it thinks I’ve voted, like, 60 times or something. I haven’t voted once and, obviously, I haven’t listed the Royals as my favorite team. Someone is using my email address or ID or whatever. In my case it’s for Royals players. Maybe people from 29 other teams are hacking other people in their team’s favor too, but the point of this isn’t the specific votes. It’s that this isn’t exactly a high-integrity operation.

Because it’s just All-Star votes I sort of don’t care too much, but it’s at least smart to take the vote totals, especially the early ones, with a grain of salt, sit back and wait for the Home Run Derby and just remember that the All-Star Game is kind of a crazy non-serious event, no matter what people say about home field advantage. For now, here are the voting leaders:

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Cubs fan gets a tattoo that assumes a World Series win in the next four seasons

cubs logo
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This isn’t quite as risky as that (phony) story about the guy betting his life savings on the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. But it’s still a gamble, both in objective, statistical terms and in terms of the Cubs and their overall karma and luck and stuff. But you gotta have hope, man. Hope is the best thing. Or at least that’s what an escaped ex-con once said.

This got tweeted out in March, but WGN and other media outlets are just picking it up now. I most appreciate the comma after the indeterminate 201_ year, which assumes they may win more than one.

Tattoo experts: what’s the easiest fix here assuming nothing happens for the Cubbies by 2020?

Mets owners get some breathing room on their Bernie Madoff settlement payments

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon stands on the field before baseball's Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Associated Press
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For years the central fact of life of the New York Mets has been that their owners, the Wilpon family and Saul Katz, lost a ton of money after investing it with friend and business partner Bernard Madoff, perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. It has hampered their payroll and led to huge amounts of borrowing and restructuring that, before last year’s pennant run, seemed like it’d be a millstone on the Mets competitive prospects for years to come.

In addition to losing money, it was later determined that Katz and the Wilpons unfairly gained in some other respects and thus they ended up having their phony earnings clawed back via a settlement with the trustee managing the fallout of the Madoff scandal.  The upshot: the Wilpons and Katz, in addition to their losses, were ordered to pay nearly $60 million dollars back, half payable this week, half payable next year. That’s a lot of money for anyone to fork over and this week’s payment loomed large.

Now, however, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Wilpons and Katz will get some breathing room. Specifically, they have modified their agreement with the trustee and some of the owed money has been deferred. Instead of some $29 million payable this week, they will only have to pay $16 million. The remainder will be paid in four installments — from 2017 through 2020 — with an interest rate of 3.5 percent on the unpaid balance, Rubin says.

Now, there obviously was no promise that the $13 million saved this week be invested in the baseball team, but it’s probably a good thing overall for the Mets if their owners’ debt payments are reduced a bit.

Mike Napoli hit a homer for a fan with cancer

CLEVELAND, OH -  MAY 30: Mike Napoli #26 of the Cleveland Indians rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field on May 30, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Last night a fan named Kathi Heintzelman showed up at Progressive Field in Cleveland with a sign asking Indians first baseman Mike Napoli to hit a home run for her and to give her a hug. But there was a reason beyond her love for Mike Napoli. She’s starting chemotherapy today and the hug and homer would be a nice thing.  Hard to disagree with that, even if everyone knows that ballplayers can’t hit homers on demand.

Well, most players can’t. Mike Napoli did the easy part before the game, giving her a hug. Then in the sixth inning, he went yard:

 

Whether you believe that such things can be fated or if you merely acknowledge that Heintzelman asked Napoli for a homer at a good time — he’s on a hot streak right now and has hit bombs in four of his last 11 games — it’s a great story.