“I can assure you that the Russians did not interfere with this election. The only Vladimir in question was Vladimir Guerrero!” quipped Baseball Writers Association of America secretary-treasurer and longtime Bayside resident Jack O’Connell at the start of last Thursday’s press conference that introduced the Baseball Hall of Fame’s newest members: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez.
Tim Raines was in his tenth and final year of eligibility and he took some humorous and well-deserved shots at the BBWAA membership for finally getting it right. Although he played for the Yankees from 1996 through 1998 he was best known for his thirteen years as a speedy outfielder for the Montreal Expos in a playing career that lasted parts of 23 seasons.
Raines was a victim of ownership collusion when he decided to become a free agent at the end of the 1986 season. No club made him an offer so he was basically forced to re-sign with the Expos. He had to miss spring training thanks to the collusion and was not allowed to play until May 1, 1987 in accordance with the collective bargaining rules at the time. Sure enough on his first day back the Expos were playing the Mets at Shea Stadium. Veteran Mets fans will remember him as a Mets killer and Tim didn’t disappoint them that day as he got four hits including a triple and a grand slam.
He was diplomatic when I asked him his recollections of being a victim of collusion. “Well, I was hoping to test my market value but I always wanted to return to Montreal.”
Former Mets general manager and Newtown High School Omar Minaya attended the press conference. Ivan Rodriguez thanked him for signing him to his first professional baseball contract when he was the minor league director of the Texas Rangers.
Falling just short of the magic 75% BBWAA vote this time out were San Diego Padres longtime closer Trevor Hoffman and the aforementioned slugger Vladimir Guerrero who should be shoo-ins for induction in 2018. What was most perplexing to me about the vote was the continued lack of support for one of the best relief pitchers I ever saw, Lee Smith, who tallied only 34% of the vote.
What was most surprising about the 2017 vote was that former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada received less than 5% in his first year on the ballot and thus won’t be back on it in the future. Like Don Mattingly, Posada was a borderline candidate and many pro and con arguments can be made for him with respect to a plaque in Cooperstown. At the very least he deserved better than a one-and-done deal.
Former Braves slugger and Mets tormentor Chipper Jones will be eligible for the Hall of Fame next year. He is certain to be a first ballot inductee.
Mark Littell, a very good reliever for the Royals and the Cardinals during a career that spanned from 1973 through 1982, has just published a humorous look back at his career titled “On The Eighth Day God Created Baseball” (Habanero Publishing). In it he recalls the anguish of giving up the Game 5 ninth inning home run to Chris Chambliss in 1976 that sent the Yankees to the first World Series in a dozen years. He also details how he nearly started a riot in Cleveland when an errant throw in the bullpen nailed an elderly women in the noggin in the stands. While it’s not “Ball Four”, it is a light fun read that will bring back a lot of memories for baby boomers. Littell incidentally is an inventor. Based on his experience as a player he designed a protective groin cup called Nutty Buddy.
Alex Rodriguez has earned critical praise for his work on Fox Sports’ national baseball telecasts and he is expanding his interest in the world of television as he’ll be hosting a new show for CNBC set to debut in the spring titled “Back In The Game.” It’s about retired athletes who find themselves in financial peril and want to regain the monetary security that they once enjoyed. Michael Strahan is the executive producer.
With all due respect to Islanders interim head coach Doug Weight, who replaced “Captain” Jack Capuano who was fired by Isles GM Garth Snow in the final days of the Obama administration, their fans would be better off if the team did not make the playoffs. That would propel the new majority owners of the team, Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, to finally get rid of the incompetent Snow, who has been at the helm for the last 11 years, and truly start the process for turning things around.
As someone who spends a lot of time in beautiful San Diego I felt for the city’s sports fans after their longtime NFL team, the Chargers, announced that they would be relocating to Los Angeles effective this fall. It’s a credit to their citizens that they refused to be intimidated by the team’s owners, the Spanos family, who demanded that the taxpayers of San Diego County help fund their privately held enterprise with a new stadium.
The most bizarre reaction to the Chargers’ relocation came from Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy who told San Diegoans that they should still root for their old team since they are just moving two hours north on Interstate 5. Do you think that Philadelphia fans would root for a team of theirs decided to move two hours north on the New Jersey Turnpike? I don’t believe that DeCourcy, who lives in Indianapolis, would be that cavalier if the Colts or Pacers decided to relocate two hours away to the greater Chicago area.
Sean Spicer’s first press briefing as White House press secretary late Saturday afternoon in which he berated the press for accurately reporting that Barack Obama’s first inauguration drew more spectators than Donald Trump’s did on Friday (as if anyone really cared one way or the other) reminded me of former Rangers head coach John Tortorella’s combustive postgame press conferences.
I actually found that part of Spicer’s debut in front of the press corps fairly humorous. What bothered me more was the promise from him that the relationship between the White House and the press, whose job by nature is to probe and be skeptical, will be most likely be combative from here on out.
As longtime readers of this column know, I rarely, if ever, get political. The reason that I was concerned about what occurred in the White House press room Saturday is that this type of confrontational behavior has been increasing in sports.
While most sports team public relations executives are first class professionals who understand the role of the press in promoting their product, there have been an increasing amount of bullies in their ranks in recent years who sneer at reporters who ask tough questions (particularly if they are from what they deem to be small outlets) as well as trying to limit the number of questions asked at a press conference to a ridiculously small amount. My educated guess is that the tone set by the Trump administration with respect to media relations will embolden these pathetic self-important sports gatekeepers.
Five days before Donald Trump was inaugurated as our 45th president in Washington, DC, New York City corporate attorney Moishe Bane was being inaugurated as the new president of the Orthodox Union at Citi Field as part of that organization’s annual gathering which discusses the future of Orthodox Jewry. Hopefully President Bane will impart some mazel to the Mets this season.