Thursday, February 12, 2009

Presidential Baseball

February 12, 1809, 200 years ago today: Abraham Lincoln is born in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

Also on this day: Charles Robert Darwin is born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England.

Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin seem to have no other connection, although Lincoln did bring about some serious evolution in America.

If we were to make a baseball team of all Presidents, who would be on it? Granted, no President has ever played professional ball -- and quite a few were around before the game itself. But let's speculate.

Surely, Lincoln would have to be on the team. He was tall and thin, but known for splitting rails, so maybe he could hit. With his long legs, he might be a good, fast, rangy center fielder. So we'll put him in center and bat him leadoff.

George Washington would have to be included. He was big and strong, and supposedly threw a silver dollar across Virginia's Rappahannock River in his youth. But a pitcher? I'm not sure. He seems to have had a nasty temper, not good for a pitcher. But he was very cool under pressure. Possibly a good choice for "the hot corner," 3rd base, where his good arm would be put to good use. So let's put him there, and in the middle of the lineup, somewhere between 3rd and 6th.

Along with Washington and Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt is considered one of the 3 greatest Presidents. But his polio makes him a bad choice to play. So I'll make him the manager.

Theodore Roosevelt? Not a pitcher. He liked to say, "Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far." Definitely a hitter. He was a bit of a control freak. Make him the catcher, have him call the signals. Actually, his successor, William Howard Taft, was a catcher, playing for Yale University. But I'll take the 225-pound TR over the 325-pound Will. "The Colonel" will bat cleanup, although his status as the first real "environmental President" has little to do with that.

The elder George Bush, like Taft, played baseball at Yale. He was a member of the Bulldog team that made the 1st 2 College World Series finals, in 1947 and '48 -- but lost both. But he's probably still the best baseball-playing President, even if the first ball he through to open Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992 fell short of the plate -- and boy, was that recession-plagued President booed for it! He played 1st base, and he does here as well, though at or near the bottom of the lineup.

Now, 2nd base requires quick thinking and quick movement, and is not conducive to large men. Tall men, maybe; large men, no. Andrew Jackson is my choice, and I'm guessing he would have liked hitting.

Shortstops need to be versatile. Aside from TR, no President had as varied a set of interests as Thomas Jefferson. Tall, not heavy but fairly strong, he'd match the model of shortstops set by Robin Yount and Alan Trammell in the late 1970s, followed by Cal Ripken in the 1980s and Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and A-Roid in the 1990s. I'll bat him 3rd, and not just because he was the 3rd President.

That leaves left field and right field. I'll avoid the political definitions of "left" and "right." John F. Kennedy would probably get hurt too much, and Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon would probably both complain about their place in the batting order. So they're all out.

Barack Obama is a lefthander, and the left fielder could be lefthanded, logistically speaking. We know he's a baseball fan (the White Sox), and he's showed some pretty good range so far. Hitting? He certainly hit Hillary Clinton and John McCain hard in the campaign. Put him 2nd in the order.

James Monroe is the only man to be both Secretary of State and Secretary of War (the post now called Secretary of Defense) at the same time. He was with Washington in the boat crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776. And he (along with his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams) created the Monroe Doctrine. Not sure what kind of hitter he'd be, but his defense would be good. Right field.

Both John Adamses, James Madison, Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison? These men would be too short. The elder Adams, Ben Harrison, William McKinley, the aforementioned Will Taft, too fat. William Henry Harrison, James Polk, Chester Arthur, too sick. Franklin Pierce and Andrew Johnson, too drunk. Warren Harding and George W. Bush, too dumb. Calvin Coolidge, hated baseball. Herbert Hoover, would drop the ball. Jimmy Carter, would probably hold out for 444 days.

The pitching rotation could be: Ronald Reagan, who played Hall-of-Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander in the film The Winning Team; Bill Clinton, a strong, innings-eating lefthander who might know a trick pitch or two, given his nickname of Slick Willie; Gerald Ford, who was an All-American lineman at the University of Michigan and probably could play a little baseball; and Dwight D. Eisenhower, a calm, cool, corner-painting righthander, who with Reagan would balance out the rotation with lefties Bill and Jerry.

Grover Cleveland, rather chunky but a hard worker, could be a 5th starter or a long reliever, much like Alexander, who was named for him. Woodrow Wilson, who chose to "make the world safe for democracy," could be the closer, except he didn't do what he said he would do. So let's make him the setup man out of the bullpen. No, the closer has to be the cagey lefthander who put the finishing touches on World War II, Harry Truman.

So here's the lineup, with their sequential numbers being their "uniform numbers":

1. 16 CF Abraham Lincoln
2. 44 LF Barack Obama
3. 3 SS Thomas Jefferson
4. 26 C Theodore Roosevelt
5. 1 3B George Washington
6. 7 2B Andrew Jackson
7. 5 RF James Monroe
8. 41 1B George H.W. Bush
9. 40 P Ronald Reagan

Four Democrats (Obama, Jefferson, Jackson and Monroe), four Republicans (Lincoln, TR, Daddy Bush and Reagan), and the non-partisan Washington. Fair and balanced.

Bring on the other team.

"Leading off, the center fielder, Number 3, George 'the King' Hanover."

George III? In center field? That's crazy!

Play ball!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Cut Alex Rodriguez. Do It. Now.

How many chances is Alex Rodriguez supposed to get?

One thing is for damn sure: Anybody who now calls him "the best player in baseball" or "the man who should be playing shortstop for the Yankees" is a freaking fool. (Note: This was before I began regularly using profanity in this blog.)

Alex Rodriguez -- A-Roid -- should not be playing baseball for the New York Yankees. Or for any other team. He is a disgrace.

He has embarrassed everybody. His teammates. His manager and coaches. His team's management. His team's fans. The game itself. The fans of said game. His wife.

This, on top of his performance, which has often been glorious from April through September, but hopeless in October.

Yesterday, I was at Nevada Smith's, the New York bar that shows soccer games from around the world on multiple big screens, and bills itself as "Where Football Is Religion."

They showed Arsenal against their nearby North London arch-rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs recently got former (and again) captain Robbie Keane back from Liverpool, where he was awful. And they paid more for Keane than they got from selling him to Liverpool. And whenever he was on the screen, the Arsenal fans chanted, "What a waste of money! What a waste of money! What a waste of money!"

Not more than A-Roid. The Yankees have invested so much in him, money as well as public relations, and what has he done for them? Made a little money back.

The New York Yankees are about winning World Series first and making money second.

Note: The following was written before A-Rod's great, and by all evidence clean, 2009 World Championship season -- but also before he got suspended for steroid use for the entire 2014 season.

Alex Rodriguez is about Alex Rodriguez first, second, third, fourth, etc.

This after Derek Jeter -- who was probably thinking, in the words of that great New Yorker Herman Melville, "I would prefer not to" -- publicly stood up for him following the controversy over former manager Joe Torre saying in his book that A-Rod was nicknamed "A-Fraud" by his teammates.

They were right. And the whole damn world knows it.

It is time to cut Rodriguez loose. And if the Players' Association (the ballplayers' union) objects, tough. I don't care what it costs the Yankees to get rid of A-Rod: If he stays with them, he will cost them far more than money.

Hank Steinbrenner, Hal Steinbrenner, Randy Levine, Lonn Trost, Brian Cashman... Gentlemen, you have to do it.

Cut Alex Rodriguez.

Do it.

Now.

*

A great shock in Mike Lupica's column in yesterday's Daily News: He finally admitted that his Mets have the biggest payroll in the National League.

Tonight, Devils vs. Rangers at the Prudential Center. The Devils better win this one, because after this new A-Fraud mess, that disgusting display at Black-and-White Hart Lane (I call it that because Spurs haven't won the League since 1961 and that wasn't on color film), and Rutgers' basketball team operating with all the efficiency of a one-legged man at a butt-kicking contest, I could use a win over the Blueshirted Scum.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Meet the Mets' "Monument Park"

You know how the New York Post doesn't know the meaning of journalism? Or, all too often, editing? Well, like all the other things that Rupert Murdoch (Arrrrgh) owns, it's that, but also usually has a great sports section.

On the front page of its February 5 edition, there's a headline about what happened to Art Shamsky, former right fielder, as he left the famed Gallagher's steakhouse on Manhattan's East Side following a charity luncheon honoring the 40th Anniversary of the Mets' 1969 World Series "Miracle." (Yes, this coming October 16 marks forty years since the Mets completed their miracle. Feel free to feel old.)

What happened was that his ex-wife, whom he married well after his playing career ended, accosted him and shouted wild charges at him, and this was caught by a Post reporter and cameraman who had been covering the luncheon. She's accusing him of all kinds of deviant practices, some financial, some sexual, the latter of which resulted in her getting, as was said in those days, "V.D."

Shamsky denies everything, and the woman does seem a little nuts -- and not nuts in a sports-fan sense, either.

The Post, as usual with all the subtlety of a cab speeding up to the 8th Avenue entrance of Port Authority, published a headline that paraphrased the old saying, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

"HELL HATH NO FURY: Mets great ambushed by ex on street." This above another headline about Bernie Madoff, with the sensational (and sensationalist) headline, "SWINDLER'S LIST."

But... "Mets great"?

Shamsky was a nice player, and they wouldn't have won the '69 Series without him. I certainly don't want to cast aspersions on him, especially after this embarrassing incident.

But... Art Shamsky? "Mets great"?

Excuse me for a moment...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Either the Post has a ridiculous idea of what constitutes a "baseball great," or the Mets do. Ridiculous, I say? Calling Art Shamsky a "great" is Aristophanes-level ridiculous!

What is a "Mets great," exactly?

There are 2 players who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame with significant performances with the Mets: Tom Seaver and Gary Carter. If that's the way we judge "Met greatness," then it's pretty pathetic. I know, I know...

If we go by retired numbers, then we don't even include Carter. His Number 8 has not been awarded since his HOF election, but it's not officially retired. The only Met numbers that have been officially retired are:

37, Casey Stengel, manager 1962-65, number retired 1965, Hall of Fame... but for reasons that have nothing to do with his management of the Mets. He gave the Yankees 10 Pennants and 7 World Championships; he gave the Mets... great publicity and some fun.

14, Gil Hodges, 1st baseman 1962-63, manager 1968-71, number retired 1972, as he died right before that season began... no problem with this one, he deserves both the retirement and his as-yet-unrequited election to the Hall of Fame. But his 14 is still retired for what he did as a Met manager, not as a Met player, or even his fine work as a Brooklyn Dodger player. That he was the Mets' 1st-ever 1st baseman is almost a footnote.

41, Tom Seaver, pitcher 1967-77 and 1983, number retired 1988, Hall of Fame... no problem with this one, since he was, and is, "The Franchise."

42, Jackie Robinson, retired for all of baseball 1997. Never had anything to do with the Mets. For all I know, he may never even have visited Shea Stadium.

And a wall notation for Bill Shea, the lawyer whose work went a long way toward establishing the franchise, honored 1964 with the stadium being named for him and 2008 with the wall notation. No problem with this one.

But that's it: Just 5 "retired numbers," 4 who actually had something to do with the Mets, 3 in uniform, 1 with significant playing accomplishments in blue and orange.

The franchise has played 47 seasons. It's not an expansion team anymore.

The Mets do have a team hall of fame, but notations as to who was in it were never displayed at Shea Stadium. They do not have anything resembling the Yankees' "Monument Park." Not enough teams do:

* Baltimore Orioles: A team hall of fame on a brick wall behind right field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

* Chicago Cubs: A Walk of Fame behind the home-plate entrance at Wrigley Field.

* Chicago White Sox: A team hall of fame display somewhere in the outfield at U.S. Cellular Field. I haven't been back to Chicago since it was placed there, so I don't know anything more about it than this.

* Cincinnati Reds: A team hall of fame was displayed at Riverfront Stadium, and while I've never been to Cincinnati, I'm presuming it's somewhere at Great American Ballpark. (A company called "Great American" bought naming rights. It's obviously an American ballpark, and it looks like a pretty good one on TV, but "Great American Ballpark"? Hopefully, one day, I'll find out.)

* Cleveland Indians: Heritage Park in center field at Jacobs Field. It's an impressive display, with every member of the team's hall of fame, plus a monument to Ray Chapman, who in 1920 became the only major league player ever killed as the result of an on-field incident, that once stood in center field at League Park, their home from 1910 to 1946.

* Detroit Tigers: Statues for each of their players whose number has been retired, plus Ty Cobb, in the outfield at Comerica Park.

* Philadelphia Phillies: A Philadelphia Baseball Hall of Fame behind left field at Citizens Bank Park, honoring Phils greats. It was once under the 3rd-base stands at Veterans Stadium, with Philadelphia Athletics greats also honored. When the Phils moved out, the A's plaques were moved to a new Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society museum in the suburb of Hatboro.

* St. Louis Cardinals: Statues of their retired number honorees, plus broadcaster Jack Buck, outside the new Busch Stadium.

* Washington Nationals: A Washington Wall of Stars at Nationals Park, honoring greats from D.C. and the suburbs from all kinds of sports.

Counting the Yankees, that's 10 out of the 30 teams.

I'm sure there will be some sort of display at Citi Field -- if, in fact, that name stays on the Mets' new park, though right now it seems possible the name will go down as hard as the Mets have the last 3 years -- and that's hard.

But let's suppose that the Mets honored players the way the Yankees do, and at the same rate.

* The Yankees have honored the greatest of the honored dead with "Monuments": Manager Miller Huggins, and "the Mount Rushmore of Baseball": Right fielder Babe Ruth, first baseman Lou Gehrig, and center fielders Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Joe and Mickey previously received Plaques while alive, which were replaced with the Monuments after their deaths.

* The Yankees have honored other stars, living and dead, with "Plaques": Team owner Jacob Ruppert; general manager Ed Barrow; managers Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel and Billy Martin; pitchers Red Ruffing, Lefty Gomez, Allie Reynolds, Whitey Ford and Ron Guidry; catchers Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and Thurman Munson; first baseman Don Mattingly; shortstop-broadcaster Phil Rizzuto; right fielders Roger Maris and Reggie Jackson; broadcaster Mel Allen; public-address announcer Bob Sheppard; a memorial to the victims and a tribute to the rescue workers from the 9/11 attacks; and notations of the Masses delivered by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

* 29 notations, from 106 seasons of play. That's 1 for every 3.65 seasons.

* At that rate, from 47 seasons, the Mets should have just under 13 notations. For argument's sake, let's call it 13. (An unlucky number. As if the Mets needed more bad luck.)

Who should be in the Mets' Monument Park? All kidding aside.

1. Bill Shea.
2. Casey Stengel.
3. Gil Hodges.
4. Tom Seaver.
5. Gary Carter.

Those are the ones we've already mentioned. Hodges is the only one who really should get a "Monument." It could be the centerpiece of such a "park."

Who else?

6. Joan Whitney Payson, team majority owner, 1962-76. Whatever one can say about the Mets, Mrs. Payson, a member of New York's famed old-money Whitney family, was admired by everyone.

7. Lindsey Nelson, broadcaster, 1962-79, and...
8. Bob Murphy, broadcaster, 1962-2003. Both are in the Hall of Fame as broadcasters.

Ralph Kiner? He's in the Hall as a player, and he is certainly much-admired. But to honor him, especially while he's still alive, would leave only 4 more places open for players.

For the same reason, I can't put Yogi Berra in here, even though he managed the Mets to a Pennant. Same with and Bobby Valentine, and general managers Bob Scheffing and Frank Cashen.

Who else from the '69 team?

9. Tommie Agee, center field, 1968-72. The only real offensive star of that team.

That leaves 4 spots. And we have to leave off some big names. We can rationalize leaving off 1986 stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden because of their personal issues, and simply say that they'll be added when the Yankees allow the ratio to be adjusted for the allowance of new Met honorees.

From the 1986 World Champions, the last title won by the Mets? (Ever?)

10. Davey Johnson, manager, 1984-90. The only living human to have led the Mets to win a World Series win.

11. Keith Hernandez, 1st base, 1983-89. He was the guy whose arrival, shortly after Darryl's and right before Doc's, showed that the Mets were serious about intending to contend.

Just about everybody from the 2006 Division Title team is still with them, so they're ineligible for consideration.

The 2000 Pennant team? Only 2 members can be legitimately considered, and not Al Leiter, Edgardo Alfonso, or, God forbid, the hopelessly overrated Rey Ordonez.

12. John Franco, pitcher, 1990-2003. No lefthanded pitcher has more saves, and when he retired neither did any pitcher of either hand within National League play. (Trevor Hoffman has since surpassed him, and all pitchers.) He's also the only name on this list who's actually from New York, or even from the Tri-State Area -- not counting Mr. Shea and Mrs. Payson.

13. Mike Piazza, "catcher," 1998-2005. The greatest offensive force the Mets have ever had, and 2nd only to Seaver as the greatest player they've ever had.

If you have to limit it to 13, that's not a bad "baker's dozen." (It's an old term for bakers offering people a "buy 12, get 1 free" deal. It's not meant to suggest that the Mets, or their fans, can't count. Then again, they still don't know that 26 > 2... or even 6 since '69 > 2.)

I suppose they could wait until Piazza is elected to the Hall of Fame before awarding him a plaque -- he'll be eligible in January 2013 -- so perhaps they could sneak in somebody else. Maybe Ed Kranepool, still the Mets' all-time leader in games, at-bats, hits and runs. Maybe Cleon Jones. Maybe Tug McGraw. Maybe Yogi or Ralph. Maybe Doris from Rego Park.

But not Art Shamsky. And definitely not his ex-wife. She just might be a "worthy" competitor to Anna (Mrs. Kris) Benson.