<span class="vcard">Craig Calcaterra</span>

Seaver Mets

Tom Seaver was drafted by the Braves 50 years ago today. Yes, the Braves.

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Andy at HighHeatStats.com tweeted an anniversary fact a few minutes ago: 50 years ago today, the Atlanta Braves drafted Tom Seaver. Did you know that? Most people don’t know that, but it’s one of my favorite historical baseball oddities.

The Braves weren’t even the first team to draft Seaver. The Dodgers drafted him in the 10th round the previous June, in baseball’s first-ever amateur draft. Seaver had just completed his sophomore year at the University of Southern California then and, probably realizing he was better than a 10th round pick, he did not come to an agreement with Los Angeles. There were two drafts back then — January and June — and the Braves took him on January 29, 1966.

It took close to a month for Seaver and the Braves to agree to a bonus, but they got to one on February 24, 1966, with Seaver signing a $40,000 contract. There was a slight problem, however: Seaver’s junior year season at USC was still in progress and baseball had a rule then that you could not sign a deal with a player whose season was still going on. Why? I dunno. It was just that part of the 1960s when people still followed rules. In any event, Baseball Commissioner William “Spike” Eckert ruled that the Braves’ contract with Seaver was void.

Let’s talk about Eckert for a second. Baseball’s Commissioner from 1965-1968 had perhaps the least distinguished tenure of any baseball Commissioner ever. Maybe there were reasons to be suspicious before he was even given the job in 1965. His nickname, “Spike,” came from his football-playing days, and who hires a football guy to run baseball? Virtually his entire professional career consisted of his military service — he was an Air Force general — and military consulting. He wasn’t even considered a candidate to replace Ford Frick in 1965, but was recommended to baseball owners by the legendary general Curtis LeMay. This was, literally, the only time baseball chose its Commissioner the way a lot of people think they should do so today: by throwing out a name of a smart guy you know who likes baseball and thinking he’d be OK at the gig. In this way Eckert’s supporters were the 1960s version of people who think George W. Bush or Bob Costas should be Commissioner now.

But there he was in office in 1966 when the Seaver mess went down. And, true to form, he not only was presented with a problem, but he had made it worse. Yes, he decisively voided Seaver’s deal with the Braves, but given that Seaver had signed a professional deal, voided or not, he was declared ineligible at USC. That meant that he couldn’t play anyplace. As Seaver said looking back at that time a few years ago, “so now to the professionals I’m an amateur and to the amateurs I’m a pro, and I’m stuck.” There were rumblings that Seaver’s dad was going to sue someone, probably Eckert. What to do?

Eckert held a lottery. He invited all the other big league clubs to the party, and invited them to match the Braves’ $40,000 offer to Seaver. All teams who were willing to do so would have their names tossed into a hat. Literally. The Phillies, Indians and Mets all got involved, Eckert literally put their names into  that hat and he pulled out the slip of paper wth “Mets” on it. The rest — 311 wins, three Cy Young Awards and a place on the short list for “Greatest Pitcher of All Time” — was history.

Eckert would soon be history too. Not because of the Seaver business, but because of other stuff. Eckert simply wasn’t popular in office. The fans were mad at him in 1968 when he didn’t cancel games following the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. More dangerously for Eckert’s job security, the owners were mad at him because he didn’t seem to have much of a plan to counter the Players Union which, by then, had Marvin Miller at the helm and was beginning to assert itself for the first time. Eckert was eventually canned by the owners with three years left on his contract.

And he was replaced by Bowie Kuhn, who it could be argued was way, way worse.

Carlos Gonzalez could play some first base for the Rockies

Carlos Gonzalez
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This seems sorta nutty at first blush but makes some sense once you think about it. Rockies manager Walt Weiss says that Carlos Gonzalez could get some work at first base during spring training.

The Rockies had an outfield logjam until yesterday, but then they traded Corey Dickerson to Tampa Bay and now everyone, more or less, has a slot. There could be a new logjam in the not-too-distant future, however, as the Rockies have a couple of outfield prospects in David Dahl and Raimel Tapia who look promising. Dahl has only played half a season of Double-A and Tapia hasn’t played higher than A-ball yet, but when you’re the Rockies you have to be looking at the future.

Gonzalez is 30. He played a full season last year, but the previous two years he suffered some injuries. And, while a healthy Gonzalez could certainly rebound with some nice seasons, it’s not wise to bet the world that he’ll be the hitter that he was in 2010-2013 for any sort of extended period. Making him versatile defensively and hedging against his legs going is probably pretty wise if you’re the Rockies. Doing things to extend your career is probably pretty wise if you’re Gonzalez.

Los Angeles is probably going to name a street after Vin Scully

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Glass half-empty people might say that, when they start giving you lifetime achievement awards and naming things after you, well, maybe your best years are behind you. Glass half-full people will say that an honor is an honor and it’s not worth thinking about such things.

Then there are cup-runneth-over people, like I imagine Vin Scully to be. Dude won the broadcasting version of the lifetime achievement award, the Frick Award, some 34 years ago and kept on trucking, so I imagine that, apart from concerns related to personal humility, being honored is not something which makes him wistful or overly-nostalgic.

Good thing too, because the road right outside his office is on the verge of being changed in his honor. The Dodgers just announced that a Los Angeles city councilman just offered a motion to rename Elysian Park Avenue outside of Dodger Stadium to “Vin Scully Avenue.”

Obviously there is more to do to change the name of a street than raise a motion. But I’d love to see the politician with guts enough to object.

ESPN New York writers speculate that A-Rod took PEDs last year

Alex Rodriguez
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Over at ESPN New York Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand talk about Alex Rodriguez‘s rebound 2015 and the fact that he was not involved in any controversies or snafus in the past year. And, of course, rather than merely note it and note how that is different than the past, they decide to be cynical and skeptical about it and ask whether or not Alex Rodriguez is “truly a changed man.”

Not just from a P.R. perspective, mind you. They seem to each suspect, on some level, that A-Rod is still using performance enhancing drugs. Here’s Marchand:

The other thing that can’t be ruled out is how the heck did he do it last year? I mean, two hip surgeries, his 40th birthday and basically two years of inactivity and A-Rod was great for three-quarters of the season. My mom taught me a long time ago, if it is too good to be true, it usually is. That said, maybe A-Rod was doing things on the up and up — but at this point, it would be naive not to at least wonder if he still had some extra help.

Here’s Matthews:

Unfortunately, baseball and all professional sports have made this dirty bed for themselves and it’s not only naive, but irresponsible for us as journalists not to suspect hanky-panky when an athlete of an advanced age does something it seems unlikely he would be able to do. I’ll give Alex the benefit of the doubt on 2015, but would be very surprised if he were able to remain healthy all season and produce like that again in 2016.

A-Rod has a drug history, obviously, and if he were to be caught using again it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing ever. But at the same time this sort of exercise is pretty distasteful. And it is undeniably ignorant and cynical.

Who cares if A-Rod is “truly a changed man?” Even if we do care, who can really know? As I said yesterday, we never can really know these guys so personally so as to say whether they truly are bad dudes or good dudes. We can only see what they do, we only see very little of what they do and we can only talk intelligently about what is public and what is known. If A-Rod is caught with a U-Haul full of HGH next week, fire away. Unless or until that happens, what are we really doing here other than laying the groundwork for a big “I TOLD YOU SO!” later? Or rehashing some old stories about the guy in order to cast some new aspersions? “Put up or shut up” is a cliche, but it’s a pretty damn useful one, especially when it comes to a person with whom the press has a decidedly arm’s-length relationship and about whose life they really don’t and can’t know.

More broadly, was A-Rod Satan incarnate as a result of what we knew he was doing before? No. Are other players who are not publicly revealed to have been involved in controversy Archangels? Certainly not all of them. We think we know these guys because they play sports on our TVs a couple hours a night and talk to the press for five minutes, but we don’t. We don’t know these guys and certainly don’t know everything about them. The same can be said of any and all public persons, from Alex Rodriguez to Pope Francis to Bill Cosby to everyone in between. In almost no cases is one’s public-facing persona who they “truly” are.

But still we judge. Or at least the Matthews and Marchands of the world do. It’s a negative feedback loop fueled by heavy helpings of ignorance, predispositions and myopia. It’s a process fueled by the belief that a person’s athletic exploits say something critical and important about their character. It’s a process fueled by the belief that an athlete’s good deeds or transgressions are bellwethers of their character, which is not at all the case unless those good deeds are not offset by equal transgressions or unless those transgressions are truly vile.

Ultimately, of course, this process is fueled by a belief that if a columnist flaps their lips about these sorts of things with respect to a person who is famous enough, readers will flock to it.

At least they’re right about that last part. Which is why, even though things would be much better if we simply watched sports and commented on what happens and opined on what about these athletes is both relevant and known, there will always be those who try to dig deeper. Who play armchair psychiatrist/psychic an in effort to validate their predispositions or to cast aspersions on those they simply dislike.

MLB unveils new spring training caps and jerseys and they’re pretty freakin’ sweet

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There was a time when spring training jerseys seemed like an afterthought. Glorified batting practice jerseys in many cases made to look all the worse by comparison when some teams wore them while others, at least for home games, wore their full regular-season style jerseys.

In the past few years, however, MLB and its merchandising partners have made a pretty big effort to improve the design of these things, both in terms of materials and in terms of aesthetics. Of course a big reason for this is to make it so that fans would want to buy their own versions and/or replicas of the spring training togs, but this is America, dang it, and that’s just what we do. They’ve done it to pretty uneven degrees over the years, truth-be-told. For every decent spring training design there have been some bad ones and regular season uniforms are still way better.

This year, however, the designs have taken a great stride forward. Really, most of them look pretty darn sharp. I’m not a fan of patches on the sides of caps as I think it creates an unbalanced effect, but the little highway sign-style shield is nice looking. Some of the individual team designs, particularly the White Sox, are sharper than sharp.

Go here for a slide show of all of the spring jerseys. Or, so see them all cycle through, check out these tweeted pics:

https://twitter.com/MLB/status/692762274151268352