Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bobby V. is Already Shaking Things Up


Despite the historic collapse of the Red Sox this past season, it appears that some members of the team did not learn their lesson about the impact their selfish and diva-like behavior can have. Less than 24 hours after the news of the hiring Bobby Valentine as Boston’s next manager, the rumors have already started about the discontent of some players over the move. If these rumblings are true, one of the next steps the team may need to take is shaking up their roster, and moving out anybody who isn’t willing to set down their Coors Light and drumstick, and circle the wagons.

Two of Valentine’s personal attributes are presumably the cause for any unhappiness from players. As opposed to the taciturn Terry Francona, Valentine is renowned for firmly upholding standards and not coddling players. The shift in Boston will be going from a “player’s manager” to one who makes it clear that it is his way or the highway. There may be some players who believe that their excessive contracts and adoring fans make them exempt from being coached up. If this is the case, they are sadly mistaken.

Valentine is also not afraid of to take his players to task, in private or in the press. Particularly in New York, he had no problem raking players over the coals if he thought they were not living up to his expectations or standards. This is a delight to the press corps, but can be volatile in the world of prima donna millionaire athletes. One of the traits that made Francona so beloved was his consistency in never throwing his players under the bus. He handled all club business internally, which in light of the beer and chicken debacle, may have also led to his downfall. 

It is a good bet that one of the players who is unhappy with Valentine’s hiring is Josh Beckett, who was blasted by his new skipper during an ESPN broadcasted game earlier this year. Valentine, who was annoyed by the length of time Beckett takes to throw each pitch, went out of his way to discuss during the game how much he disliked that habit. Beckett, already identified as one of this past year’s problem players in the clubhouse can’t be too excited to now be playing for the guy who embarrassed him on national television.

I am no fan of Valentine (yet), but now that he has been hired he deserves the chance to see what he can do with this team. The immediate rumors of unhappiness from the players may actually prove to be a major opportunity for the new manager and the team. Depending upon the severity of these attitudes, it may be prudent to weed out some of the malcontents and send a message that there is a new sheriff in town. The team is already in the weeds from events of recent months, and breaking everything wide open and starting anew may be just the remedy. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure, Bobby Valentine hasn’t even had his first press conference as Red Sox manager, but his presence is already reverberating all over Boston.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bobby V. is Coming to Town


Well, it’s happened. After two months of speculation and plenty of smoke and mirrors, the Red Sox are set to announce Bobby Valentine as their next manager. The world hasn’t come to an end; at least everything looks peaceful when I look out my window. I was not in favor of this move when I first heard that it might be a possibility, but it is something that I must get used to now that it is becoming a reality.

I recall Valentine, going all the way back to his days as manager of the Texas Rangers. Back then he was a young guy trying to motivate a team with little talent or history to go on. He coaxed a few second and third place finishes out of those teams, but never finished above 87 wins. I supposed that with the talent he was working with, or lack thereof, those results were much more impressive than they appear on paper. He was eventually run out of Texas once it became clear that he was not going to be able to lift the team to the next level and take them into the playoffs.

Any apprehension I have about Valentine undoubtedly comes from his tenure as New York Mets’ manger; from the final month of 1996, through 2002. While he kept the Mets in contention more often than not, and even led them to the Subway World Series in 2000, I still have to say I most remember the fake nose and mustache incident from his New York days. In retrospect, that event was certainly played to the hilt in the media, and colored my perception of Valentine, along with I am sure, many other baseball fans. This may make me sound like a complete baseball snob, but that sort of thing is not going to fly in Boston. The stoicism of Terry Francona conditioned Bostonians to a certain expectation of comportment from their manager, and any significant deviance will not be received well.

Valentine’s days as a manager in Japanese professional baseball are almost a complete mystery, other than always hearing how revered he is there, and the success he had managing in a country where baseball is taken even more seriously than the United States. While his experience with major league teams does almost nothing for me, knowing his success in Japan does hearten me some. In many ways the demands of managing in Boston will be similar to what he did in Japan. He will have to manage the expectations of insatiable fans and media, and juggle the complex routines and egos of his diverse roster.

With the debacle that ended this past Red Sox season, Valentine’s first year will be no enviable task. Not only will be expected to reign in a roster that has come to be seen as boorish and unruly, but anything less than a deep playoff run will be viewed with scorn. He will be under a microscope and be the public face of accountability for any failures.

He would not have been my choice, but now that he is Boston’s manager, I am willing to give Valentine a chance. With the controversy that has swirled about the team, I am interested to see how much control he takes, and in which direction the team will head. For better or for worse, Bobby V. is headed to Beantown, and a new era has begun.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Troubled Life of Rogers Hornsby: Part I


With his .358 career batting average, Rogers Hornsby rates as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. While the “Rajah” dominated on the field, his life was full of struggles and controversy. In particular, he was a regular in the legal system, constantly popping up in investigations and law suits. As the years have passed, much of his troubles have been forgotten. However, it is a fascinating study to explore the near constant nature of his connection with trouble.

Case 1: The earliest of Hornsby’s known dalliances with the legal system came in the form of an automobile accident. On June 17, 1919, while driving his Buick Roadster, Hornsby knocked over an elderly man named Frank G. Rowe. Five weeks later, Rowe claiming serious injuries, including a permanently crippled right arm, sued, seeking $15,000 in damages.  

Rowe’s petition stated Hornsby was “driving carelessly and negligently… his said automobile at a careless and reckless rate of speed: to-wit, in excess of fifteen miles per hour and with reckless disregard for the life and limb of the defendant.” In his deposition Hornsby insisted he had blown his horn at the intersection as required by local law, but Rowe suddenly stepped in front of his vehicle.  By March, 1920, Hornsby and Rowe agreed to settle for an unknown amount

Case 2: The next time Hornsby went to court was because of a more severe matter. John A. Hine, an automobile salesman, filed a court petition in St. Louis in 1923, naming the married Hornsby as the person having broken up Hine’s marriage. The petition asked that a divorce be granted between Hine and his 23 year old wife Jeannette Pennington Hine.

Hine alleged that he had uncovered an affair between Hornsby and his wife, and had seen the pair emerging together from a New York hotel. A love letter that was attributed to Hornsby, and was introduced by Hine’s lawyer, advised Pennington “You ask in my letter whether my wife will come back to St. Louis. I am not sure, but it will be better for us two if she don’t as you know the detectives were pretty hot on my trail.” It also referred to Hine’s wife as “my darling little sweetheart,” and was signed, “You’re loving sweetheart, Rog.” Hornsby later claimed that the letter was simply a fan mail reply.

Hornsby’s lawyers tried to show that the case was nothing more than an attempt to extort their client. They presented a witness, a St. Louis baker, who testified that Hine had only brought the suit because of financial motives. In his testimony, the baker said Hine had bragged to him, “I’ll make a bunch of money out of a big ball player.” While Hine may have sought money, there is little doubt that Hornsby and his wife were having an affair.

Hine immediately fought the accusations that cast doubt upon his intentions, stating, “My attorneys have telegrams which were sent to me by Hornsby’s attorney offering to hush up the matter. If necessary I can bring Hornsby’s teammates into court to prove that he wrote the letter. It is not money I want, it is revenge. Hornsby has broken up my home.” Hine further testified that his wife admitted to him that Hornsby wrote the letter.

Jeannette Pennington Hine acknowledged she knew Hornsby, but that she had never been in his company prior to her divorce. She testified that she married Hine in 1919, and that he had failed to support her. The case dragged on for some time, causing Hornsby a great deal of embarrassment, before it was ultimately dropped by Hine. Public resolution to the case came the next time Hornsby was required to appear in a courtroom.

Case 3: Although Hornsby denied the general charges alleged by John Hine, it did not save his own marriage. His wife Sarah filed for divorce in July, 1923, shortly after Rogers was brought to court in the Hine case. Mrs. Hornsby specifically alleged her husband was quarrelsome and indifferent, and said she had separated from him several months earlier “when she learned what was going on.”

The couple was married for nearly five years, and Mrs. Hornsby requested a lump sum alimony and custody of their son, Rodgers Jr. The divorce was finalized rather quickly after Rogers agreed to pay his departing wife a lump sum of $25,000 and gave her full parental custody.

Although they claimed that they had not known each other prior to the lawsuit, Hornsby and Jeannette Pennington married in April, 1924. This came less than a year after his own divorce was finalized. Their son William was born in 1926. The press did not point out that their nuptials contradicted the denials Hornsby had made during the Hine case, but the news of their marriage was more than enough public indictment.

Case 4: Gambling was a vice that Hornsby was linked to throughout his life. In particular, he loved to play the horses, and his inveterate betting impacted his status in baseball, as such behavior was heavily frowned upon after the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Many players other figures in baseball gambled at the time, but as long as it stayed out of the news, baseball typically looked the other way. Hornsby’s issues with gambling became very public because of a relationship he had with Frank Moore, a betting agent. This became such a mess that it led to Hornsby’s trade from the Cardinals after 12 seasons.

Hornsby went from heavily betting, to constantly having Moore around to run bets for him. Cardinals’ owner Sam Breadon said outright that he traded Hornsby following the 1926 season because of his gambling, and in particular his relationship with Moore. Breadon told reporters, “I don’t approve of men who make their money playing baseball gambling it away on horse races.” 

Moore had gone to 1926 spring training in San Antonio as a guest of Hornsby. They were seen together nearly every day, to the point that Breadon told Hornsby that he needed to end the relationship because it did not look proper to have a betting commissioner in baseball camp. Hornsby refused the request and said Moore was there as a personal friend. He relied on his status as the biggest star in the National League at the time to do what he wanted.

Breadon didn’t care if Moore was a personal friend or not. “All that is true, but that is not all,” he later said. “Throughout the season Mr. and Mrs. Moore visited here on weekends when the Cardinals were playing in St. Louis. Moore would be down on the bench with ‘Rog’ during the game, and Mrs. Moore and Mrs. Hornsby would be in the box; of course I didn’t approve of it.”

Their relationship already strained, Hornsby stopped talking to Breadon in the waning days of the 1926 season because he was upset that the owner had set up exhibition games during the final days of the pennant race. The relationship was so fractured at that point, that the off-season trade of Hornsby to the Giants for Jimmy Ring and Frankie Frisch was inevitable.

Hornsby’s troubles worsened when Moore brought suit against him in 1927, asking for $49,000 that he claimed was owed as the result of losses sustained in horse race betting in 1926. Moore originally asked for $92,000, but later amended the petition. Moore claimed that he had placed bets on Hornsby’s instructions that he typically received over the phone. He provided betting tips and was used as Hornsby’s betting agent so the player would not attract attention by placing the bets himself.

Hornsby immediately went on the defensive, telling reporters, “This is all news to me and it sounds like a joke. This fellow must be talking about my automobile license or my fielding average. I have referred him to my attorney and I don’t care to discuss it. But I will say that it is ridiculous to suggest that Moore would give me or I’d accept $92,000 worth of credit. I don’t owe Moore a quarter.”

Hornsby’s lawyer, William F. Fahey announced that he had conducted his own investigation which showed that not only did Hornsby owe nothing, but that Moore actually owed Hornsby $9,700. Fahey crowed that Hornsby would “pay a gambling debt as quick as any other.” He further maintained that any debt being claimed by Moore was invalid because the law did not recognize gambling debts (as gambling was illegal).

Fahey didn’t deny that Hornsby was a gambler and had a relationship with Moore, but his version of things were much more sanitized than the accusations. The lawyer told reporters, “He [Hornsby] told me all about his relations with Moore. How he had never bet more than $10 on a race before he met Moore, that he has laid off hundreds of thousands of dollars in his name for Moore with various bookmakers, but that every bet he had made for himself or had authorized others to make for him, he has paid if that bet lost, excepting $7,500 and $8,000 he then owed to bookmakers and later paid.”… “I took him before Judge Landis and the judge raked him fore and aft, but his story remained as straight and true as an engineer’s slide rule.”

Fahey continued his spin control with the press, providing material that would make any contemporary injury claim attorney proud.  He described his first impression of Hornsby’s personality “as unattractive, [but] has on close contact turned out to be the more attractive and magnetic; and the face that on the ball field seemed expressionless has elsewhere a radiant and fascinating smile and is backed by clear wide-set eyes that meet your own squarely upon every occasion and under every circumstance.”

After a three day trial, the court found against Moore, but the decision was not unanimous, as two jurors refused to sign the verdict. Despite the quashing of the case, Hornsby did not escape unscathed from the proceedings. It was revealed that his contract with the New York Giants included a clause that forbade him from betting on horse races or associating with those who did. Although he won the lawsuit, it was the catalyst for him being traded again; this time to the Boston Braves in January, 1928.

Cases 5 & 6: 1927 was not a good year for Hornsby when it came to lawsuits. He was also sued for $5,250 in unpaid attorney fees by Frank J. Quinn, who claimed he was retained in 1923 to represent Hornsby against the Cardinals, who had fined him $3,000 for insubordination. Hornsby dismissed the allegations, saying he couldn’t figure out “what Quinn’s idea was.”

The suit dragged on, as Hornsby dodged appearing in court. Finally on September 5, 1929, Hornsby was cited for contempt of court and sentenced to city jail by Andrew H. Watson, a notary public. However, the citation was unenforceable without a duplicate order from the circuit court, which was not forthcoming. Nonetheless, Watson filed the citation against Hornsby after he twice failed to appear on a summons to take his deposition.

Watson made no sentencing recommendation and later said he imposed it to preserve the jurisdiction in the event it was decided it should be enforced. Hornsby’s lawyer had telephoned for a continuation until September 4th, but Hornsby still didn’t show even after that had been granted.

Nothing ever came of the citation or the suit. Hornsby never spent any time in jail, and settled the case quietly out of court. It was another example of him being able to evade serious trouble with little consequence.

Case 7:  Hornsby’s involvement in gambling came close to catching up with him for good in early 1928. A plot to kill or cripple him because of his alleged welching on betting debts was uncovered by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, which reported that $10,000 to $25,000 was supposedly offered by a prominent bookmaker who sought his death as revenge for non-payment.

Hornsby called the plot “hokum and propaganda,” scoffing, “So far as ‘welching’ is concerned, if the truth were known, Frank L. Moore, who recently brought suit against me for $90,000 owes me plenty of money himself. I carried him long enough.” Naturally, if the plot was real, Hornsby was not going to air his dirty laundry in the press and admit that it had substance. 

The veracity of the plot was never determined, but at the least, was likely based in some truth. Hornsby’s propensity for gambling and history of not paying his debts give a lot more substance to this story in hindsight. Much like his other instances of bad behavior, Hornsby escaped peril, probably thanks in large part because of the media reporting on the plot before it could be put in motion.

Part II 

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Pete Craig


Hockey is the most popular sport in Canada, but every now and then, some of their youngsters get hooked on baseball. One of those kids was Pete Craig, who was born in LaSalle, Ontario. A large, 6’5 220 pound right-handed pitcher, Craig showed enough promise that he was signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1963 out of college.

Craig had great success in Canada, pitching the Listowel Legionnaires to the Senior Intercounty Baseball League championship in 1960. He then pitched collegiately at the University of Detroit Mercy before being signed by the Tigers. He pitched in the minor leagues in 1963 before being released just prior to the 1964 season. Fortunately, he was signed by the Washington Senators, and that jump-started his professional career.

From 1964-1966, Craig won 14 games in each season in the minor leagues. Because of that consistency, he was regarded with brief stints in the majors with Washington. During those cups of coffee, he appeared in 6 games, with 4 starts. He had a 0-3 record and a 11.50 ERA. Unfortunately his stuff didn’t translate to the major leagues, as he had 3 strikeouts and 13 walks in 18 innings.

While the success Craig was hoping for did not happen on the mound, he was a sensation at the plate during his brief career with the Senators. He was 2 for 3 with a walk, for an impressive .667 career major league batting average. More information about his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/craigpe01.shtml.

Craig finished his professional career win 1967, pitching for the Triple-A teams of Washington, and then the White Sox after being released. He posted a 4-10 record and 5.52 ERA. He retired following the season. Although he did not make it as a big success in the majors, he did get a chance to play there, which is more than most aspiring players can claim.

Pete Craig Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?:  My father was a very good amateur player and took me to baseball games when I was young.

Who was your favorite team when you were growing up?: Detroit Tigers. I lived about 10 miles from Tiger Stadium.

What pitches did you throw?: Sinker, slider, change-up.

How did you find out you had been promoted to the Major Leagues?: Manager informed me.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Chuck Cottier.

Do you have a favorite moment from your playing career?: Grand slam in Hawaii, 1965.

Who was the toughest batter you ever faced?: Can’t remember. They were all tough.

What skill did you find necessary to master in order to become a Major League pitcher?: Control of all pitches.

If you could do anything about your career differently, what would that be?: Lift more weights. Have access to more and better workout programs and nutrition.

What do you think of baseball today?: I love it.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Tragic Loss of Greg Halman



Tragedy struck yesterday when 24 year old Seattle Mariner outfielder Greg Halman passed away, the result of an apparent stabbing, in his home in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Not only has the baseball community lost an excellent young player, but his country has lost an ambassador and a good man.

Greg first came to the United States as a 17 year old in 2004 when he signed with the Seattle Mariners. His father Eddy had been a part of the Dutch national baseball team, and undoubtedly passed along a love of the game to his son. 


Coming to a new country at such a young age must be a very daunting experience, but Greg made it work somehow. When pursuing a dream, there are few barriers that cannot be overcome, and nothing would deter Greg from attaining his dream of playing in the major leagues. He started at the lowest levels of the minor leagues, but put in all the work and dedication needed to succeed.

Because of his age, Greg progressed slowly, at first, through the Mariners' minor league system. He blossomed during the 2007 season, hitting 20 home runs and stealing 31 bases, in becoming one of the top prospects in baseball. His power and speed potential made him one of the most dynamic young players in the game. He ended up hitting 20 or more home runs in four minor league seasons, which contributed to him making it to the majors.


On September 23, 2010, all the work from many years paid off as Greg made his major league debut with the Mariners. He played center field in all nine innings of a 1-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. His first major league hit, a double, came the following week against C.J. Wilson and the Texas Rangers.


Greg got to play a little bit more with the Mariners in 2011. He experienced some injuries, which held him back a bit, but had a stretch of over a month in June and July where he was a regular in the Seattle lineup. Fittingly, Greg's final major league hit was a home run, a 380 foot drive to left field in Toronto on July 19th, against Brett Cecil.


Having already fulfilled so many goals at such a young age, Greg constantly gave back, helping spread passion for baseball around The Netherlands. He was a member of the 2007 Dutch national team that won the European championship, and was also on the country’s roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic. In the off-season he played ball in his homeland, and conducted clinics to provide children with instruction and inspiration. Because of this work, his legacy will endure for years to come.


While Greg has passed at an age way too young, there is comfort in knowing that he was able to achieve his dream of playing professional baseball at the highest level, and impacted many people in his pursuit of that goal. Many people several times his age cannot claim to have had that kind of success in life, so while Greg only lived to 24, his life was one of purpose, fulfillment, and achievement- things that all people should strive for.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

The Improbable Blunders of the Red Sox Front Office


Inquiring minds want to know. What the hell is happening in Red Sox Nation? Boston fans became accustomed over the past decade to the belief that their team was one of the most stable franchises in baseball, both in finances and day to day operations. However, events that have transpired over the past couple of months have challenged  those beliefs and made many wonder what is happening and in what kind of shape the team will be in come spring training.

The whole mess with the collapse at the end of the year, and the subsequent discovery of questionable clubhouse behavior has already been beaten to death. One aspect that does seem a bit underplayed is that if the front office knew what was going on in the moment (and it would seem that they did), why wasn’t the situation taken in hand? It could be argued that the team declined to act because they recalled winning the 2004 World Series in spite of the frat house behavior that permeated the clubhouse. But under that scenario, why would they let an excellent manager like Terry Francona go? Sure, a scapegoat had to be fed to the riotous legions of fans and press, but it didn’t have to be one of their pillars of stability. 

Now that the Red Sox are searching for a new manager, their actions to date have made little sense. They paraded a line of candidates in Dale Sveum, Torey Lovullo, Gene Lamont, and Pete Mackinin, among others through interviews. Although none of these guys extracted much excitement from fans, it was generally accepted that one of them would be the next leader of the team. 

Recently, news finally came that new GM Ben Cherington was about to offer the job to Sveum, but ownership swooped in, overrode him, and publicly announced that they were interested in contacting Bobby Valentine instead. Theo Epstein immediately sprang into action, hiring Sveum as the new manager of the Cubs, and leaving many to wonder if the Sox were so high on Valentine, why wasn’t he interviewed to begin with. More puzzling is that Valentine is considered an old school baseball guy who eschews many of the Moneyball principles embraced by the Red Sox. On many levels he seems like an odd fit with Boston, thus making the team’s roundabout pursuit of him all the stranger.

Cherington had obviously made his decision on who he wanted to be the next manager. He was effectively made into a eunuch by the owners, which has compromised whatever future he may have with the team. Publically challenging a GM is about as big a no-no as it gets in baseball. When Epstein was in GM, there was little doubt that he was in control. Recent events indicate that Cherington has been grounded before he ever even took off. If he has even a glimmer of a chance of succeeding in Boston, he will have to establish clear boundaries with the owners, and if those are not respected, he needs to consider leaving, because if he stayed under such circumstances, he would not be doing his career or the team any favors. 

Something else the Boston front office has improbably blundered is the negotiation for compensation for allowing Epstein to sign with Chicago. At one point, Boston held all the cards. They had Epstein under contract for another year, with Chicago willing to do just about anything to get their man. The Red Sox could have asked for the moon (a.k.a Matt Garza) and had a reasonable expectation to receive it or something else of significance. By allowing Epstein to go to the Cubs before compensation was determined, the Red Sox lost all leverage, and will be lucky to get anything of consequence by the time a deal is finally struck. 

It is mind boggling that the Red Sox were willing to make a deal without any parameters in place. This essentially lets Epstein, one of the shrewdest minds in the game; negotiate the deal for his new team. It is only natural that he is going to do his best to minimize whatever changes hands. It is increasingly more likely that Bud Selig is going bail out (a phrase no team ever wants to hear) the Red Sox, by stepping into the negotiations and putting an end to this embarrassment. Selig is known to not want to establish any new compensation benchmarks for front office staff changing positions, so his intervention would skew heavily in the favor of the Cubs.

As we hurtle towards 2012, the Red Sox have more doubt and uncertainty swirling about them than they have had in recent memory. With so many issues needing to be addressed, it is difficult, even with their existing player talent, to imagine the team being a top tier contender next season. Theo Epstein recently told me that past moves he made that he regretted the most were ones where he strayed away from “the process.” These were transactions where he jumped the gun or went against his established goals or boundaries. Right now, it seems that not only have the Red Sox strayed, but that they no longer even have a process. 

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