Big Papi leads my IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

David Ortiz

David Ortiz, Hall of Famer in waiting. 

It would be nice to think that the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America’s annual Hall of Fame voting can be more than merely symbolic in the bigger picture. Not just because I happen to be a life member, but for reasons I enunciated in a previous essay addressing how to adjust the Hall vote.

Including that we of the IBWAA aren’t just a gaggle of bathrobe scribblers. We do have members of the Baseball Writers Association of America among us. But we also have a flock of very dedicated writers who watch baseball and think hard about the game we love, at least as hard as the average “legitimate” reporter/commentator.

We think hard about the Hall of Fame, too. We want to see the worthy get their due. We cringe with everyone else when the less worthy stand at the Cooperstown podium. We lament when the worthy don’t get their due. We want to see the Hall of Fame represent geniune greatness, not mere sentiment or a kind of gold or platinum watch.

Our baseball hearts break with anyone else’s, too, when we see men on the ballot we thought looked to be Hall of Famers in the making when they first hit the field or the mound only to be waylaid for assorted sad reasons.

There’s sadness enough on this year’s Hall ballot. But there’s also joy enough. And, additional or recurring controversy enough. That’s one, two, three bases, you’re in at the old ball game’s vote for the game’s highest known honour. Let’s hope that, this time, between the BBWAA, the Golden Era Committee, and the Early Baseball Committee, they step up with the bases loaded and knock it right out of the park.

We of the IBWAA vote only for those on the BBWAA ballot. More’s the pity, because I’d love to see us make ourselves known about the Golden Era and Early Baseball Committees’ candidates. (Frankly, I’d love to have even a symbolic hand in giving their due  to Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Bill Dahlen, John Donaldson, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Buck O’Neil, and Tubby Scales.)

Following will be my Hall votes this time around, and why, symbolic though they are. You may notice no review of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. That’s because the IBWAA already “elected” them and thus removed them from our annual ballot. In the real world, of course, neither Bonds nor Clemens are in yet. They’re also now on their final real-world BBWAA ballots. (So, for that matter, is Sammy Sosa.)

They’re still hobbled by, you know, that stuff with actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances. Never mind that a) they’re believed to have indulged during the pre-testing, so-called Wild West PED era of the 1990s/early Aughts; or, b) they had Hall of Fame credentials to burn before the points at which they became suspect.

But on with it. There’s only one BBWAA ballot newcomer getting my vote:


David Ortiz 

Big Papi is problematic for one reason only: that anonymous 2003 testing that 1) turned him up positive but 2) was supposed to be anonymous and to determine just how broad a testing program to come should be. And even Commissioner Nero has said, often enough, that there was enough false positive doubt to remove the taint from him.

Ortiz didn’t even know about that anonymously-tested positive for a few years to follow . . . and he never flunked a drug test in thirteen years once the mandatory testing programs began in earnest not long afterward.

The anti-DH bias doesn’t hold anymore, not with Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez in the Hall of Fame, it doesn’t. (Harold Baines, you say? Sorry, that was a Today’s Game Committee mistake—a big mistake. Baines was and remains a classic Hall of the Gold Watch player and nothing much more than that. The Today’s Game Committee decided to give him the platinum watch of a plaque in Cooperstown. Nobody says I have to agree with it or keep my mouth shut about it.)

But as a designated hitter, especially once he joined the Red Sox, this guy was a wrecking machine. Not given much of a shot with the Twins while they still played at home in the old Metrodome, Ortiz going to the Red Sox got a big boost right out of the chute: he moved from a home “park” that wasn’t so great for him to one that was.

He also moved from a team that wasn’t as good as the 2003 Red Sox were at putting men on base for him to drive in. He’d given previous hints to what he could do in the postseason; then, in 2004, he damn near became the postseason with what he did to help the Red Sox overthrow the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

Ortiz helped the Red Sox break the actual or alleged Curse of the Bambino at last and helped them to two more World Series rings before he was finished at last. He was nothing to trifle with in the postseason overall (.289/.404/.543; seventeen home runs; .947 OPS) but he was a weapon of mass destruction in the World Series. (.455/.576/.795 in fourteen World Series games; 1.372 OPS; nine of twenty Series hits going for extra bases including three over the fences.)

Big Papi was must-see everything once he flipped the switch and went from good to great to off the charts at the plate. That’s before considering he finished his career with 541 home runs, 1,192 extra base hits total, and 48 percent of his hits going for extra bases overall. He’s also one of only three men to finish their careers with 500+ home runs and 600+ doubles: the others are Bonds and Hall of Famer Henry Aaron.

So how does Ortiz stack among the Hall of Fame DHs according to my Real Batting Average (RBA: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances)?

Frank Thomas 10,075 4550 1667 168 121 87 .654
David Ortiz 10,091 4765 1319 209 92 38 .637
Edgar Martinez 8674 3718 1283 113 77 89 .609
Harold Baines 11,092 4604 1062 187 99 14 .538
HOF AVG .610

Ortiz is only fourteen RBA points behind Thomas and 28 points ahead of Martinez, and he’s 27 points above the Hall average for DHs. (Yes, that’s Baines 72 points below the Hall’s DH average—considering those who spent all or the majority of their careers in the role.)

You know something? Yes, let’s get it out of the way, since there’s been more than a little carping from the anti-DH crowd: Ortiz played 265 games at first base lifetime . . . and he wasn’t terrible at it.

He didn’t have a lot of range, but he was only three points below his league average for fielding percentage, he was only seven defensive runs saved below the league average, and he had decent hands that enabled him to turn more than a few double plays. We’re not exactly talking about the second coming of Dick (Dr. Strangeglove) Stuart here.

But we are talking about the arguable second-greatest full-time DH ever to check in at the plate. We’re also talking about a guy who avoided more than a few Red Sox scandals during the heat of his career there (they don’t remember Papi Being Papi with due derision) and a guy who could and often did put the entire city on his back when disaster or terrible mass crime struck.

Who can forget This is our [fornicating] city! that Opening Day following the Marathon bombing and launching the Red Sox to their third World Series conquest with Ortiz in the lineup? Just pray that, during his Cooperstown induction speech, Big Papi doesn’t surrender to the overwhelming temptation to holler, This is our [fornicating] Hall of Fame!


The rest of my yes votes

Todd Helton—Unlike Hall of Famer Larry Walker, the Toddfather never got the chance to show what he could do with a park other than Coors Field as his home park. Even with the width of his home/road splits, though, Helton hit respectably enough on the road that you’d have a hard time convincing anyone that he wasn’t as Hall of Fame as a first baseman gets.

Helton also crosses the average Hall of Famer’s batting threshold according to Bill James’s Monitor and Standards measures, and his peak value is a few points above the average Hall of Fame first baseman. He was a rare bird who walked more than he struck out, was an on-base machine (.414. lifetime on-base percentage), and he was deadlier at the plate with men in scoring position than he was with the bases empty.

He wasn’t the second coming of Keith Hernandez at first base, but he was a well above-average defender. That still sounds like a Hall of Famer to me.

Andruw Jones—I’m pretty sure people still have a near-impossible time reconciling Jones’s too-staggering decline phase to his peak through age 29. It started with his final, injury-marred Atlanta season, and continued so profoundly in Los Angeles that he became indifferent enough to be a sad punch line before he was finally bought out of his deal.

But that peak should still be enough to make Jones a Hall of Famer. He wasn’t just a Hall-level hitter before those later-career health issues, but he was way off the proverbial charts as a run-preventive center fielder. He had a great throwing arm, a genius for finding sure routes to balls despite his habitual shallow positioning, and both elevated him where it mattered the most—and not just in the highlight reels, either.

Jones retired with the second-most defensive runs saved above his league average for any player at any position—only Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson’s +293 out-rank Jones’s +253. Jones is also +80 ahead of Hall of Famer Willie Mays, incidentally.

Don’t be silly. I’m not calling Jones a better player than Mays, or even Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. They were just too much better all-around to kid yourself. I am saying, however, that taken strictly for his defense Jones was the most run-preventive defensive center fielder who ever played major league baseball.

Measure him by wins above replacement-level player (WAR), and Jones’s seven-year peak WAR is above that of the average Hall of Fame center fielder. There are plenty of peak-value Hall of Famers in Cooperstown. Jones’s Hall of Fame teammate, Chipper Jones, wasn’t just blowing smoke when he said upon his own induction that if you wanted to beat the 1990s Braves “you had to go through the Jones boys, too.”

That’s the way Hall of Famers play the game. And if the Hall now gives more value to defense than in the past, Jones assuredly deserves the honour even more.

Andruw Jones

Andruw Jones—the best in the game at center field for long enough, and the second-most run-preventive defender at any position, ever. That sounds like a Hall of Famer to me. 

Jeff Kent—The best-hitting second baseman of the expansion era was traded three times before finding a home with the Giants at 29. He was also a product of a high-scoring era, but he wasn’t a particlarly great defensive second baseman even if he was slick on the double play. That -42 defensive runs saved below his league average doesn’t enhance him.

Neither does his reputation as a personality often described as “prickly,” and its still to wonder whether Kent’s once-notorious attitude issues remain enough to keep the BBWAA from putting him in despite the continuing ballot crowd. More telling, though, is that both early-career mishandlings plus enough injuries over the second half of his career had big enough hands in his final performance papers.

Kent’s 351 home runs as a second baseman remain the most for any player playing that position. (The man most likely to have threatened that record, Robinson Canó, may not get the chance after all.) That helps his Hall case, as does his overall fine postseason record.

He wouldn’t be the worst man or second baseman in the Hall. I’ll vote for Kent on the record alone, but I do suspect he may yet find himself needing a future Era Committee to give him the second look he may yet need to get his plaque.

Scott Rolen—It wasn’t Rolen’s fault that he was villified and sullied during his early seasons in Philadelphia. He just wasn’t the kind of guy Loud Larry Bowa and Drill Sgt. Dallas Green loved. He was soft spoken, he let his prep and his play do his talking, and he didn’t blow up the nearest inanimate objects when a swing missed or a play faltered or a game was lost. You hear a lot of lip service to let’s just get ’em tomorrow. Rolen lived it.

If he’d been a fighter pilot, Rolen would have earned a rep as the classic maintain-an-even-strain type. The Right Stuff. Bowa, Green, and the Phillies front office misread Rolen as indifferent. Even if every teammate he had knew better. He hustled himself into injuries and that only added to the sullying, in Philadelphia and in St. Louis, where he ran afoul of Tony La Russa despite playing his usual kind of hard and delivering performances that helped the Cardinals to a few postseasons and a World Series ring.

Rolen fumed over La Russa souring on him for being injured in honest competition. If only he could have then-Brewers manager Ned Yost for a skipper. Yost called him “the perfect baseball player. It’s his tenacity, his preparation, the way he plays. He tries to do everything fundamentally sound. And he puts the team first—there’s no fanfare with him.”

Then-Cardinals GM John Mozeliak came publicly to regret trading Rolen to the Blue Jays. Former Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty caught wind that Rolen wanted to play closer to home   and pried him out of the Jays for the Reds. Rolen helped the Reds to a couple of postseasons, too.

Rolen wasn’t the hitter Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones was, but Jones wasn’t the defender Rolen was, either. Not by about ten country miles. Rolen won eight Gold Gloves and they weren’t by reputation alone. Only Robinson and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt have more such awards at third base.

Rolen had eleven seasons averaging ten or more runs saved at third and three in which he averaged twenty or more. His 140 defensive runs above league average are tied for sixth amont third basemen all time. Preferring to leave it on the field and at the plate without starving for publicity or acting like the star he did his best not to present himself being may have been Rolen’s number one career problem.

Every team should have that kind of problem, then sit back and watch themselves win a little bit more with it. Rolen’s Hall candidacy gets more traction year by year. He deserves a plaque in Cooperstown and he should get it before his ten years’ ballot eligibility expires.

Curt Schilling (with prejudice)—On the mound: no-questions-asked Hall of Famer. (Only Schilling plus Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins, Greg Maddux, and Pedro Martinez have ever struck 3000+ batters out and walked -1,000 batters.) He sought the biggest of the big games and delivered when he got them most of the time.

Off the mound: no-questioned-asked jerk. It only begins with eleven words: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required,” on a T-shirt; “OK, so much awesome here,” in a tweet he deleted at the speed of light when the you-know-what hit the you-know-what and he pleaded sarcasm. He also said of it in due course, “Gotta own the times you go off the rails.”

Schilling’s Phillies general manager Ed Wade once said he was a horse every five days and a horse’s ass the other four. I’ll say again: When you take your children to Cooperstown, and you see his plaque, just tell them he’s not the first and won’t be the last Hall of Famer at the ballpark who was a Hall of Shamer away from it.

I don’t have to love the man to respect and vote for the pitcher. But let’s let Jay Jaffe have the penultimate word, from The Cooperstown Casebook:

I wouldn’t invite Schilling into my own home, and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to view him as a role model, but in my view nothing in his career leaves a doubt that he belongs in Cooperstown. He ranks among the all-time greats via his run prevention skill, his dominance in the game’s most elemental battle of balls and strikes, and his repeated ability to rise to the occasion when the on-field stakes were highest.

Gary Sheffield—Strictly by his counting statistics, Sheffield has a Hall of Fame case. His talent was as outsized as his reputation for self-centricity. He was a study in pending destruction at the plate, and he had a one-for-one-and-all-for-Gary reputation that wasn’t always justified.

His career happened mostly in a high-offense era, but he had an odd problem: he played too much in home ballparks that hated righthanded hitters. (Strangely, too, he did well enough in one of them, Dodger Stadium.) Marry that to the nagging injuries dogging him much of his career and he lands in a strange position.

For all his home runs (509), for all that he sits in the top 25 for walks and runs created, his offensive winning percentage (.687) puts him just inside the top one hundred. A player that talented with his kind of stats should have pulled up a lot higher. Taken all-around, his lack of black and gray ink (top ten finishes) leaves Sheffield as borderline as it gets. His defensive deficiencies (-195 defensive runs below his league average) killed him for peak and career WAR, too.

Sheffield could be his own worst enemy but in some ways he’s also a wronged man. He tended to nuke more than burn bridges when he felt he was done wrong, but he was also accused falsely of tanking plays with the Brewers after a hard wild throw in the minors caused a rift with a manager who subsequently apologised to him.

Dinged by the notorious BALCO steroids case when he really might have been tricked into using an actual/alleged PED, Sheffield’s ding, too, came before the formal testing/penalty program. Even the hardest-line writers against actual or alleged PEDs inclined to give Sheffield the benefit of the doubt. I do, too.

There are worse men in Cooperstown than Sheffield, and there are Hall of Famers who were their own worst enemies to a far greater extent. He may end up having to wait for an Era Committee to send him there, but Sheffield has a real Hall of Fame case. And he won’t be half as controversial as some other Hall of Famers who might come to mind.

Billy Wagner—Maybe the most underrated relief pitcher of his and just about any time. He was as lights out as relief pitchers got and then some, even allowing that nobody yet has really figured out a final objective and definitive way to rate relief pitchers of any era.

Wagner yanked himself to a pinnacle following a childhood about which “hard scrabble” might be an understatement. (Too-frequent home changes; poverty so profound that peanut butter on a cracker equaled dinner often enough.) He was a small man who made himself into a lefthanded assassin. (Two right arm fractures during his impoverished childhood compelled him to go portside.)

Billy the Kid finished his fifteen-year career with a 0.99 walks/hits per inning pitched rate; and, when it comes to win probability added, Wagner has only four relievers ahead of him, Hall of Famers all: in ascending order, Trevor Hoffman, Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dennis Eckersley, and The Mariano. He was also on his own planet when it came to missing bats. In fifteen full major league seasons (he had a cup of coffee with the 1995 Astros), his strikeouts-per-nine innings rate fell below 10.0 only once; he retired with a lifetime 11.9 rate.

Nobody could hit this guy too often: the lifetime batting average against him is .187. Here’s how the hitters did against the other Hall of Fame relievers:

Lee Smith—.235.
Rollie Fingers—.232.
Bruce Sutter—.230.
Goose Gossage—.228.
Dennis Eckersley—.225.
Hoyt Wilhelm—.213.
Trevor Hoffman—.211.
Mariano Rivera—.211.

Would you like to be reminded whom among those men pitched in the most hitter-friendly times? That would be Smith (in the final third of his career), Hoffman, The Mariano, and Billy the Kid. It’s to wonder how much more stupefying the record might be if Wagner could have avoided assorted injuries including late-career Tommy John surgery.

Maybe his only flaw was a Sheffield-like tendency to nuke bridges once he left town, though for far different reasons. Wagner waged war against those he thought didn’t share his competitiveness and determination. But he finally admitted in his memoir, A Way Out, “I learned a lot about criticism and how not to be a leader when I was traded.”

When he walked away after 2010, he decided his family was a lot more important to him than whatever else he could accomplish as a pitcher. “There’s nothing left for me to do in baseball,” Wagner admitted after leaving the park one last time. “I’m not going to change anyone’s mind about whether I’m a Hall of Famer. People are either going to like me or hate me, and I can’t change their minds. Besides, life is about a lot more than this game.”

If you must, call Wagner the Bert Blyleven of relief pitchers, with a Hall case that kinda sorta sneaks up on you upon deeper analysis. But he does deserve the honour.

The Rest of the Newcomers

I didn’t vote for the rest of the BBWAA ballot newcomers, but a few were geniunely sad:

Carl Crawford—On-base and speed machine ground down by injuries, especially when he tried playing through them anyway to avoid certain managers dismissing him as a quitter. He was a great defensive left fielder, too. (+99 runs saved above his league average.) Short enough of a Hall of Famer, but better than you remember him.

Prince Fielder—Finished at 32 thanks to neck injuries and surgery, but he sure looked like a Hall of Famer in the making for a few years with that big incendiary bat, didn’t he? I did zap him once in print for a seemingly indifferent take on the Tigers’ postseason elimination, but I changed my mind—you’d rather he trashed the clubhouse or wailed about the injustice of it all?

Ryan Howard—Everyone in Philadelphia would love to rewind the tape back to just before Howard’s Achilles tendon injury turned him almost overnight from the deadliest of the deadly to a journeyman who still had some pop but little else in the final five seasons of a thirteen-year career. No great defensive first baseman, the injury eroded Howard’s real ticket to Cooperstown, his thunderous bat.

Tim Lincecum—Won two Cy Young Awards in his first three seasons. A small guy who pitched big, maybe too big for his size, much like Mike Boddicker a few generations earlier. I’ve seen Lincecum described as an injury waiting to happen. His painful fadeaway was too sad especially because The Freak was extremely likeable as a person and known as that kind of teammate, too.

Justin Morneau—Had Hall of Fame talent, won a single American League Most Valuable Player award that he didn’t really deserve (going by WAR, Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana probably deserved that 2006 MVP, too, but if you won’t give it to pitchers Grady Sizemore among the position players really deserved that year’s MVP), and was done in gradually but surely by a few too many concussions.

Álex Rodríguez—Of course it’s sad that a guy who didn’t need help to be Hall of Fame-great went for it, anyway. First out of terrible insecurity after signing that mammoth deal with the Rangers; later, out of hubris at minimum. His post-career image-rehabilitation efforts may be laudable, if controversial. (He’s criticised at least as often as he’s praised.) But it’s going to be impossible to forget that—even if there were many compromising issues around baseball’s Biogenesis investigation—A-Rod did a splendid enough job compromising himself.

Jimmy Rollins—What Rollins has to sell is speed on the bases and solid shortstop defense. The bad news, part one: His 95 OPS+ (OPS adjusted to all parks, not just his home park) and .330 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot aren’t quite what a Hall of Fame leadoff man should have, and he didn’t steal enough bases to make himself a Lou Brock-like Hall case. The bad news part two: He’s 53rd all-time for defensive runs above his league average—with +38. At minimum there are eighteen men going nowhere near the Hall of Fame who were good for more.

Mark Teixiera—He looked like a Hall of Famer in the making, didn’t he? A few too many injuries keep him from pulling up far enough beyond several non-Hall first basemen, but when he was healthy the switch-hitting Teixiera was a genuinely great hitter and a well above-average first baseman.

Tempered joy in Metsville

Amed Rosario (arms up) gets a hero’s welcome after his walkoff bomb finishes a doubleheader sweep of the Yankees Friday night. Crowning a pair of surreal days for these surreal Mets.

When hedge fund titan Steve Cohen first emerged as a potential buyer of the New York Mets, I had a little mad fun with that news because we have a couple of things in common. Not financially, of course; Cohen can hand out in tips about a million times what I’ll ever be required to pay in taxes. But we have our mutual grounds regardless.

We’re both Long Island boys who’ve been Met fans since the day they were born. We both made our baseball bones on the original troupe about which it’s fair to say they were baseball’s anticipation of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. We both grew up or (in my case) finished growing up (har har) in Long Island towns with pronounced Mob connections.

Cohen grew up in Great Neck, where there lives the opulent wedding/bar-mitzvah factory emporium (Leonard’s) at which Johnny Sack asked Tony Soprano to perform a hit, a request made just before Sack was carted back to prison from his daughter’s wedding. Bronx native though I am, I finished growing up (snort) in Long Beach, also the home of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather.

Sorry, Mr. Cohen. My mob family’s Oscars can blow up your mob family’s Emmys.

But it looks at last as though Cohen will graduate from an eight percent stake to controlling ownership of the Mets, more or less as the last man standing. So that gives him more than one up, since the only piece of the Mets I own and can afford is a game hat.

Celebrity would-be buyers Alex Rodriguez, a former Yankee who actually grew up loving and hoping to play for the Mets one day (he actually had his chance, which either he or his then-agent blew like a ninth-inning Met lead), and his paramour Jennifer Lopez, pulled out of the bidding Friday. That may have been the first heavy sigh of relief from Met fans on the day.

Apparently, not even J-Rod could come up with quite the money needed to buy the Mets, whose incumbent Wilpon ownership has long enough been a two-man implosion machine. The J-Rod group would also have included one NFL owner (the Florida Panthers’ Vincent Viola), a BodyArmour founder (Michael Repole), and a WalMart e-Commerce U.S. wheel. (Chief executive officer Marc Lore.)

J-Rod said farwell to the bidding by observing they “submitted a fully funded offer at a record price for the team which was supported by binding debt commitments from JP Morgan and equity commitment letters from creditworthy partners.” The Athletic‘s Daniel Kaplan observes red flags:

[N]otable in the statement is a reference to debt and equity commitment letters from creditworthy partners. On the latter, equity commitment letters are different from money in the bank, and adding a lot of debt to a team that loses around $50 million per year, pre-COVID-19, is not a recipe upon which MLB may have looked fondly.

MLB isn’t “too keen on another [Derek] Jeter/Marlins where they had to scrape their last nickel to pay the purchase price,” a source close to MLB told The Athletic earlier this month, referring to the debt-heavy Marlins. “Especially for a major-market club that already has such large operating losses. Cohen’s checkbook is even more valuable in a COVID and post-COVID environment.”

Not that Kaplan missed red flags flying around Cohen himself, of course. Cohen’s former SAC Capital outfit copped to insider-trading charges and coughed up a record fine of $1.8 billion. Cohen himself wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, but in 2016 he had to agree to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s demand that he not manage the monies of outside investors for 24 months.

Just as problematic may be sex discrimination claims filed in Connecticut against Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management, which I noted myself during the week. Those don’t charge Cohen personally, but one filed in 2018 does, Kaplan writes, though he adds that later in 2018 “the parties voluntarily agreed to terminate the case and submit the case to arbitration, according to court filings.”

Buying an eight percent take in a major league franchise won’t place you under the proverbial microscope, but looking to become the controlling partner will. Baseball’s 23 other major league ownerships have to be edgy about welcoming to their often-dubious ranks a man whose history includes battles over financial crime and sex discrimination charges.

Fred Wilpon and his son, Jeff, haven’t been anywhere near such suspicions so far as anyone knows. They’ve been seen mostly as having been more dumb than dishonest regarding the Bernie Madoff scandal, in which they invested and took an extremely expensive bath. The same could be said for most of Madoff’s investors. But the fallout eventually amplified the Wilpons’ wounding flaws.

Their naivete about Madoff helped them leverage to make the notorious Bobby Bonilla deferred-compensation contract, compel them to pay a reported $29 million into the fund marked for compensating other Madoff victims, and force them “to borrow hundreds of millions more to cover debts they had made against their Madoff assets, [having] almost a major-league payroll’s worth of money due every year just in interest on those debts.”

In baseball terms, the Wilpons weren’t exactly geniuses, either. Before they bought out their original co-owner Nelson Doubleday, they tried to thwart a deal Doubleday wanted to make in the worst way possible. Lucky for them that wiser minds prevailed. That’s two wild cards, one pennant, and one World Series appearance—not to mention the post-9/11 shot heard ’round the world and a Mets hat atop his head—underwriting Mike Piazza’s Cooperstown plaque.

For every Piazza, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Johan Santana, and Billy Wagner deal, the Wilpons blocked exponential other solid signings and tradings their baseball brain trusts recommended or signed off on deals and trades about which “dubious” could be considered a compliment.

When Cohen first stepped into the Mets’ controlling partnership picture last winter, I remembered the Wilpons also doing once what some thought could never be done. They made George Steinbrenner himself, the man who threw out the first manager of the year during the 1980s, resemble the epitome of benevolence, with their despicable 2008 execution of manager Willie Randolph, his pitching coach Rick Peterson, and his first base coach Tom Nieto.

The guillotines dropped on the trio after the struggling Mets traveled all the way west from New York to play the Los Angeles Angels in an interleague set and won the first of the set. At three in the morning. It must have been enough to make Randolph, a longtime Yankee fixture at second base, nostalgic for The Boss’s Malice in Wonderland fun house.

Red flags or no red flags, the news that J-Rod dropped out of the Mets’ bidding does indicate the Mets dodging at least one bullet, if what I noted during the week is true and Rodriguez was taking informal counsel from disgraced former Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. Taking baseball administration counsel from Luhnow is like seeking family counseling from Ma Barker.

The news may also have had an effect on the Mets otherwise.

On Thursday, the night before J-Rod pulled out of the Mets’ running, the Mets’ front office botched almost completely a stirring protest gesture against rogue police and racism, when the Mets and the Marlins observed a moment of silence on field before walking off the field postponing their game.

But come Friday, as MLB commemorated its pandemic-delayed Jackie Robinson Day, and—tragically—the actor (Chadwick Boseman) who played Robinson so powerfully in 42 lost his battle against colon cancer the same day, the Mets swept a doubleheader from the Yankees in the Bronx.

The sweep finished when Amed Rosario, pinch hitting for starting Mets shortstop Luis Guillorme, caught hold of a hanging slider from Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman with pinch-runner Billy Hamilton aboard and sent it into the left field seats. A Mets team who entered the twin bill as the Show’s worst for hitting with men in scoring position (.199) went 5-for-12 in that situation Friday.

Come Monday is the reported deadline for new Mets ownership bids. Joy in Metsville about the end of the Wilpon era is probably tempered by their wish that a saviour with cleaner hands might enter at the eleventh hour. Such a saviour will need five king’s ransoms to out-bid the Long Island boy who once paid for a single painting what the Mets will have paid stud pitcher Jacob deGrom for the entire length of his current contract.

The Mets have been many things in their 58-year life. Dull isn’t necessarily one of them.

Be careful what you wish for, Mess fans

Earlier this week, the worst you could say about the New York Mess (er, Mets) was a piece of doggerel I sketched to Prince’s “1999,” after a Miami Marlins baserunner stumbled, bumbled, and fumbled down the third base line—and still stole home:

Two thousand, 2020, party over—oops! Shame on you!
Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1962.

A Met fan since the day they were born can tell you that, compared to loving the Mets, it was easier for Mad Men‘s Don Draper (who kept a souvenir Mets pennant in his office) to be loved by his first and second wives, neither of whom found it simple and both of whom, their own flaws to one side, often felt like singing “19th Nervous Breakdown.

Draper was haunted by having been born and raised in abject hell, if “raised” is the proper word to describe a child treated like a home invader and handed an accidental chance to remake/remodel himself in a wartime accident that killed his field commander. The Mets weren’t quite born in hell, but they’ve been haunted by managements that often treated them like home invaders.

The Mets have been built, un-built, re-built, un-built, re-built again, and un-built again, more often than Orpheus rolled the stone up the mountain to be rolled back down. Today the Mets are on the sales floor. And the Wilpons, who have never been quite the same since they walked into Bernie Madoff’s pyramid trap and walked out fortunate that their heads weren’t removed from their shoulders, simply can’t go gently into that good gray night.

Thursday’s Twitterverse exploded with the news from ESPN’s Jeff Passan that Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, a man seen in over his head when speaking politely of him, zapped commissioner Rob Manfred for the thought that the Mets and the Marlins might walk off the field tonight in protest, over the police shooting of African-American Jacob Blake, only to return to play an hour later.

Until he didn’t. Within less time than it once took for Mike (The Human Rain Delay) Hargrove to complete a plate appearance, Van Wagenen hustled a statement forth saying, whoops! The idea was really Jeff Wilpon’s, not Manfred’s, after Wilpon was informed the Mets’ players voted not to play tonight, a decision with which the Marlins apparently concurred. Van Wagenen concurrently apologised for the original Manfred remark.

What the Mets actually did was take the field, led by Dominic Smith and Billy Hamilton, two African-American Mets. The Marlins did likewise. Both teams observed 42 seconds of silence (the 42 refers, of course, to Jackie Robinson’s uniform number), then walked off the field. The idea was that of the Marlins’ Miguel Rojas. The game was postponed, just as three were on the same grounds Wednesday.

This after Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw stood with his teammates standing together when Mookie Betts opted not to play Wednesday. Observing the negative backlash, Kershaw said, “Yes, I have seen those comments and that’s okay because I feel we’re doing the right thing.” Among other things were those backlashers accusing the Dodgers of standing up for a convicted child molester.

The now-paralyzed Blake isn’t a sterling citizen, of course, and he dealt with Kenosha, Wisconsin police last weekend in the first place over an arrest warrant involving a domestic dispute with his estranged girlfriend, with whom he has three children. The child molestation/child sex assault charges have been debunked. (Yes, you can look it up.)

A criminal suspect’s right not to be shot seven times in the back isn’t contingent on the crime he’s accused of committing. Jack Ruby wasn’t a cop but prying through a small crowd to shoot presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to death didn’t make him any less a murderer.

And those police officers who succeed in performing their jobs without becoming the criminals they’re consecrated to apprehend must be grotesquely appalled whenever one of their breed commits if not succeeds at such attempted murder, knowing as they’re trained to know that absent a bona fide life-and-death moment they’re not sworn in to exercise absolute power of life and death.

Today’s clumsiness is just the latest in a bill of particulars a Met fan and others can lodge against the Wilpon ownership and its administrative subordinates while agreeing the sooner their ownership ends, the better. However, Met fans may well be advised to be very careful what they wish for.

Steve Cohen, who now has a small ownership stake in the Mets but would like to buy the team outright, seemed at first like the ideal choice having grown up a Met fan himself. But reports earlier this month imply that sexual discrimination charges filed recently against his Point72 Asset Management hedge fund firm would compromise him as the next Mets owner.

A team in the middle of a surrealistic enough truncated season in which the game’s players now speak and act on behalf of battling racism, discrimination, and the criminal element within law enforcement can’t afford to become the property of a man whose own company may have issues with discrimination.

But Alex Rodriguez (former Mariners/Rangers/Yankees star (however tainted) turned broadcaster) also aspires to own as big a stake in the Mets as he and his paramour Jennifer Lopez can buy. And Rodriguez is said “in touch” with suspended former Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, whose results uber alles mentality did too much to reduce the Astros from champions to pariahs.

Luhnow’s administration was exposed plausibly as lacking human decency to match its cold analytical inclinations, while fostering concurrently conditions that made possible the Astrogate illegal electronic sign-stealing scandal that stained the kings of the American League West (and 2017 world champions) until, possibly, the entire roster and organisation are turned over in due course.

The good news is that Rodriguez isn’t said to be thinking of Luhnow as his GM should he win his stake in the Mets, and Luhnow can’t be employed in baseball again until 2021, assuming anyone in baseball wants him. The bad news is that, if that’s who A-Rod leans upon for even informal counsel, be afraid, Mess fans. Be very afraid.

Alex Rodriguez, prodigal owner?

2020-07-17 JenniferLopezAlexRodriguez

Alex Rodriguez with Jennifer Lopez, watching a game. J-Rod, as a few tabloid papers refer to the couple, are in play to buy the New York Mets.

It’s one thing for Alex Rodriguez to have rehabilitated his public image somewhat, during his final major league playing season and in his life since then as a broadcaster who’s owned up to his baseball sins. Including those that made him persona non grata for 2015 and finished the reputation wreckage from which a comeback then seemed only slightly less likely than Richard Nixon’s was once upon a time.

But it’s something else entirely that A-Rod and his paramour Jennifer Lopez now seek to become baseball owners. They can well afford to be, of course, but red flags hoist. The couple is in play to buy the New York Mets. Wherein lies a tale I’ve told before, elsewhere. It’s worth revisiting, because had he gotten what was once believed his career wish he might (underline that) have resisted the temptations to which he became prone in due course.

When Alex Rodriguez the player arrived at his first major league free agency, in 2000, he let it be known that the team he wanted to play for more than any on the planet—if his now-former Seattle Mariners were disinclined to re-sign him for the dollars he was sure to command as baseball’s greatest all-around shortstop—was the Mets. He grew up a Met fan (his idol was said to be first baseman Keith Hernandez) and, as I wrote once upon a time, there wouldn’t have been a structure big enough to contain his happiness if he could suit up for them beginning in 2001.

The dollars in play weren’t disclosed, but know this: the Mets then could have had A-Rod for a decade, and for two-thirds or a little less of the money for which he’d sign in due course. Coming off a 2000 World Series loss to the Yankees that was closer than the five-game Series looked on the surface, the Mets would have loved nothing more than to dress baseball’s best shortstop cross town from the Yankees’ Derek Jeter—who just so happened to be A-Rod’s best friend in the game at the time.

The Mets’ then-general manager Steve Phillips went to the December 2000 winter meetings to meet Rodriguez’s then-agent, Scott Boras, believing he was going in with A-Rod on the hook over very succulent bait. Phillips came out of that meeting without his stomach. It went AWOL. A decade later, ESPN’s Ian O’Connor ran it down:

A-Rod’s agent was telling the team’s general manager his client needed perks that would have made the world’s greatest divas blush . . . The list included a Shea Stadium office, a marketing staff, a merchandise tent at spring training, a luxury box, use of a private jet, and more billboards than Jeter could count.

The agent said some of the perks, not all, were absolutely required in any deal worth A-Rod’s signature. Boras never mentioned a dollar figure in the meeting, and he didn’t need to. The Mets wouldn’t even be offering Rodriguez cab fare home.

Nobody knew for dead last certain whether Boras’s laundry list was composed in any part by Rodriguez himself, and Rodriguez wasn’t known to have spoken of it publicly. “I remember Steve coming back to our suite and telling everyone, ‘You’re not going to believe it, but this is what Boras wants for Alex Rodriguez’,” another former Met executive, Jim Duquette, told O’Connor. “All of our jaws just dropped. We kept hearing how this was the place Alex wanted to play, but we knew then it wasn’t going to happen.”

Phillips then made a grave mistake. He spoke publicly about the Mets wanting to avoid a 24-man-plus-one roster, even though he never knew how much of the perk list was far more Boras than A-Rod talking. He lived to regret his remark.

That label stuck to Alex, and I didn’t mean for that to happen. But I just thought the rules had to be the same for everybody. Mike Piazza was the most low-maintenance superstar there was, with no entourage, only his brother and dad coming around once in a while. Mike always had the prettiest girl waiting for him after the game, and that was it. It was just Mike.

Not only was Rodriguez not going to become a Met, he inadvertently tore it with his BFF Jeter, who was going through his own contract haggle with the Yankees at the time. When A-Rod finally signed his precedent-busting deal with the Texas Ranger ($250 million), he also commented on the Jeter haggle. Oops.

“Jeter’s been blessed with great talent around him; he’s never had to lead,” Rodriguez said. “He can just go and play and have fun. He hits second—that’s totally different than third or fourth in a lineup. You go into New York, you wanna stop Bernie [Williams] and [Paul] O’Neill. You never say, ‘Don’t let Derek beat you.’ He’s never your concern.”

He didn’t mean for it to sound as though he’d just reduced The Captain to a mere ship’s mate. But there was a right and wrong way to say aloud that you thought Jeter was only one of a pack of leadership-quality Yankees who didn’t have to take the whole thing upon himself. Which is probably what A-Rod tried to say. Seeing it in cold print, he knew it meant trouble.

Assorted stories then and since have said Rodriguez hustled it to Jeter’s Tampa spread post haste to straighten it out and got a closed door to greet his arrival. The worse news for Rodriguez was that Jeter did have one thing in common with the Yankees’ Hall of Fame legend Joe DiMaggio, or so it was said: if he thought you did him dirty, even once, you might as well remove him from your address book. Permanently, perhaps. (Since 2010, their first spring training together after a Yankee World Series win, A-Rod and Jeter have patched up their once-fractured friendship.)

The Rangers didn’t exactly blow up the league with A-Rod. It wasn’t exactly A-Rod’s fault that the pitching-challenged Rangers of the time thought the solution to their most glaring problem was to spend the equivalent of a solid pitching staff on . . . one shortstop. The worse news was A-Rod’s insecurities kicking his insides out. “You wonder now about the real impact all that had on A-Rod,” I wrote upon his finalized suspension.

You wonder how his own agent botching a deal with the team of his dreams ate away at him. You wonder how deeply costing himself his best friend in baseball haunted him. You wonder what that cost him in a time when Jeter could have given Rodriguez critical moral support and steerage, when—slapped hard across the face with the reality of his off-the-chart deal, and the expectations attached to it, actual or suggestive — Rodriguez instead drove himself toward the netherworld of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, out of a quiet desperation to live up to his deal that equaled not trusting the talent that put him in position for the deal in the first place . . . Even if you acknowledge the Rangers bid against themselves to give one shortstop the money that would have built a long-term competitive pitching staff, you can’t lay that kind of responsibility upon his head.

Which brings us now to Rodriguez’s public suggestion that major league baseball players need—wait for it!—a salary cap. Especially after the owners tried to strong-arm them into a virtual one during the haggling over when and whether to open a 2020 season during the coronavirus world tour. A-Rod sounds only slightly less hypocritical than the Congresspeople standing foursquare for the balanced budget on the campaign trail but standing for glandular deficit spending in office.

As happened with his ancient observation of Derek Jeter, Rodriguez probably stumbled over his own tongue. He wasn’t wrong to suggest as he did concurrently that baseball would be wise to “get to the table and say the No. 1 goal, let’s get from $10 to $15 billion [total value of baseball] and then we’ll split the economics evenly.” But sports circles tent to interpret that as code for salary capping. A man who earned almost half a billion dollars playing the game and now implies it’s time for a salary cap looks too deeply to be saying, “I got mine, the hell with yours.”

Which is exactly how a number of players and other officials representing them see it. A-Rod’s one-time Yankee teammate, now-retired pitcher Brandon McCarthy, practically called for a little cancel culture sent his way. “I hope to god he’s shouted out of every clubhouse he attempts to enter in this and future seasons,” former 13-year pitcher Brandon McCarthy said in a Thursday tweet. “Call him a self-serving liar and make him explain himself to a room full of his former peers if he wants broadcast content.”

Tony Clark, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, wasn’t quite inclined to go there. “Alex benefited as much as anybody from the battles this union fought against owners’ repeated attempts to get a salary cap,” said Clark a little more reasonably. “Now that he is attempting to become an owner himself his perspective appears to be different. And that perspective does not reflect the best interest of the players.”

Before you decide that A-Rod is unique in threatening to graduate from a player to a potentially odious owner (assuming J-Rod become the winning bidders for the Mets), hark back to some baseball history. It’s strewn with players who became snakes in the front office. Eddie Lopat (pitcher), Paul Richards (catcher), Ralph Houk (catcher), and Al Campanis (second baseman and, incidentally, eventual provocateur of Andy Messersmith’s successful reserve clause challenge) were just four such reptiles known to screw players on contracts and other things.

It also features Al Rosen. The power-hitting Cleveland Indians third baseman of the 1950s became a very generous general manager in the 1980s, having learned from the ever-spending Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. Rosen injected a steroid shot (no pun intended) into salary escalation when, running the San Francisco Giants in 1990-91, he signed decent but no great shakes pitcher Bud Black to the kind of deal you’d have expected the Orel Hershisers and Dwight Goodens of the time to sign first.

The same Al Rosen who lamented runaway salaries to reporters at the December 1990 winter meetings, saying, “For a hundred years we couldn’t find a way to destroy this game, but now I think we’ve found the key.” John Helyar (in The Lords of The Realm) wasn’t the only observer wondering whether Rosen’s listeners should laugh, cry, or drop a hood over him and a final cigarette between his lips before a firing squad.

Now, along come J-Rod. Seeking to own the team for whom A-Rod once wanted in the worst way possible to play, until he did or didn’t freeze himself out of the chance. Bear in mind, too, that power couples owning sports teams doesn’t always mean joy to the world, or at least their teams and fan bases. Just ask former Los Angeles Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt.

With Rodriguez speaking of salary caps after earning about half a billion uncapped balloons during his own playing career, Mets fans and observers may not be the only ones pondering whether they’ll have to laugh, cry, or bring in the firing squad. If not pondering whether A-Rod has some sort of peculiar revenge in mind.

Rodriguez the boyhood Mets rooter might care to know that there is a one-time Mets pitcher named Bill Denehy living in southern Florida. He’s the man the Mets traded to the second Washington Senators to obtain manager Gil Hodges. Injuries (and a grave misdiagnosis or two) shortened Denehy’s career to portions of three major league seasons with the Mets, the Senators, and the Detroit Tigers. Excessive cortisone injections likely contributed to Denehy’s near-total blindness today.

The affable Denehy (fair disclosure: we have become friends over the past year plus) is one of 600+ short-career former major league players who were left out of the 1980 player pension realignment that vested players for pensions after 43 days’ major league service time and for health benefits after one day’s time.

Since 2011, when then-Players Association leader Michael Weiner and then-commissioner Bud Selig hammered out one small adjustment, those players get $625 per quarter for every 43 days’ major league time, up to four years. It was a start Weiner didn’t live long enough to pursue further.

Denehy, former Rangers pitching phenom David Clyde, former Atlanta Braves pitcher Gary Niebauer, and former Chicago Cubs third baseman Carmen Fanzone, are just four of those players. They and dozens more such as them, all whose careers proved short for assorted reasons, also hit the hustings for the Players Association to get among other things the free agency that brought Rodriguez his un-capped millions.

J-Rod (and Clark, for that matter) might want to lend them even a small eye and ear about that.