Looking to go back in time

Reggie BarIf it were possible to go back in time and retroactively edit my favorite childhood baseball player, I would.

But alas, time travel is meant just for Michael J. Fox.

As a kid in the 1970s and ‘80s I was a victim of geography. With no Internet or the proliferation of cable TV, I was stuck in my tiny little realm. That meant when we lived in Washington, D.C. we closely followed the Orioles and even attended a handful of games at Memorial Stadium every season.

But when we moved to Lancaster, Pa., though technically closer to the city limits of Baltimore, we followed the Phillies. Though Lancaster with Harrisburg and York comprises the 41st largest media market in the country, it falls under the umbrella of Philadelphia sports fandom. In fact, it’s not uncommon for traveling Lancastrians to tell strangers that their hometown is “near Philly” despite the fact that Philadelphians believe Lancaster to be in the middle of nowhere, or worse, the other side of the earth.

Having lived in both places, the Philadelphians aren’t wrong about Lancaster… but then again, they’re stuck in Philadelphia.

Just to mix it up a bit, the Red Sox were another team we kept up with, but that was just because they were a team that was a bit exotica. The Red Sox always had good players, always were almost good (but not quite good enough) and always seemed to have a bit of soap opera quality. And since they were on the nationally broadcasted game-of-the-week often and played in that goofy little ballpark, it was difficult to ignore them.

As a result of all of this, Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Eddie Murray, Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens qualified, at one point or another, as favorite players. Those players had the swings that I copied though my pitching motion was strictly a direct rip-off of Luis Tiant.

Trust me on this one – this skinny kid from The Lanc with a funky pitching motion was never afraid to stick it in a hitter’s ear. Hey, I own the inside part of the plate!

By the way: is there a reason why El Tiante is not in the Hall of Fame?

Anyway, of the group of ballplayers listed above I have had the chance to meet and spend moments in the company of all of them except for Boggs, which is why I want to change who my main guy was.

If I could do it all over again I’d go with Reggie.

REG-GIE! REG-GIE! REG-GIE!

Look, I know all about Reggie Jackson, the Cheltenham High grad and Wyncote native (like Ezra Pound and Benjamin Netanyahu) who came to prominence with the Oakland A’s, but turned into a superstar with the New York Yankees. I know how he had an ego as big as all of those home runs and strikeouts piled on top of each other. I also know that he was a bit of a diva who probably didn’t blend well with all of his teammates and/or the press.

Sometimes it seemed as if Reggie could drive everyone crazy. And I mean everyone… especially Billy Martin.

Nevertheless, Reggie got it. He knew it was a show and he had panache. People went to the park to see him homer or whiff and he rarely ever disappointed anyone. Better yet, he went deep and struck out with equal amounts of flair in which he took a huge, powerful cut that came from so deep within that it dropped him down to one knee.

But if he got a hold of one… look out! Not only did it sail far into the seats, but Reggie would stand at home plate and watch it along with everyone else before beginning his static yet stylish trot around the bases.

For some reason, though, the Reggie posturing fell out of favor. Oh no, I doubt the fans disprove, nor does it seem as if certain home run hitters like Barry Bonds or Ken Griffey are opposed to such subtle histrionics. However, when Ryan Howard gave a long home run the Reggie treatment in St. Louis last week, he took one on the right hip the next trip to the plate.

Reggie in furHey, if I were putting together an all-time greats team that spanned my lifetime Reggie probably wouldn’t make the cut (maybe we’d find him a spot as a late-inning pinch hitter), and clearly he was a flawed player. But the best part about Reggie is how he interacted with his audience and the messengers. Reggie was never shy about talking to the press and actually saying something interesting. He also liked to prod writers and challenge them the way a coach would a player. For instance, my old pal Howie Bryant was covering the Yankees for the Bergen County Record, Reggie used to give him a hard time about the location of his employer.

As Howie wrote in his book, Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball, Reggie used some Jedi-like, passive-aggressive tactics that led to him writing the book.

H.B. wrote on page 403 of the hardcover edition:

Reggie is never easy. He can employ numerous tactics designed to prove one thing: that he’s somebody and you’re not. During my first months covering the Yankees for The Record of Bergen County, New Jersey, he could be funny or condescending. A favorite Jackson ploy was to read my credential, notice I worked for a Jersey paper, and comment, “Hey, how come you don’t work for one of the New York papers?”

Reggie never had a problem with anything written about him as long as it was honest, good and not a cliché. Provocation and ideas were what interested Reggie, anything else was silly.

That’s why Reggie is my favorite and why I’m looking for that time machine.

***

Speaking of silly, it looks like former Phillies’ GM Lee Thomas finally completed a long-forgotten trade with the Dodgers.

Mark it zero, dude

Goose GossageGoose Gossage finally was elected to the Hall of Fame after it seems as if the BBWAA voters were shamed into giving him his due after last years’ snub. Perhaps it was the fact that Goose narrowly missed out on getting elected last year sealed the deal this year. For one thing it forced some folks to go back dig deeper into his record.

The thing about Gossage’s career is that it’s one thing on paper and something much deeper on the game logs. Sure, Gossage was the most dominant closer in the game for a handful of years. In fact he was so good that the Yankees went out and signed him to a big deal before the ’78 season even though Sparky Lyle won the Cy Young Award as the teams’ closer in 1977. But Goose spent the last decade of his career bouncing around the league from team to team and fighting injuries.

At a quick glance, the last bunch of years for Gossage hardly looked like the ledger of a guy headed for the Hall of Fame… and aren’t Hall of Famers supposed to be as consistent as clockwork?

But what the stat page doesn’t show is how Gossage put together a bunch of those saves – especially during the early years. These days when a closer is considered a workhorse for getting the occasional four-out save from time-to-time, it is fun to look at Gossage’s 1977 game log in his lone season with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

A quick glance there shows that of his 26 saves, only five were of three outs or less. Nine of them were two innings, three were two-plus innings, three were three innings or longer and the coup de grace, a mid September four-inning save in which Goose gave up one hit and struck out five.

Yeah, that’s right, a four-inning save.

So is Gossage Hall of Fame worthy… yes, absolutely. But then again based on some of the other folks enshrined in Cooperstown, Gossage wasn’t the only player who should have earned election to the Hall today. Gossage was baseball’s most dominant relief pitcher in the 1970s and the early 1980s so based on that criteria, Jim Rice should have been elected today as well. Why? Because Jim Rice was the game’s most dominant hitter from 1977 to 1979 and continued to be a perennial All Star to the mid-1980s by posting some gaudy numbers in an era before performance-enhancing drugs.

And if Tony Perez was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame, then Andre Dawson should be enshrined, too. And if Gaylord Perry or Robin Roberts are in then Bert Blyleven should be, too.

Jim RiceWith that in mind here is how I would vote if I were a Hall of Fame voting member of the BBWAA, keeping in mind, of course, that I will never actively choose to be a member of the BBWAA. There’s a better chance that I would join the GOP or local Aryans group than be asked to join to BBWAA.

Anyway, here’s how I would have voted in the current system:

Rich Gossage
Jim Rice
Bert Blyleven
Andre Dawson
Lee Smith
Jack Morris
Tim Raines
Dave Parker
Dale Murphy
Tommy John
Don Mattingly

In this ballot I give points for guys who were the league’s best players at their position for a bunch of years in a row. I also give kudos to players who have remarkable seasons/performances, etc. In that vein, though most of his career was underwhelming, Roger Maris would get my vote.

This is how I would have voted if the Hall of Fame wasn’t so watered down with the likes of Perez and Ryne Sandberg:

Gossage
Rice

That’s it (though it’s pretty hard to ignore Raines… maybe his 808 career stolen bases will garner a second-look next year).

As far as Mark McGwire goes, the answer is simple:

No.

It will remain that way until baseball decides what to do with the records of the Steroids Era players. My suggestion is to separate them in the same way that the records pre-1900 were differentiated. Baseball calls the seasons after 1900 “The Modern Era.” Perhaps the seasons from 1990 and on can be called “The Post-Modern Era.”

Why not, postmodernism certainly worked well for Beckett.