Cooperstown Confidential: Howe, Hunter and the Hall of Fame

In what amounts to a surprising development, Art Howe has expressed some interest in the vacant Blue Jays managerial position, prompting some ridicule from the Internet community. I suspect that some of that reaction comes from the hideously inaccurate portrayal of Howe by Philip Seymour Hoffman in Moneyball.

While I did not see the entire film, and have little opinion on its overall worth, I have seen the clips of Hoffman as Howe, and I must say that it is one of the most inaccurate character portrayals in baseball film history. Hoffman played Howe as if he were some miserable, dour baseball dinosaur who lacked the desire or intelligence to manage a team in the 21st century. What pure nonsense.

Howe is actually an affable, optimistic, upbeat personality, a man who loves the game and longs to manage again. He has a history of getting along well with his players, which isn’t surprising given his easygoing personality. He happened to be a bad fit in his most recent managerial post, when he skippered the Mets in the mid-2000s. Howe lacks the color and “quotability” needed in a major market, where dealing with the slings and arrows of the local media is among the most important criteria for employment.

Managing in Oakland was a far better situation for Howe. With less of a media crunch, a more comfortable Howe delivered terrific results in his final two seasons in the Bay Area, leading the A’s to 102- and 103-win seasons in 2001 and 2002. If Howe is such a village idiot, then how is it exactly that he managed to place second in AL Manager of the Year voting on four occasions? If Howe is such a managerial bust, then how did he lead the Astros to three seasons of .500 or better in his five-year tenure with Houston? Howe is one of the good people in baseball.

Back in the 1970s, he had the guts to attend a Pirates open tryout, and so impressed the front office that he was offered a minor league contract. A classic overachiever, Howe managed to last 11 seasons as a versatile infielder with the Pirates, Astros and Cardinals.

Howe is 65 years old, so he is certainly not over the hill as managerial candidates go. In my mind, the Blue Jays, who operate out of a relatively media-quiet market like Toronto, could do far worse than bring in a calming, level-headed, hard-working baseball lifer like Art Howe…

A questionable deal

The Blue Jays made an interesting trade last week, sending veteran infielder Mike Aviles and catcher/infielder Yan Gomes to the Indians for hard-throwing reliever Esmil Rogers, who is coming off his first good season. There’s no doubt that the Blue Jays need pitching after the barrage of injuries that hit their staff in 2012, but they may have given up too much for what amounts to a middle reliever who was a failed starter.

Aviles and Gomes are both potentially useful utility players. As long as Aviles is not used as an everyday player—and that shouldn’t happen on a team with Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera—he has the versatility and power to contribute in a bench role. Gomes can play the infield corners, but his ability to catch, and therefore back up young stud Carlos Santana, is what makes him most valuable. In an age when American League benches have been routinely reduced to four players, versatile players like Aviles and Gomes represent extra value in filling out the back end of a roster…

What of the Yankees’ outfield?

I have mixed feelings about the Yankees’ reported interest in Torii Hunter. On the one hand, Hunter is still a good player, a capable defensive right fielder who can be a helper on offense (with an OPS of .817 in 2012). He would a fill the Yankees’ need of right-handed hitting, which would balance a lineup that has begun to lean too much to the left. Hunter would also be a positive force in the clubhouse; he is considered one of the game’s good guys and would have no trouble meshing with the Yankees’ team leaders.

Now the bad news: Hunter is 37, which is not exactly the panacea to the Yankees’ problem of excessive age throughout their roster. If the Yankees sign Hunter, it will almost certainly require a two-year commitment, which puts the Yankees in the position of having yet another aging player on a multi-year deal. So what should the Yankees do? It’s pretty much a given that perennial postseason failure Nick Swisher will not return, so a new right fielder is definitely needed. If the Yankees sign Hunter, two years should be the absolute maximum.

The addition of Hunter should also dictate that the Yankees explore any and all trade possibilities involving Curtis Granderson. Barring a trade of Robinson Cano, Granderson is New York’s most tradeable commodity. Since he’s a durable left-handed hitter with 43-home run power (and who happens to be an all-around solid citizen), there should be a decent trade market for Granderson, even if he did disappear against the Orioles and the Tigers in the postseason.

If the Yankees can acquire a package of two good prospects, or perhaps make a deal that would bring them a less talented outfielder than Granderson and a pitcher, they should think seriously about making the deal. The Yankees simply have to try harder to make their roster younger in 2013.

If Granderson does return to the Bronx, his days in center field should come to an end. Granderson tends to freeze on balls hit directly toward him, making him vulnerable to extra-base hits over his head. Clearly, Brett Gardner is ready to make the move to center field, which would allow Granderson to switch places with him in left…

Three for the Hall

The Hall of Fame recently released its Pre-Integration Committee list of candidates, which consists of some intriguing 19th century players and early 20th century executives. The 10 finalists are catcher Deacon White, shortstops Bill Dahlen and Marty Marion, pitchers Tony Mullane, Wes Ferrell, and Bucky Walters, umpire Hank O’Day and executives Al Reach, Sam Breadon, and Jacob Ruppert. Results of the voting will be announced at the winter meetings in December.

I don’t have a vote in this election, but if I did, I would check three names.

Bill Dahlen: Known as “Bad Bill,” he was an excellent contact hitter who drew walks, scored runs, and displayed good range at shortstop. He also had a long career, a 21-year tenure that ran into the early part of the 20th century. I suspect Dahlen has not been elected previously because of his personality; he was abusive toward umpires and reportedly wanted to be ejected from certain games so that he could watch the horses at the racetrack.

Still, he’s likely the second best shortstop of the 19th century, behind the underrated George Davis. That should be enough to put him in the Hall.

Deacon White: Like Dahlen, White had a long career, one that lasted 20 years, which is all the more remarkable given that he played about a third of the time as a catcher, and had to do so without the equipment that we have come to take for granted in the modern era. He spent his prime seasons as a catcher, where he developed a reputation as a terrific defender.

In his later years, White played more frequently as a third baseman, which allowed him to extend his career to 1890. A two-time batting champion, he also took home three RBI crowns, and once led the league in slugging percentage. He looks like a solid Hall of Famer, despite the fact that he actually believed the Earth to be flat. Yes, that’s true.

Jacob Ruppert:When Ruppert and business partner Tillinghast L’ Hommedieu Huston took over ownership of the Yankees, the franchise was a near laughingstock. Ruppert showed an almost immediate willingness to spend money; within five years, he bought Carl Mays and Babe Ruth from the Red Sox. Ruppert gave his general manager, Ed Barrow, a generous budget with which to work, allowing him to assemble an impressive roster of players and pitchers in the 1920s and thirties.

With Ruppert footing the bills, the Yankees not only purchased Mays and Ruth, but also traded for Waite Hoyt, signed Lou Gehrig, developed youngsters like Bill Dickey, acquired Red Ruffing through trade, and purchased Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio and Lefty Gomez from the Pacific Coast League. On Ruppert’s watch, the Yankees also hired two of the greatest managers in history: Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy.

By the end of Ruppert’s reign, the Yankees had won 10 American League pennants and seven World Series, building the “Murderers’ Row” team of 1927 and three straight world championship clubs from 1936 to 1938.

Clearly, Jake Ruppert is deserving of the Hall of Fame.

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  1. bucdaddy said...

    You make good cases for your three candidates, but seriously: Is the Hall ever going to draw a line and say, “That’s it, finally, once and for all, we’re through with the 1800s”?

    Do any of those guys have even grandchildren alive to attend the induction ceremony?

    Ron Santo was bad enough, how many dead people does the Hall need?

  2. Robby Bonfire said...

    Truly interesting, talk of trading Granderson, when he is not yet on the sunset side of 33,  what with all the other 35+ career-crashing dead wood on the roster. 

    The Yankees, especially Brian Cashman, just don’t get the importance and the relationship of the age-declining production factor, so that in any given year they are collectively about three years beyond the maximum productivity curve, and down to one championship per decade, now, so long as they can catch up with a dolt manager like Charlie Manuel who started Joe Blanton over Cliff Lee in pivotal game 4, in 2009, as their WS “competition.”

    Case in point is mentioning what Torii Hunter accomplished at age 37, as though he will experience no decline from his age 37 production level at age 38. In fact, Hunter is at the career brick wall barrier, right now and would be an idiotic, short-term patching signing.

    And Ibanez, not Swisher, is the one who should go. Who wants to bet me that Ibanez will have a better year than Swisher, in 2013?  Good luck with that long shot. 

    Looks like the Yankees “blue print for success” is to assemble a roster of creaking geriatrics to go with unproven kids in 2013 and beyond. Good luck with that stupidity as the rest of the baseball world passes you by.

  3. Chris Waters said...

    Another insightful work from Bruce. Bruce should be the leading writer on baseball these days, rather than the bozos on Yahoo ( Passan is really getting better these days, though ). I am really sorry you have to deal with zombies like Bucdaddy.

  4. Hank G. said...

    “how many dead people does the Hall need?”

    All of the people in the Hall are going to be dead eventually, so we might as well stop inducting any more.

    Being elected to the Hall is a great honor, but the primary objective is to ensure that living fans recognize the best players of the past.

  5. BlftBucco said...

    I tend to agree with what bucdaddy is saying.  If players from 60-120 years ago haven’t made it to the HOF already, then they are more than likely not deserving. 

    The HOF should be there for the greats of the game not the very good.  Will future generations be arguing for players like Harold Baines, Al Oliver, Bill Buckner & Steve Garvey? I hope not. 

    They were very fine players for their era, but not HOF caliber.

  6. Michael Caragliano said...

    If you had come to me in the spring of 2006, say, and told me that the Veteran’s ballot would be the least controversial ballot in 2013, I never would’ve believed it. Yet here we are, with the 2013 Hall of Fame class now on the clock. With due respect to Cliff, I think the HOF’s purpose is somewhere in the middle. Yes, the names are the reason for drawing the tourists, but once the induction ceremony is over, the Hall of Fame has 364 days left on the calendar to be a museum. The Museum of Natural History, for instance, gets everyone in the doors to see the dinosaurs and the moon rocks, but every so often they still have an exhibit on the bugs of the Sahara.

    Think of it this way: is there anyone who would be upset (well, within reason, considering this year’s ballot) if, say, Jack Morris and Craig Biggio share the dais with the grand-nephew of Jacob Ruppert and Bill Dahlen? As a Mets fan, I want to see Mike Piazza walk on the stage and get his plaque, but as a baseball fan- as someone who embraces the history of the game- I want to see George Van Haltren and Pete Browning and Harry Stovey get their (over)due. Just because the fans who saw them play have now been dead a long time themselves shouldn’t detract from their accomplishments.

    Perhaps what we need is one final ballot on the 19th century players, like they did with the Negro League plsyers in 2006. Except for Buck O’Neill, I don’t remember any uproar over that vote, and their inclusion didn’t detract from Bruce Sutter’s day.

  7. Cliff Blau said...

    The primary objective of the Hall of Fame isn’t “to ensure living fans recognize the best players of the past.”  It’s to attract tourists to Cooperstown.  None of Bruce’s picks will do that.  They’d be fine picks in Hank G.‘s world.

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