Posnanski and Paterno

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This has no connection to baseball, but it deals with the guy who happens to be the best baseball writer in the business, so I figure it’s fair game. Anyway, if you’re weary of this subject, please move along.

A couple of years ago, Joe Posnanski set out to write the definitive Joe Paterno biography.  At the time, it was — to quote Posnanski’s own book proposal — supposed to “tell the remarkable story about a man who could have been anything but decided that the best way he could help change America was one college football player at a time.” It was to be “the most amazing football story ever told.”

All that came to light last year caused that to go right out the window, obviously. At the time the scandal broke huge, the always popular and rarely if ever controversial Posnanski had perhaps his worst experience in the public light, when he referred to Paterno as “a scapegoat” to Penn State students. Posnanski was roundly criticized for this. For my part, it struck me as an instance of a man whose greatest strength is finding the positive and interesting in things reacting too soon and with too little information to a situation that was so horrific that it caused most people’s gravity to be lost, however briefly.

Since then, two things have happened that I suppose are related. First, Posnanski’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, moved the publication up nearly a year in response to the story blowing up, and it comes out in August 2012 instead of June 2013. Second, Posnanski largely went to radio silence. I presume the nature of the new story and crazy new deadline pressure would demand that of anyone.  As of now, this is all we know:

 

So the book is written and now, presumably, an epilogue incorporating the Freeh Report is being appended. And I’m having a hard time imagining what the book will look like.

Posnanski is my favorite baseball writer, full stop, and I also believe he’s the best. But I also worry that his gifts are not necessarily compatible with the sort of story the public wants or maybe needs so soon after the full horrors of the Jerry Sandusky saga — and Joe Paterno’s complicity in them — became fully known. I could see Posnanski writing National Book Award stuff about all of this a few years from now, but I feel like the world is currently demanding something decidedly un-Posnanskian at the moment. Something raw and bloody and newsy and quick, for better or for worse.  If that’s what they want, I worry about the reception of the book he does put out, both critically and commercially. Which probably doesn’t matter to most people, but it matters to me as, like I said, Posnanski is my favorite baseball writer and I’d like to see this work out well for him.

I hope Posnanski surprises. I think he’s smart enough and talented enough to do so. I also think that even though this was not the book he ever thought he’d be writing when he set out to do it, he has it within him to write something worthy and interesting and good.

But I, as a lesser writer, can’t think of how one does that. Unless of course he goes all Charlie Kaufman/Hunter S. Thompson meta with it and we wind up with something sorta gonzo and explosive. A story which builds on the copy from his publisher’s press releases about how the Sandusky scandal “eventually consumed” Paterno and talks about how the scandal also threatened to consume Posnanski too. After all, who wouldn’t it threaten to consume in that situation?

Again, that’s not exactly the first kind of story you think of when you think of Joe Posnanski.  But after being so overwhelmed with the horrors of the Paterno/Sandusky story, it’s the sort of story I’d be very interested in reading and I hope that, even if he can’t tell it in the book which comes out next month, he does tell it eventually.

Six players inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame

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Six players were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, marking the 78th such class of inductees in MLB history. Following their election to the Hall in December and January, Mike Mussina, Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Lee Smith, and Mariano Rivera accepted the honor among an impressive gathering of their peers, while Brandy Halladay accepted the award on behalf of her late husband, Roy.

Mussina, 50, received 76.7% of the votes needed for induction in his sixth year on the ballot. Over an 18-year career split between the Orioles and Yankees, the right-hander was decorated with five All-Star designations and seven Gold Gloves, and led the league with 19 pitching wins in 1995. He capped his lengthy list of accomplishments in 2008, finishing with a career 270-153 record and a 3.68 ERA, 2,813 strikeouts, and 82.8 WAR.

During his induction speech, Mussina reminisced about his childhood memories of whiffle ball and Little League before launching into a few anecdotes from his career in Baltimore and New York.

“Since I received the incredible and surprising news of my election to the Hall of Fame back in January, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my journey to Cooperstown,” he concluded. “How did a kid from a small town in rural PA play enough whiffle ball to make it to the major leagues and pitch there for 18 years? I was never fortunate enough to win a Cy Young Award or be a World Series champion. I didn’t win 300 games or strike out 3,000 batters. And while my opportunities for those achievements are in the past, I get to become a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Maybe I was saving up from all of those almost-achievements for one last push, and this time I made it.”

Mussina chose not to select a team affiliation for his plaque in the Hall, as he told reporters he had too many fond memories with both the Orioles and Yankees to choose between them.

Halladay was just 40 years old when he was killed in a plane crash in November 2017. He was elected to the Hall in his first year of eligibility with 85.4% of the vote, an appropriate decoration for the late two-time Cy Young Award winner and eight-time All-Star. Over 16 years with the Blue Jays and Phillies, the right-hander consistently led the league in wins, complete games, and innings pitched. By the time he entered retirement in 2013, he carried a lifetime 203-105 record with a 3.38 ERA, 67 complete games, 20 shutouts, 2,117 strikeouts, and 65.4 WAR. Most impressive of all, however, were the two no-hitters he pitched for the Phillies in 2010: the first, a 1-0 perfect game against the Marlins, and the second, a 4-0 no-hitter against the Reds that marked just the second no-no to be tossed in postseason history.

In an emotional speech from Halladay’s wife, Brandy, she spoke to Roy’s dedication to his team and his family.

“I think that Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect,” she said. “We are all imperfect and flawed in one way or another. We all struggle, but with hard work, humility, and dedication, imperfect people can still have perfect moments. Roy was blessed in his life and in his career, and had some perfect moments, but I believe they were only possible because of the man he strived to be, the teammate that he was, and the people he was so blessed to be on the field with.”

Like Mussina, Halladay’s plaque will not feature a team designation, either. Instead, as mentioned several months ago, his family wants him to be remembered simply as a ‘Major League Baseball player’.

Baines, 60, missed his chance for election to the Hall through conventional voting procedures when he was dropped from the ballot in 2011, but was later selected by the Today’s Game Era Ballot in December 2018. A designated hitter and right fielder for a plethora of teams over the course of his 22-year career — including the White Sox, Rangers, Athletics, Orioles, and Indians — Baines earned consideration for the MVP award on four separate occasions and was named to the All-Star team six times. His multi-decade run petered out with the White Sox during his age-42 season in 2001, by which point he’d racked up a lifetime .289/.356/.465 batting line with 384 home runs, 1,628 RBI, and 38.7 WAR.

During his induction speech, Baines included a moving tribute to his late father. “So in the end, when you ask me why I’ve never been outspoken or said very much, think of my dad and the lesson he passed on to me many years ago, often when we played catch in the yard,” Baines told the crowd. “As he told me, ‘Words are easy, deeds are hard.’ Words can be empty. Deeds speak volumes, and sometimes they echo forever.”

Baines will enter the Hall as a member of the White Sox, the team for which he played 14 of his 22 years in the majors and helped to a World Series title in 2005.

Martinez, 56, was on the cusp of losing his ballot position when he was finally elected to the Hall with 85.4% of the vote. A prolific hitter by most standards, Martinez’s election caused no shortage of debates among voters who believed his designation as a lifelong DH hampered his eligibility for enshrinement. Those arguments were finally put to rest in January, making Martinez the sixth Mariners player to enter the Hall behind Gaylord Perry, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Randy Johnson, and Ken Griffey Jr. (though he’ll be just the second with Seattle’s logo on his plaque).

Over 18 years for the Mariners, Martinez was named an All-Star seven times, earned a Silver Slugger award five times, and was an instrumental part of the Mariners’ postseason efforts in 1995, 1997, 2000, and 2001. Having developed a fearsome reputation against some of the game’s best pitchers, he finished his campaign with Seattle sporting a .312/.418/.515 batting line, 309 home runs, 514 doubles, 1,261 RBI, and 68.4 WAR.

Martinez thanked many of his former teammates by name and made special mention of the fans who supported his Hall of Fame campaign over the last decade.

“I am so fortunate to have two homes, Puerto Rico and Seattle,” Martinez said. “Seattle fans, thank you for always being there for me. Since 1987, you gave me your unconditional support, and it was even more prevalent in the last ten years. The support you gave me over the social media really helped get me here today. […] This is a day I never could have ever imagined happening when I was growing up in Puerto Rico or when I was in the minor leagues wondering when my chance would come, and honestly, there were times over the last ten years I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. So thank you once again to everyone along the way who made this dream come true. “

Smith, 61, was unanimously elected to the Hall via Today’s Game Era Ballot last December after falling off the BBWAA ballot in 2017. A celebrated closer for the Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Angels, Reds, and Expos, the righty held the all-time saves record for 13 years — a mark that wasn’t surpassed until he passed the torch to fellow Hall of Fame inductee Trevor Hoffman in 2006. He hung up his cap in 1997, rounding out his 18 years with seven All-Star honors, 478 career saves, a 3.03 ERA, 1,251 strikeouts, and 29.3 WAR.

“No matter where I pitched, I always wanted to embody two traits,” Smith said, “loyalty, to the team and my teammates (I never wanted to disgrace the uniform), and dependability, as a teammate and as a pitcher. It didn’t matter when I was given the ball — seventh, eighth, or ninth inning — no mater how many innings I pitched, as long as I could unpack the game and help my team. I truly believe from all walks of life, if you work hard and if you are loyal and dependable you can really find success.”

Given his eight-year track in Chicago, Smith will enter the Hall with a Cubs designation on his plaque.

Rivera, 49, had the well-deserved honor of garnering the first-ever unanimous vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America during his first year on the ballot. A Yankee from his rookie season in 1995 through his final year in 2013, Rivera was a powerhouse closer, touting an MLB-record 952 games with 652 saves and a 205 ERA+ and pitching to a career 2.21 ERA, 1,173 strikeouts, and 56.3 WAR over 19 years in the majors. He was named to the AL All-Star team 13 times and helped the Yankees to five World Series titles, earning multiple postseason MVP awards in 1999 and 2003. While he never netted a Cy Young or MVP award during the regular season — despite placing among the top vote-getters on 15 separate occasions — he was honored as a Rolaids Relief Man Award winner five times and an MLB Delivery Man Award winner three times. The AL MLB Reliever of the Year Award is currently named for him as well.

“First of all, I don’t understand why I always have to be the last,” Rivera joked as he took the podium. “I kept saying that for the last 17 years of my career: ‘Why do I have to be the last one?’ I guess being the last one was special.”

After thanking his family, teammates, the Yankees organization, and the fans, Rivera ruminated on his long journey to the majors and the development of the cutter that made him so effective in New York.

“The Lord gave me the best pitch in baseball,” he told the crowd. “I was playing catch with Ramiro Mendoza, and I didn’t know what to do. Imagine a closer that doesn’t know where the ball is going to go. […] I told Mel [Stottlemyre], ‘You know, Mel, leave it like this, because whatever’s going to happen is going to happen.’ And I learned how to use that pitch. I used that pitch for 17 years, and I used it well.”

Rivera, naturally, will enter the Hall with the Yankees’ logo on his plaque.