We’ve all heard the old question that’s supposed to determine your outlook on life. Is the glass half full or half empty? If your name is Ken Griffey JR. or Mike Piazza, your cup runneth over. If you’re Tim Rains or Jeff Bagwell, you have to scratch your head and wonder about next year, the way Gary Carter and so many others have done through the years.
When the announcement was made last night, it turned out Ken Griffey JR. got 99.3% of the possible votes, breaking Tom Seaver’s record. He is as close to unaninimous as anybody has been. Either Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera will be the first unanimous selection or there never will be one. Yesterday, readers of this column saw my own position in favor of not electing Ken Griffey JR. Only .7 of the voters saw it that way. In fact only 3 voters left him off, where five had left off Seaver in 1992. Bagwell missed by 15 votes and Rains by 23. Both remain on the ballot for next year. Trevor Hoffman missed by 34 but he also will have a chance next year and Hell’s Bells may ring over Cooperstown. (Hell’s Bells) was Hoffman’s music when he came in to pitch.) Rains in fact has only one more chance. If it isn’t next year, he’ll have to hope for help from the veterans’ committee. Alan Trammell and Mark McGwire are off the ballot for good, and won’t be considered by the eterans’ committee until 2020. Lee Smith has a year to go before suffering the same fate.
Mike Piazza didn’t get much space here yesterday, as I figured him for a sure winner. He is the ultimate underdog to reach the Hall. In 1988, 1,389 players were drafted before he was taken in the 62nd round by the Dodgers. Piazza’s dad had been friends with Tommy Lasorda and asked him as a favor to see Mike drafted. Andy Benes was the first man drafted that year, Steve Avery was the third, Jim Abbott 8th, Robin Ventura 10th, Tino Martinez 14th, Charles Nagy 17th. These guys all made it, a lot of the other first rounders didn’t get a cup of coffee. but not one of them is going where Piazza is bound, to that peaceful little village some 50 miles from Syracuse that would be a dot on the map if not for baseball building its Hall of Fame there.
Piazza, taken out of Miami Dade Community College in Florida in 1988 made the bigs late in 1992 and garnered Rookie of the Year honors a year later. He would be an All-Star a dozen times over-in Dodger Blue and in the orange and blue of the Mets with whom he made his one World Series appearance in 2000. He hit an insane .362 in 1997-remarkable for anybody and especially so for a catcher. As a Dodger, he caught two no-hitters. One was by Ramon Martinez, the other by Hideo Nomo. That one was thrown at Coors Canaveral, a nearly impossible feat to manage particularly then when Coors Field was new. He and Tom Seaver were honored to be the two men to waok out of Shea Stadium closing it officially at the end of 2008 and open Citi Field a year later. All but 30 of his 427 home runs were hit as a catcher. The old record for that position was Carlton Fisk’s 352 dingers. Piazza made the Hall of Fame on his fourth try with over 83% of the voters putting his name on their ballots.
Away from the Hall, it was business as usual as teams prepare for spring training. Mark Appel, the Stanford star and Astros’ first-round pick is invited to spring training with the Phillies. He’s not on their 40-man roster at this point. The Nationals, who already had signed Mets’ second baseman Daniel Murphy, brought another second baseman from New York into their fold by signing former Yankee Stephen Drew. He hasn’t hit for average the last two seasons in New York though this year in particular he hit a surprising number of home runs. With Starlin Castro in the fold, the Yankees saw Drew as expendable.
As for today’s birthdays, Jon Lester is 32. Born Jonathan Tyler Lester in Tacoma, Washington, he was drafted in round 2 in 2002 by the Red Sox. He first pitched for the Old Town Team in June, 2006. Barely 3 months later, at age 22 he was diagnosed with lymphoma and spent the offseason taking chemotherapy before 2007 began. He was pitching for the Sox again in July 2007. Though a Yankee fan, I always rooted for Lester because he had survived cancer. I can’t think of another Red Sox player I’ve rooted for since Carlton Fisk. Lester pitched and won the last game of the 2007 World Series and threw a no-no a year later. He also pitched two games of the 2013 World Series in which Boston beat the Cardinals in 6. After his third All-Star appearance in 2014, he was sent to Oakland. Following the season he signed on with the Cubs on a six-year deal running through 2020. At 11-12 for the year he was the Cubs’ second-best pitcher after the incredible Jake Arrieta. If they buttress their rotation Lester and the Cubs may find a way back to the postseason in years to come.
Edwin Encarnacion is 33 today. He and Jose Bautista were two of the mighty bats with which the Bluejays bludgeoned their way to the ALCS this past year. Eric Gagne, past closer of the Dodgers is 40 today. So is Alfonso Soriano, who almost hit the world series-winning home run in the 9th inning of game 7 in 2001. The Yankees were ahead 2-1 in the last of the 9th when an impossibly rare error by Mariano Rivera handed the Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ross Grimsly is 66. Fans of the Big Red Machine will remember his lefthanded slants during their glory years of the ’70s. One of baseball’s most tragic figures, Tony Conigliaro was born on this date in 1945 and died in 1990. Of him, former Yankee Fritz Peterson says the following.
“I would like to remember the life of Tony Conigliaro, who was one of the most feared hitters in the American League before a tragic injury set him back. He hit 24 Home Runs as a 19-year-old rookie for the Boston Red Sox in 1964, 32 in 1965, 28 in 1966, and had already hit 20 in 1967 when on August 18, Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton’s fastball struck Tony C in the face. There was much concern that he would lose his sight in his left eye, and doctors told him he would never play baseball again. He missed the 1967 World Series and the entire 1968 season. Tony C made a miraculous comeback in 1969, after he learned to see the ball peripherally since he could no longer see the ball straight from the pitcher. It was truly amazing. He hit 20 Home Runs in 1969 and 36 Home Runs – the first one was off me — and 116 RBI’s for Boston in 1970. The first time I faced Tony C, as a rookie in 1966, I struck him out on a day he went 0-for-4 against me. But the only time I faced him before he got hurt in 1967, he got a hit off me.”
Alvin Dark, best known for managing the Giants was born this day in 1922 and died in 2014. Hall of Famer Johnny Mize was born this day in 1913 and passed away in 1993.