Dispatches from Kansas City: “You have to see batting practice”

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HardballTalk’s Drew Silva is filing regular reports from this year’s MLB All-Star festivities in Kansas City, Missouri. Part OnePart Two. Part Three

Kelly’s Westport Inn is a wooden-floored Irish-style pub occupying the oldest standing structure in KC. Completed in 1850 — when the population of the United States was less than 25 million — the building has served as a trading post, a hardware store, a drug store, a hotel and a hiding place along the Underground Railroad (well, that part’s just a rumor). Last night, it housed an impromptu get-together for a pack of thirsty baseball media types.

I drank Boulevard Single-Wide IPAs and shots of Jim Beam and I stood with jaw agape when ESPN anchor Steve Berthiaume not only recognized my name but said he “really enjoyed” my writing. I chatted about minor leaguers and music with Jason Parks and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. I met Matt Meyers, the editor of the MLB page on ESPN.com. I was explained lifelong frustration by local Royals podcasters.

The experience might have been overwhelming, but I’d been slugging bourbon and last call arrived quickly.

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“Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long.” I couldn’t get that lyric out of my head as I watched baseball’s best prospects crush souvenirs into the seats before today’s Futures Game.

source:  “You have to see batting practice,” Meyers had told me over beers the night before at Kelly’s. The kids aren’t jaded yet by the major-league environment and they’re not used to warming up for a game surrounded by so much media, so they try to put on a show in the half-cage and then offer long, thoughtful answers afterward in on-field interviews.

Cardinals outfield prospect Oscar Taveras — referred to by a scout recently as the best offensive talent in the minors — spoke to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a couple of minutes as I stood by, watching two pros at work. Taveras, 20, is batting .322 with a .968 OPS, 17 homers, 25 doubles and 63 RBI in 79 games this season at Double-A Springfield. Goold is the best beat writer in the country.

I introduced myself to ESPN’s Keith Law, who called HardballTalk a “great, great blog” and referred to our editor playfully as “Grumpy Craig.” He spoke with enthusiasm about the starting pitchers on Team USA and indulged my followup questions. We talked about the legendary sauce at Gates — which I basically bathed in last night at dinner — and about the inconvenient hours at a barbecue shack named LC’s, which is the best place to get burnt ends if all the Kansas City natives I’ve spoken to on this trip are to be believed.

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The Futures Game was a slugfest, paced by the American bats. Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos went 3-for-4 with a homer and three runs scored. Fleet-footed infielder Billy Hamilton — property of the Reds — zoomed around the bases in the third inning for an RBI triple. Astros youngster Jonathan Singleton, who is built like an outside linebacker, finished the day 3-for-4. The Royals’ own Wil Myers collected three RBI with a run-scoring groundout, a sacrifice fly and a seventh-inning single. Everything he did drew a loud ovation from the hopeful sellout crowd at Kauffman Stadium. He’ll be back here for good by mid-September.

I took it all in from the press box while cracking salted peanuts and getting to know industry veterans.

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Next up is the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, featuring “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, nearly-undefeated UFC figther Jon “Bones” Jones and former major league players like George Brett, Bo Jackson, Ozzie Smith and Joe Carter. I’ll stay for a few innings to scout Don Draper’s swing before heading back downtown to check on the city’s supply of Boulevard Wheat.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.