Author: Bob Harkins


Will anti-McGwire stance among Hall voters soften over time?


The announcement of the Hall of Fame vote will come in at 3 p.m. ET on Monday, and it will be interesting to see who is elected to Cooperstown.

Will it be Barry Larkin and no one elsePerhaps. Some even suggest that no one will be elected, which would be bad news for those who have been waiting awhile, what with a monster class coming in 2013 that will include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio and Curt Schilling.

One thing is for certain: Mark McGwire isn’t going to get in – not this year anyway. The man with 583 career home runs, a .394 on-base percentage and .982 OPS doesn’t have a prayer. Not with the steroid stain on his resume. Some people thought McGwire would get a boost among voters after he came clean about his PED use, but his vote totals dropped to 19.8 percent last year, down from 23.7 percent in 2010. The stance of writers on PEDs seems to be mostly hardening over time, not softening.

But the 15-year window for induction into Cooperstown is a long one, and perception can change over time.

Look at Bert Blyleven. Over the 14 years he was on the ballot, voters began to realize that the stats being cited to keep him out of Cooperstown (chiefly winning percentage and home runs allowed) were not as important as ERA and WHIP and WAR, not to mention his impressive longevity.

Of course arguing statistics is not the same as taking on the issue of steroid cheats, and it seems unlikely in the current climate that opinions will change enough to ever earn McGwire a nod to Cooperstown, but you never know. Case in point:

In the wake of the St. Louis Cardinals’ stunning and surprising run to the World Series, the New York Times’ esteemed George Vecsey wrote a brief and interesting blog post titled “Rethinking McGwire.”

In it, Vecsey admitted that despite his issues with McGwire’s use of performance-enhancing drugs as a player, he enjoyed watching the ex-slugger in uniform, coaching the Cardinals hitters on the way to a championship. The whole thing gave Vecsey, as he put it, “a positive vibration.”

That didn’t mean Vecsey would change his mind about McGwire – “or some other bulked-up sluggers of the past generation” – being worthy of the Hall of Fame, but he admitted that his perception has changed – if only slightly.

“Maybe I’m getting soft-hearted or soft-headed, but I found myself glad to see him in uniform.”

George Vecsey, a strong voice against putting steroid users in Cooperstown, has softened a bit. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but interesting and surprising nonetheless. It makes you wonder if perceptions could eventually change enough to earn McGwire that trip to Cooperstown. If a championship won quietly and humbly as a one-of-the-guys hitting coach can help McGwire soften the heart of one baseball writer, what will the passage of time bring?

The steroid era is a murky one, made even more difficult by the fact that it is impossible to tell who juiced and who didn’t. Everyone assumes that Ken Griffey Jr. never took anything, while many seem to assume that Jeff Bagwell did – yet there has not been any evidence made public to support either theory. And there have been enough less-than-bulky players implicated (Ryan Franklin, Jason Grimsley, to name two) to destroy the notion that you can spot a juicer just by looking at him.

We simply don’t know.

It’s confusing as hell, and voters are left to fend for themselves. Do you let in the otherwise no-doubters who have been connected to PEDs – like Bonds and Clemens – and if so, where do you draw that line? Do you punish only those players who have failed tests or admitted drug use, or do you punish the whole era and elect no one? Do you rely on your own eye test – a horribly flawed method that some will undoubtedly employ – to pick and choose? Or do you just assume the playing field was level and elect the best players from the era?

There are no clear-cut answers to these questions, and methods for how voters handle them are going to spend a good many years evolving. As the voting field changes, as new information comes to light – not just as to who was using, but as to the actual impact of PEDs on on-field performance, as opinions change and new voices are heard, the process will evolve.

Will it evolve enough for Mark McGwire to get his wish? He has nine more years on the ballot, and then there is always the Veterans Committee after that. It seems unlikely now, but hardly impossible.

Only time will tell.

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Ichiro opens up, says he ‘felt desperate’ in worst season

Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro Suzuki, 38, had the worst season of his MLB career in 2011, notching career lows in average (.272), hits (184), on-base (.310) and slugging (.335) as his Seattle Mariners struggled to a 67-95 record and second straight last-place finish in the AL West.

Ichiro talked about his disappointing year with the Nikkan Sports newspaper, and Reuters picked up the story.

As is usually the case with Ichiro, the story out of Japan is far more illuminating than just about anything that ever appears in the US press. Just a matter of being comfortable in your environment, I suppose.

Among the highlights in the story:

  • Ichiro didn’t feel right for much of the season, even in April while racking up an AL-best 39 hits. But he couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and the uncertainty kind of drove him nuts. “I felt desperate last season. That doesn’t happen to me very often. Mental stress is a lot worse than physical stress.”
  • He doesn’t take too kindly to those that suggest his drop-off is simply a natural part of the aging process. “Sometimes I feel I’m getting older, or more sensitive to what they say on TV,” he said. Can you hear the crankiness in his voice? He is getting older! Next thing you know he’ll be telling us all to get off his lawn. Ichiro did follow up the comment with this gem, however:

“Yes my skin gets dry but it’s a lame conclusion to blame everything on age. People are quick to point to age. Those kinds of people don’t interest me. But if you’re going to call yourself a professional, you need to put up results.”

  • Another nugget glossed over in the Reuters story is this: Ichiro has been linked to the general manager’s job at his former Japanese club Orix.

Very interesting. Ichiro’s contract is up after the 2012 season, so I suppose he could be looking for front office gigs back in Japan. But the scuttlebutt is that he’ll be looking for an extension from the Mariners as he chases the 3,000-hit milestone. With 2,428 career MLB hits, he would need to average 190 over the next three seasons to get to 3,000. Unless Ichiro continues to decline, an idea that surely makes him bristle, I’d bet on something getting done, possibly before the end of the 2012 season.

You can follow Bob on Twitter here, or if Facebook is your thing, be his friend here.

It’s good to be the king: David Freese wows ’em at Macy’s


After his heroics in the World Series, you had to know that life was going to become very, very good for David Freese.

As a Cardinal playing in his native St. Louis, the World Series MVP might never again be forced to buy his own drink or pay for his own dinner, even if he regresses to Willie Bloomquist for the rest of his career.

From tooling around in his brand new Corvette, to hanging out on the “Tonight Show” with Justin Bieber (right), the offseason is going to be quite enjoyable for the 28-year-old third baseman.

And if you think I’m lying, check out this headline from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: David Freese wows a Macy’s Galleria crowd.

Yeah that’s right, the Richmond Heights, Mo. Macy’s was abuzz on Wednesday, and I’m not exaggerating. According to the story, fans started getting in line the night before to snag one of the 275 wristbands that gave them a chance to take part in the event. The wristband gave the bearer the right to spend “at least $50 on Macy’s merchandise,” which you have to admit is quite a deal all by itself. (Think they sold any of these?)

But of course that’s not all they got, the big payoff being a signed baseball from their hero. Not too bad when you think about it, for the fans or for Freese.

Enjoy your new-found celebrity Mr. MVP. It’s good to be the king.

You can follow Bob on Twitter here, or if Facebook is your thing, be his friend here.

David Ortiz wins Clemente Award, says he’d like to return to Red Sox

Red Sox' Ortiz watches his two-run home run with Yankees' Cervelli during their MLB American League baseball game in Boston

David Ortiz, who will be a free agent this winter, said last week that he was open to joining the New York Yankees next season.

On Thursday, while speaking to reporters in St. Louis after winning the Roberto Clemente Award, Ortiz clarified those comments about free agency. The upshot? People made too much about what he said about the Yankees, and he would actually like to return to Boston once the Theo Epstein mess is sorted out and the team finds a new manager.

“Of course, I would like to come back,” he said. “They have a lot of things going on right now. So once they go through all the stuff, GM and managing things, I think they’re going to start talking to the players. So, we’ll see. We’ve got time.”

And what about the Yankees?

“I never said that I would sign with the Yankees. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,” he said. “They asked me if I would play for the Yankees. I said I would think about it. But I didn’t confirm to nobody that I would play for the Yankees. I’m still a Red Sox, aren’t I?”

Ortiz is right, of course. All he said was that he would have to think about going to New York if the Yankees showed interest, which seems like a perfectly reasonable way to approach free agency. That being said, he shouldn’t be surprised by the reaction given the nature of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.

So there you have it. To sum up: David Ortiz would consider being a Yankee, but would like to stay in Boston. Also, he didn’t say it, but I’m guessing he would play in Seattle or Kansas City if the money was right. OK well, really right.

Now, back to the World Series …

You can follow Bob on Twitter here, or if Facebook is your thing, be his friend here.

In Game 2, Rangers turn to playoff ace … Colby Lewis?


ST. LOUIS — All the talk about bad starting pitching from these two World Series teams — and the numbers to back it up — has taken the focus away from the hottest starting pitcher in the last two postseasons.

Who’s that, you’re thinking?

Colby Lewis, that’s who.

The Rangers’ Game 2 starter is the only starting pitcher on either team other than Chris Carpenter to do much this postseason. He delivered a gem in a crucial ALDS Game 3 in Tampa: One hit allowed, two walks, six strikeouts in a 4-3 Rangers victory that gave them a 2-1 series lead.

Lewis’  ALCS start in Detroit wasn’t nearly as good — but it wasn’t terrible either.

He trailed Doug Fister 2-0 in the sixth inning before giving up a solo homer and an RBI single and leaving with four runs and eights hits allowed — along with six strikeouts — in 5.2 innings.

That was Lewis’ first loss in six starts over the last two postseasons, and left him with this line: 4-1, 2.37, 38 IP, 25 hits, 36 strikeouts. Who needs to spend a boatload of cash to re-sign Cliff Lee when you’ve get those kind of numbers from one of your starters?

“It’s kind of all or nothing,” Lewis said of his postseason mind-set. “You go out there, and you don’t know if you’re going to get the ball again. You let it all hang out, and whatever happens, happens. You can’t worry about the what-ifs.”

The fact that Lewis will be making his third road start on Thursday in St. Louis also is no coincidence. He’s been far better on the road this season (9-5, 3.43) than at Rangers Ballpark (5-5, 5.54).

“Weather, stadiums, everything — you just adapt to it, and go have fun,” Lewis said.

Editor’s note: Tony DeMarco is a regular columnist for who has been covering the big leagues since 1987. He’ll contribute to during the World Series.