Bobby Cox cigar

Reviewing the good and bad of today’s Hall of Fame vote

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First the good news: Three managers, all deserving and perhaps even overqualified, were elected into the Hall of Fame on Monday. If you are going to have managers in the Baseball Hall of Fame — and you are — then Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre are all obviously deserving Hall of Famers.

– Cox managed the Atlanta Braves to an astonishing 14 consecutive division titles (not counting the 1994 strike year), which is one of the great accomplishments in the history of baseball. His great strength, it always seemed to me, was his ability to keep his team focused and looking forward all the time. Losing streaks, winning streaks, major injuries, big trades — you walked into that Atlanta clubhouse and it was always the same. Sure, the Braves were fortunate to have Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz healthy for years, but they won before Maddux, they won after Glavine, they won before Chipper Jones, they won after David Justice, they won with a bunch of different closers. And yet, somehow, that team was always the same in some overriding way.

– La Russa led three different teams to division championships, managed the Oakland A’s to three consecutive pennants from 1988 to 1990 and won two World Series in St. Louis. La Russa’s great strength was different from Cox’s; he was a strategist, first and foremost, and while his constant tinkering and pitching changes could become annoying for observers — he used to drive me nuts as a fan sometimes — I think it inspired a deep confidence in his players. They knew La Russa would never rest on them. If the team was up five, he would still match-up lefties in the eighth to protect the lead. There’s something powerful in knowing that your manager is trying harder to win than anybody else.

– Torre led the New York Yankees to four World Series championships in five years and two more pennants beyond that. Torre’s great strength, I think, was just being Joe Torre. He was a borderline Hall of Fame player, he is an extremely likable man, he commands respect. Torre was famously canned three times before he got the Yankees job — he did some decent work with those three teams (particularly in Atlanta, where he led the Braves to a division title) but he was certainly not viewed as a great manager. Nobody in New York was too thrilled when he got the job. But it turned out to be one of the great three-way marriages in sports history — Torre’s modesty and decency combined with an extraordinary collection of young talent combined with George Steinbrenner’s uncontrollable competitiveness proved to be unbeatable for a half decade. They didn’t always get along, things didn’t always seem to be going smoothly, but they won in the end. Torre also was an excellent postseason manager, always willing to grab the moment, something I think Bobby Cox sometimes did not do.

So all three of them are in the Hall of Fame, and that’s absolutely right. Congratulations to the Veteran’s Committee for getting the obvious ones (and apparently all three were elected unanimously).

Sadly, though, that’s all the Veteran’s Committee did this time around. The obvious. And while managers are important, the Hall of Fame is mainly about baseball players. Once again, no baseball players were elected.

Ever since a different format Veteran’s Committee controversially elected Bill Mazeroski in 2001 — we’re taking a dozen years ago now — the Veteran’s Committees have been gun shy. They have elected exactly one player from the last 70 years. One. They have elected:

– Long ago Pirates owner Barney Dreyfus.
– Famously ineffective commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
– Manager Dick Williams.
– Second baseman Joe Gordon, who retired in 1950.
– Umpire Doug Harvey
– General manager Pat Gillick
– Umpire Hank O’Day
– Long ago Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert
– 19th century catcher Deacon White
– Cubs third baseman Ron Santo.

That’s it. Only Santo is a baseball player from the last seventy years. I’m not saying the others don’t belong — well, I am saying that about Kuhn, but the rest all have their case — I’m saying: Who cares? Well, maybe thats harsh. People care about the Baseball Hall of Fame for a whole bunch of reasons, and maybe one of those is to learn about all these people who influenced the game without playing.

But, I’m betting, a bigger reason is that the Hall of Fame validates our memories of great baseball players. Was my childhood hero a great player? Well, look, he’s right there in the Hall of Fame. This is why so many people travel to little Cooperstown to see their heroes get inducted or to see their plaque on the wall. Doug Harvey was a fine umpire, and he might belong in the Hall of Fame, but who but his family will go to the Hall of Fame to have their photo taken with that plaque? Where are the players?

This year’s crop of Expansion Era players could have been better. It could have included Dwight Evans and Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich and Graig Nettles and Dale Murphy and Rick Reuschel and David Cone and others. But, as it was, there were some really good players on the ballot. Dan Quisenberry. Tommy John. Dave Parker. Ted Simmons. I think Veterans Committees in general are afraid to add baseball players to the Hall. And because of it, I think the Hall is stagnating.

And … a few words on Marvin Miller. It goes without saying that if you are going to elect people into the Hall of Fame who were not players or managers — people like Jacob Ruppert and Barney Dreyfus and, ugh, Bowie Kuhn — then leaving Marvin Miller out is probably the greatest Hall of Fame injustice. His influence on the game was so titanic that people STILL argue about it.

That said, I thought Bill James made a great point: He pointed out that at the end of his life Miller was so embittered by the whole Hall of Fame experience that he said, on numerous occasions, he did not want to be elected. In a way, it would be disrespectful to vote him into the Hall of Fame against his wishes shortly after his death. Marvin Miller was the ultimate outsider — that’s what allowed him to change the game. Maybe it’s a more fitting tribute, in an odd way, for him to NOT be in the Hall of Fame.

One more thing: This year Joe Garagiola won the Buck O’Neil Award — the Hall of Fame’s award, given every three years, to the person who best represents the baseball values of Buck. Garagiola is the third person to win it, after Buck himself and scout, general manager and baseball lifer Roland Hemond. There’s a little bit of noise here, but I think in the end Buck would be proud that Garagiola won the award.

You might know that Garagiola lived a bit of a checkered baseball life. He famously stepped on Jackie Robinson’s foot in 1947, Robinson’s first year, leading to a major argument and questions about Garagiola’s character. He testified against Curt Flood in a trial (he has often talked about how wrong he was). He has, at times, seemed on the wrong side of arguments.

But Buck always said that it is the man you become after you make the mistakes that matters. Garagiola brought great joy to people’s lives as a baseball announcer. He is a powerful voice against chewing tobacco. He was not a great player — he was famously traded four times in an eight-man league — but he dedicated his life to the game. Whenever someone would talk about Garagiola stepping on Robinson, Buck would say, ‘No, no, no, Joe’s a good man. There was a lot of tension back then. Joe’s a good man.”

Report: Koji Uehara close to signing with the Cubs

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10:  Koji Uehara #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game three of the American League Divison Series at Fenway Park on October 10, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports, citing a source as well as Nikkan Sports, that reliever Koji Uehara is close to signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Cubs.

Uehara, 41, finished the 2016 season with a 3.45 ERA and a 63/11 K/BB ratio over 47 innings. He missed some time in the second half with a strained right pectoral muscle. When Uehara returned from the disabled list on September 7, he tossed 11 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts and two walks through the end of the regular season. So there’s at least some evidence, albeit in a very small sample size, that Uehara has stuff left in the tank.

The Cubs recently acquired closer Wade Davis from the Royals. Uehara would join Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Jr., Justin Grimm, and Mike Montgomery in what is once again a very deep bullpen.

MLB implements another player-unfriendly rule, this time targeting draftees

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media before Game Three of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jon Morosi of MLB Network and FOX Sports reports that the MLB draft has a new program in which the top-50 pitching prospects are asked to undergo a voluntary pre-draft MRI on their throwing arm. At first glance, it seems reasonable because, hey, pitchers are injury-prone and players sometimes hide injuries. It would feel bad if my favorite team drafted a lemon!

The reality is that this is just another player-unfriendly rule that shifts financial risk away from the owners and onto the players. The players, in this case, are often not wealthy and are about to begin life in the minor leagues where they earn less than $8,000 per year. Signing bonuses help alleviate some of the immediate financial discomfort of minor league life.

The pre-draft MRI is “voluntary” with quotes around it. Choosing not to undergo the MRI will only give prospective teams more reason to be skeptical of one’s durability. It’s a lot like those voluntary workouts in football that aren’t so voluntary due to superior and peer pressure. You don’t show up, you’re lazy, entitled, a bad teammate, etc. In this case, a pitching prospect refuses to undergo the MRI, it’s because he’s hiding an injury.

Ian Anderson was the first pitcher taken off the board in the 2016 draft, going to the Braves at No. 3. He got a $4 million signing bonus. Let’s say this new MRI program had already been instituted and Anderson refused, or something came up that caused the Braves to change their minds. Anderson’s draft stock falls, let’s say to 21 where the Blue Jays took T.J. Zeuch with a $2.175 million signing bonus. Falling 18 spots in this case costs Anderson about $2 million, perhaps more because he loses a lot of negotiating leverage. Maybe he falls further, even to the second round.

In a column for FanGraphs nearly two years ago, Nathaniel Grow showed that, as a percentage of total league revenues, player salaries have been declining since the early 2000’s. In 2002, player salaries made up 56 percent of league revenues. In 2014, it was only 38 percent.

In isolation, the MRI program isn’t a big deal. The injured player loses stock, but another player moves up to take his place and earns a bit more money. As part of the bigger picture, however, this is part of an ongoing trend in which owners abdicate financial risk and push it all onto the players. The new collective bargaining agreement, for example, capped international signings at $5-6 million per team per year. That removes any incentive for overseas stars like Shohei Otani from coming over to play Major League Baseball. If he wanted to anyway, he would make much less money than he otherwise would on an open market. The amateur draft itself is almost entirely risk-avoidant for owners and it’s terrible for the players because they, too, would earn much more on an open market. And let’s not forget how owners have fought tooth-and-nail to keep minor league salaries suppressed.

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick once paid $2.8 million for the Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card. Let’s not act like these owners can’t afford to shoulder the risk on young pitchers.

EDIT (4:40 PM EST): As I’ve seen others mention it, it’s worth bringing up the Astros/Brady Aiken issue. The Astros took him first in the 2014 draft, but they took issue with his elbow health. The two sides had agreed to a $6.5 million signing bonus, but the Astros wanted to reduce it to $5 million as a result. Aiken didn’t end up signing with the Astros. He underwent Tommy John surgery and was later selected by the Indians 17th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft. He got a $2,513,280 signing bonus.