OK, let’s say you are the Oakland A’s… you don’t often sign players to salaries higher than the milk shake guy at In and Out Burger… and the few times you do, the results aren’t pretty. (How’s that Eric Chavez signing looking?)
But for whatever reason you find $10 million to spend on the 2010 roster. (Perhaps you found a suit that had a $10 million bill in the breast pocket.
They need pitching depth and two pitchers are still hanging around, unsigned, in late January.
One just turned 30, has thrown 190 innings or more each of the last 8 seasons. Consistently gets double digit wins. Consistently starts 30+ games. And has experience in several pennant races including playing a big part in a World Series run where he threw a complete game playoff win. Last year he logged in 204 innings, made 33 starts and pitched well down the stretch drive for a playoff team.
The other one is a year older, has more health issues than Amy Winehouse and pitched in as many games as her last year… which would be zero. He hasn’t logged in 200 innings nor made 30 starts for the past 5 seasons. He has no post season experience and has played only two seasons for teams with a winning record. His talent is undeniable but so is his inability to stay on the roster. He is a “Placed on the 60 Day Disabled List” entry waiting to happen.
Which one of those two would you spend the money on? ESPECIALLY seeing that you can’t afford to have much payroll in the trainers room or on rehab assignment in Kane County.
Naturally the A’s picked the slightly older, more injury prone Ben Sheets to sign for $10 million… allowing the slightly younger, more durable, playoff tested Jon Garland to sign with San Diego.
And guess what? Garland signed for $4.7 million LESS. The Padres are all but guaranteed lots of innings, lots of starts and a stable veteran while the A’s will be paying for Ben Sheets to sit in the whirlpool.
How does this make ANY sense?
It’s not like the Padres are going to be a contender. They had the same record as the A’s did last year (75-87) and San Diego will probably be dumping high salary players at the deadline once again.
So why couldn’t the A’s offer… oh I don’t know… $6 million for Garland and have an extra $4 million to throw around.
The Yankees claim to be only offering $2 million to Damon. Offer him $3 million and suddenly everyone will be saying “Hey! The A’s out bid the Yankees! That’s good for baseball!”
And maybe kick the remaining $1 million into a scouting department… clearly the current scouting department who thought Garland was a risk but Sheets was the direction to go needs a payroll boost.
OF COURSE I am thinking about the 1986 World Series... what else would I be thinking about as the games deciding the Super Bowl berths are about to be played.
But I am not thinking about it for the reasons that you would think.
In the past, I lamented 1986 as the ultimate "what might have been." But 2004 and 2007 put that to rest.
Then I lamented the great flop of 1986 when I thought of Jim Rice's candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Had the Red Sox won in 1986, I argued, Rice would have been in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He didn't have Ted's stats or Yaz's stats... but the Sox would have won when Rice was captain.
Rice's election last year put that to rest.
But today's Jets game got me thinking about that fateful 10th inning. The Mets and Jets are very similar franchises... and not just because their names rhyme.
They are second banana franchises in their own cities. The Yankees own the baseball scene and the Giants have always had a bigger following.
They both have had their share of heart break and dysfunction over the years.
Both have fan bases that have listened to Yankee fans and Giant fans crow about their more recent titles. The Yankees with their 27 titles and the Giants with Super Bowl titles in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
And of course they each had, over a period of 9 months in 1969, a startling championship that defined their franchise to this very day.
Both seemed beyond the realm of possibility... the AFL was supposed to be inferior to the NFL and the Super Bowl had been a lackluster joke in its first two games.
And of course the Mets averaged a 56-106 record for each of its first seven seasons.
Both teams rode the back of a brash new superstar... Broadway Joe predicting the outcome by the poolside...
Tom Terrific mowing down NL batters left and right heading into the Series.
And oddly, they both beat heavily favored teams that played in Baltimore.
Now there is one huge difference between the franchises:
The Jets have never won since. The Mets have... one other time.
The Mets have that, for them, Amazin' moment of coming back from 2 runs down, 2 outs, nobody on in the 10th that was so beautifully recreated in this video game.
Now just imagine if the Mets never won that game. (And NO, I am not going to say "Imagine if Buckner made that play. The game was already tied. Buckner's error prevented the game from going into the 10th. It neither clinched the World Series for the Met nor would have clinched the World Series for the Red Sox... please tattoo that on your wrist.)
Imagine if Gary Carter made an out... or Kevin Mitchell made an out... or Schraldi got that third strike on Ray Knight... or Mookie Wilson swung and missed on one of his 2 strike foul balls against Bob Stanley.
Trust me, I did every day of my life between October 1986 to October 2004.
But I always thought of the Red Sox side... for the Mets, they would still be pining for 1969.
1986 would have been thrown on the scrap pile of frustrations along with the end of the 1973 World Series, the trade of Seaver, the Scioscia homer in 1988, the bases loaded walk to end the 1999 NLCS, losing to the Yankees in the 2000 World Series, the called third on Beltran, the great collapse of 2007, the almost as great collapse of 2008...
All the while clinging to their lone moment of glory in 1969.
Kind of like the Jets do now, still waiting for that second great highlight to go with Joe Willy Namath running off the field, finger in the air.
Alex Rodriguez capped off a season that began with his marriage in shambles, a tell all book on the shelves, being caught lying to Katie Couric about his steroid use and becoming the new face of steroid users and denial.
He finished it a post season hero, beloved in New York getting his first ring.
(Take note Tiger Woods... the best way out of trouble is to win, win win!)
He was awarded The Babe Ruth Award as the MVP of the post season. And hey, he had a terrific post season... he hit a game tying homer in the Division Series and the LCS when the Yankees were 3 outs away from a huge home loss. And while his numbers weren't as eye popping in the World Series, he hit a game turning homer in the 3rd game and the 2 out game winning RBI double in Game 4.
If any post season illustrated the importance of a reliable closer, it was the 2009 post season.
Had Joe Nathan not blown a save, the Twins would have gone back to the Metrodome tied 1-1 and with momentum.
Had Jonathan Papelbon not blown a save, the Red Sox would have stayed alive and maybe pull off yet another post season comeback.
Had Ryan Franklin not blown a save, the Cardinals would have come back to St. Louis with the series tied. (Yes I know Matt Holliday dropped the ball, but Matt Holliday didn't let the next 4 batters to reach!)
Had Huston Street not blown a save, the Rockies would have forced a game 5 against the Phillies with a shaky Cole Hamels taking the mound for the eventual NL Champs.
Had Brian Fuentes not blown a save, the Angels would have gone back to Anaheim with the series tied 1-1 and the whole complexion of the ALCS would have been different.
Had Brad Lidge held the Yankees scoreless in Game 4, the Phillies would have had a chance to tie the series at 2-2 with Cliff Lee pitching Game 5.
But they all did and all of their teams lost their series...
Only one closer escaped unblemished.
Maybe everyone takes him for granted... but no player in the post season was more valuable than Mariano Rivera.
The Mets acquired Gary Matthews Jr from the Angels… and the Angels are paying 20 some odd million to go away.
Call me a cynic, but when a smart organization like the Angels forks over twenty million pigs to have someone off their team, then I don’t want them on my team.
There is a REASON they are doing it.
But the Mets say “Welcome to Flushing!” because, after Bengie Molina and Joel Pineiro said “Thanks but no thanks” it’s just nice to see ANYONE show up at CitiField.
So this grotesque off season continues for the Mets.
A team that has broken down the past few years with major injuries has decided the best way to deal with health problems is bringing in people like 33 year old Kelvim Escobar (he of 1 game over 2 years) Jason Bay (he with the shoulder and knee issues) and now 34 year old Gary Matthews Jr… a guy who for the first 7 years of his career played for 7 different teams (including 2 games with the 2002 Mets) and was the definition of mediocre.
After weeks of speculation that Bengie Molina was heading to Queens, he wound up going back to the Giants... for reasons that I listed earlier.
Well Joel Pineiro was supposed to be heading to the Mets... and he signed on with the Angels.
Now as Rob Neyer pointed out, who knows which Pineiro will show up to Anaheim, the pitcher with the ERA north of 5 in Seattle or the but kicker in St. Louis whose career was revived by the magical Dave Duncan.
Either way, he said thanks but no thanks to the Mets and moved on to the Angels.
It's been that kind of off season for the Mets. Even PITCHERS are forsaking them. They play in a pitchers park in the weaker hitting National League.
And Pineiro basically said "thanks Mets... but I'm going back to the league where I posted an ERA over 5.00 the last 2 and a half seasons I played there."
On this Martin Luther King Day, I've decided to honor those great players who were denied a shot at the big leagues because of the color of their skin.
Of course before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, the so called logic of the day said black players were not as talented as the white players.
I guess it was a coincidence that in the 23 years after Jackie arrived, 16 of the National League MVPs were awarded to players who had Negro League experience.
So in the same spirit of my Home Grown vs. Acquired series from last year, I will write up the THE ALL TIME SHUT OUT OF THE MAJORS BECAUSE OF SEGREGATION roster.
There will be a starting line up plus a bench with reserve infielders, outfielders, a back up catcher, a top pinch hitter, 5 starters, 5 relievers and a 25th man who could be anything.
And like the Home Grown vs. Acquired, I will have a steadfast rule:
These are the greatest Negro League Players to have NEVER played in the Major Leagues. Now this means the most famous player from those mythical teams is eliminated: Satchel Paige.
Yes it is a tragedy that we never got to see Satchel face down Joe DiMaggio and Jimmie Foxx in his prime, but he did wind up playing in the bigs, winning a World Series ring and playing in a few All Star Games.
Also Negro League stars like Monte Irvin and Larry Doby got to play in the bigs along with the likes of Junior Gilliam, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks.
That hard fast rule of "Never Playing in the Bigs" eliminates Luke Easter and Home Run Brown because of their cameos in the majors.
Sorry... I'm a hard ass for rules and there is no shortage of players who were denied even a glimpse of the show.
Also the great late Buck O'Neill deserves a salute and should have been a manager, but he did become a coach for the Cubs.
These are the men who were completely shut out.
They should be legends... and even though many are in the Hall of Fame, they are obscure to even a baseball lunatic like me.
Many of these legends were elected to the Hall of Fame... too many were put in posthumously.
And one thing is for sure... big league baseball was denied some amazing nicknames!
The tragedy of the Negro Leagues is no better personified than Josh Gibson.
Was he Babe Ruth's equal in power? Was he Mickey Cochrane's equal behind the plate? What team would he have led to the World Series?
What team would retire his number? What stadium would have his statue? Which slugger accused of steroids would be scolded "You passed Josh Gibson on the home run list... but Gibson was better!"?
Right now his reputation is almost legendary and sadly his accomplishments are shadowed in a 20th century mythology. Did he hit 800 homers? Did he hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium? We'll never know for sure.
He died months before Jackie Robinson made his Dodgers debut.
A clutch hitter and dazzling defender, Wells made up for his weak throwing arm by studying the hitters and mastering the art of positioning. He is also one of the pioneers as one of the first people to wear a batting helmet.
Why the hell am I putting "The Shakespeare of Shortstops" at second base? Well three reasons:
1. He needs to be in the starting line up. 2. The weak armed shortstop started at second base in the East West Game of 1945. 3. I wasn't going to bench Pop Lloyd.
He was elected posthumously to the Hall of Fame in 1997.
Considered to be a great situation hitter and smooth shortstop, he was nicknamed "The Black Honus Wagner."
Evidently Wagner was honored to be compared to Lloyd.
He played professionally over 4 decades (1906-1932) and along the way batted .343 to go along with his outstanding defense.
He played for 10 different teams including the 1910 Chicago Leland Giants, considered to be one of the best teams of all time. If only they had a chance to play the 1910 AL Champion A's or NL Champion Cubs.
He was elected posthumously to the Hall of Fame in 1977.
A terrific all around hitter, Johnson was never the power threat like Gibson or Leonard. But he was a scientific hitter who was consistently among the league leaders. He was a Wade Boggs of a previous generation.
Johnson was a member of the amazing 1935 Homestead Grays team that featured Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston.
No less of an authority than Buck O'Neill called Oscar Charleston the greatest player he ever saw. This was a man who scouted and signed Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Lou Brock... so he had a good eye.
Charleston was a top defensive outfielder who hit for power, hit for average. While Babe Ruth was tearing apart the majors in the 1920s, Charleston was doing the same in the Negro Leagues. And in exhibitions against white teams, the competitor in him would come out as he hit .318 and 11 homers in 53 games.
Both the Sporting News and Bill James listed him as one of the greatest ballplayers of any race ever. He would have become one of the legendary figures in baseball history... instead of an agonizing footnote.
Satchel Paige had the line that Cool Papa was so fast that he could flip a switch and be in bed before the room was dark.
I assume that was an exaggeration. But his speed and longevity in the league suggest he was the Rickey Henderson of a previous generation. He was always among the league leaders in stolen bases, batting averages and run scored... making him the prototypical lead off man in any era.
Bill Veeck offered an aging Bell a contract with the Browns, but he turned it down, hoping it would go to a younger black player.
No less of an authority than Satchel Paige called Boojum Wilson the hardest out he ever faced. A star over three different decades, Wilson was a steady .300 hitter and one of the Homestead Grays biggest stars during the 1930s and was the captain of the 1931 champion squad.
He hit .400 several times and was one of the most consistent third baseman during the Golden Age of the Negro Leagues.
His nickname was in reference to the sound his line drives made when they hit the wall.
A veteran of World War I, he is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
Known as Bullet Joe for his accuracy more than his speed, Rogan threw a variety of pitches and deliveries for an exceptional career. Rogan played for the Army baseball teams during World War I and returned to America to join the Monarchs.
Not only did he post big winning numbers and a low ERA, he also hit .400 in 1924 to lead the Monarchs to the pennant. Who needs a DH?
Also showed how terrific Negro League nicknames were. His name was Charles Wilber Rogan... yet he went by Bullet Joe!
He was elected posthumously to the Hall of Fame in 1998.
One of the great pitching stars in the 1940s, Day recorded a perfect season in 1937, posting a 13-0 record. He also hit .320 that season.
A great strikeout artist, he set the Negro League single game record of 18 in 1942.
He fought in World War II, landing on Utah beach in 1944. When he returned to America he was part of the 1946 champion Newark Eagles, the last Negro League champion before Jackie Robinson's Dodger debut.
He was still alive when he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995, but died before the ceremony.
He was the half brother of Negro League star manager and innovator Rube Foster, but don't think there was any nepotism here.
He was a great left handed pitcher who won as a control artist and durability. In 1926, he started and won both games of a double header on the last day of the season to clinch the pennant. When the Negro Leagues began their East - West All Star Game, Foster was selected as the starting pitcher.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously in 1996.
Through the 1930s and 1940s, Brown was one of the league's top pitchers. He dominated mainly with his deadly curve ball that he had the guts to throw in any count.
He showed his guts in another way. He married the daughter of Cumberland Posey, the owner and manager of the Homestead Grays.
Being part of the family meant he didn't jump from team to team like most Negro League stars did... and he kept on winning, including a shutout in the 1944 Negro League World Series and a perfect game in 1945.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously in 2006.
I'm not one for nicknames about people's race... but let's face it. El Diamante Negro.
The native of Cuba was not a tall man (he was 5'9"), but he dominated Cuban and Negro League teams in the 1900s and 1910s.
While in Cuba, white stars would face him in exhibition games... and he would mow them down. A's catcher Ira Thomas said he was close to Walter Johnson's equal. To this day, Johnson is mentioned as one of the great pitchers of all time.
It's safe to say El Diamante Negro could have held his own and then some.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously in 2006.
One of the truly consistent pitching stars of the 1940s, Barnhill would frustrate hitters with a variety of motions and windups, and perhaps a bit more.
Barnhill was accused of scuffing the ball and cutting it. Whatever he did, it worked as he lead the New York Cubans to the 1947 Negro League title.
Later he was signed by a Giants minor league squad. Despite putting up all star caliber numbers in the minors, the Giants refused to bring him up. They had enough black players on the big league squad.
Statistics from the Negro League era are hard to compare with the Big Leagues. Often times leagues played shorter schedules and other times there was nobody keeping score except taking note of the final score.
All that being said, in 1914, Williams went 41-3. I don't care who the competition is... that is an amazing mark.
Ty Cobb complimented him, saying he'd be a 30 winner easily in the majors. When the most notoriously racist player in baseball history tips his cap to a black man, it is worth noting!
Jackman wowed future big leaguers and major league legends alike with his pitching abilities. John McGraw wished he could sign him for the Giants and joked he'd give $50,000 to the man who could make Jackman white.
Jackman played most of his career for all black New England teams and was obscure even by the standards of the Negro Leagues.
Those who saw him claimed he was Satchel Paige's equal.
Future Hall of Famer Johnny Mize played winter ball in the Domincan Republic on an integrated team. Despite the fact that he was a fearsome slugger, pitchers would walk the batter ahead in order to face Mize.
Why? Because they didn't want to face DiHigo.
The incredible versatile DiHugo could play anywhere on the diamond. He hit .426 in 1926... the same year he led the league in homers.
Into the 1930s he also became a star pitcher. In 1938 he went 18-2 with an 0.90 in the Mexican League while batting .387. Not bad.
He also was a terrific chef. I told you he was versatile.
He was elected posthumously to the Hall of Fame in 1977.
Foster would have made this roster as a pitcher... but it was as a manager and an innovator that he earned the title "Father of the Negro Leagues."
In 1905 as a pitcher he went 51-4 and out dueled Rube Waddell, earning his nickname.
He managed from 1907 to 1926 and no less of an authority than John McGraw would watch his games to get managing ideas.
Just imagine if the two managed head to head in the World Series.
That is quite a roster of players who could have changed baseball history forever.
And I write this list with all apologies to Newt Allen, Sam Bankhead, Jimmie Crutchfield, Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Dick Lundy, Uncle Bill Monroe, Dobie Moore, Bruce Petway, Spotswood Poles, Big Bertha Santop, Ted Strong, Ben Taylor, Quincy Trouppe and any other former Negro League star I may have left out... it's a tough roster to crack.
Who would want to see post war baseball WITHOUT Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, Bob Gibson, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Lou Brock, Reggie Jackson, Joe Morgan, Willie Stargell, Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson, Andre Dawson... etc etc etc?
You would think the likes of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens, both cheered as American heroes before World War II, would have opened up the possibility for integration earlier.
Then again, they played individual sports against a common enemy: Nazi Germany. In a team sport, they were taking the job of a white guy away.
Which brings up the question that can never be answered: What great baseball moments were we deprived?
Which stars could have led teams to the World Series and become beloved legends in their cities?
The Pirates have a plaque for Honus Wagner, the Tigers honor Ty Cobb, the Yankees honor Ruth, Gehrig et al...
Which team would have had a statue for Josh Gibson, listing the pennants won for their squad?
Which team would Cool Papa Bell have piled up stolen base titles for?
Would Bullet Joe Rogan get Babe Ruth swinging to end a World Series?
Would Satchel Paige in his prime had matched up against Dizzy Dean in his prime?
We'll never know...
But one thing is certain... these great players from a shadowy past deserve at least a quick salute and a read on line today.