December 13, 2013
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Saturday, July 27, 2013
If you’re asked to name the greatest right-handed pitcher in the history of the New York Mets, the answer comes to mind easily and immediately: Tom Seaver. If you’re asked to name the top left-hander, you might have to take a second longer, but you’re almost certain to come up with the answer of Jerry Koosman.
Along with longtime Mets teammate Jerry Grote, Koosman is in Cooperstown this weekend to participate in one of the signings that have become a staple of Hall of Fame Weekend. While Koosman wasn’t quite a Hall of Famer, he was just a tier below, a very good pitcher who won 222 games over a 19-year career. With Seaver entrenched as the Mets’ ace from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, Koosman became the perfect No. 2 starter. With a moving fastball in the low 90s and a good overhand curveball, Kooz would have rated as the ace of many staffs that lacked a Hall of Fame talent like Seaver.
Yet, at one time, it didn’t appear that Koosman would even make the major leagues. At first, he endured a stint in the Army during the Vietnam War, which delayed his professional career. And then after his hitch in Vietnam ended, he struggled in the minors. During a rather famous meeting, the Mets’ talent evaluators were ready to release Koosman, but then someone realized that he owed the front office some money. That’s because Koosman had become involved in a car accident and needed to borrow $75 to help buy another vehicle. The Mets, notoriously thrifty at the time, did not want to let him go until he paid back the money.
Koosman took advantage of the reprieve. After a good season at Single-A Auburn, Koosman made the double jump to Triple-A Jacksonville, where he completed 14 of 25 starts and held the opposition to a 2.43 ERA. Along the way, he made an adjustment, adding a curve ball to his repertoire.
The Mets brought Koosman to the big leagues in 1967 and watched him struggle in a nine-game trial. But then came 1968, the Year of the Pitcher. Koosman threw seven shutouts, won 19 games, and actually compiled an ERA that was better than Seaver’s, 2.08 compared to 2.20. For his efforts, Kooz made the All-Star team, received a few votes for the MVP, and placed second in the Rookie of the Year balloting to a fellow named Johnny Bench.
On a lighter note, Koosman showed almost no ability as a hitter. He came to bat 91 times, striking out on 62 occasions.
While his hitting providing unwanted comedy, Koosman did impress scouts on several fronts, not only with two highly effective pitchers, but with a deceptive pickoff move and a willingness to work quickly. Perfectly willing to back off his fastball in order to throw strikes, he consistently worked ahead in the count.
With Koosman and “Tom Terrific” anchoring the staff, the Mets won 73 games, a 12-game improvement over the disaster of 1967. By 1969, the Mets were ready to win. So was Koosman, who posted 17 more victories, made his second straight All-Star team, and again received some support for the MVP Award.
It was also during that 1969 season that Koosman became involved in a famed incident. After Cubs manager Leo Durocher ordered Bill Hands to hit New York’s Tommie Agee with a pitch, Koosman needed no prompting from his own manager, Gil Hodges. Kooz drilled the Cubs’ Ron Santo, sending a message to Durocher that the Mets would not be intimidated. The Mets would end up winning the series and moving within a half-game of first-place Chicago.
After surprising the Cubs in the pennant race and sweeping the Braves in the first National League Championship Series, the Mets stunned the Orioles in the World Series. It was Koosman who pitched the clinching Game Five, winning a 5-3 decision against an Orioles lineup that featured an array of tough right-handed hitters in Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Dave Johnson.
Koosman’s performance looks even better in retrospect considering that he pitched most of the season in pain, bothered by a knot in his shoulder and a bone spur in his heel.
Koosman’s World Series heroics made him a household name, and helped him earn a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 1970 baseball preview issue. Except for an injury-curtailed 1971 and a poor 1972, Koosman remained a durable and effective starter. He helped the Mets win the division title in 1973, before picking up two wins during a strong postseason run against the Reds and world champion A’s.
Kooz continued to pitch well through 1976, when he won a career-high 21 games and finished second in the Cy Young Award voting to the soft-tossing Randy Jones. He did all of that despite having to deal with the death of his father in March.
Then came the struggles of 1977 and ’78. The 1977 trade of Seaver put Koosman in the uncomfortable position of becoming the Mets’ ace, replacing “The Franchise.” Koosman didn’t pitch particularly well those seasons, but also suffered some horrific luck, received little run support, and endured shoddy defense behind him. He went a combined 11-35 over those two miserable summers. He also turned 35.
Convinced that Mets management had no dedication to winning, Koosman demanded a trade. He said that if the Mets did not deal him, he would retire. He was actually bluffing, but the Mets decided to take no chances. They peddled him to the Twins for minor league pitcher Greg Field and a player to be named later, who turned out to be Jesse Orosco.
In the short term, the trade turned into a steal for the Twins. Rejuvenated by the switch in leagues and organizations, Koosman emerged as a 20-game winner and as a Cy Young candidate while logging 263 innings. No longer a hard thrower, he compensated with control and his curve ball. The following year, his performance slipped a bit, but he still won 16 games.
It was not until the 1981 season that Koosman lost his spot in the Minnesota rotation. Moving to the bullpen, he became Doug Corbett’s setup man and an occasional closer. Off the field, however, Twins management grew irritated with Koosman, the team’s player representative and an active member of the Players Association. Koosman’s outspoken complaints on labor issues did not sit well with an owner like Calvin Griffith. The Twins claimed that Koosman was a bad influence on their young players.
So in August the pennant-contending Twins shopped Koosman to several teams, including the Yankees, before trading him to one of their division rivals, the White Sox. The Twins received relatively little in return: outfield prospect Randy Stuart Johnson (not to be confused with the pitcher) and two fringe minor leaguers.
The trade infuriated the Twins players. “I don’t like it… It’s a dumb move,” right-hander Roger Erickson told The Sporting News. Catcher Butch Wynegar was even less diplomatic. “The deal stinks,” said Wynegar. “Along with Doug Corbett, he’s our bullpen. We didn’t get any players we can use this year. I think it was the worst.”
But it turned out well for the White Sox. Over the next two-plus seasons, Koosman became an effective combination pitcher, working both as a starter and late-inning reliever. Highly intelligent, he served as a kind of unofficial pitching coach, offering advice to the younger pitchers on the staff. He also contributed in more tangible ways, winning 11 games for Chicago in 1983 and helping the White Sox win the Western Division title.
It turned out to be Kooz’ last hurrah in Chicago. In February of 1985, the Sox sent him to the Phillies as the player to be named later in the trade that had brought Ron Reed to Chicago. Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf would call his approval of trading Koosman one of his worst decisions. Returning him to the rotation fulltime, the Phillies watched Koosman put up a 3.25 ERA and 14 wins. The following year, he recovered slowly from knee surgery and pitched in only 19 games. After the season, the Phillies released him, ending his career at the age of 42.
Koosman has remained out of baseball since his retirement, but not out of trouble. In 2009, he was sentenced to a short stay in prison on charges of federal tax evasion. Lured in by the fringe anti-tax movement, Koosman had become convinced that federal taxes did not apply to him. That decision cost him six months of freedom.
Thankfully, Koosman has put those problems behind him. He’s out of prison, and in Cooperstown for a reunion of sorts with Grote this weekend. They’ll be signing at Paterno Brothers Sports and reliving those glory years of 1969 and 1973, when Koosman ran a pretty good second fiddle to Tom Terrific.
For the second straight day, picture perfect weather and decent crowds highlighted the proceedings in Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Weekend. On the surface, all looked well.
With temperatures again in the 70s, low humidity, and enough of a breeze to make it feel almost like early fall, all should be right in Cooperstown. But there is an underlying sense of discontent that can be felt and heard from the village merchants, and it’s not so much with the lack of living inductees. Yes, there’s some frustration coming from the merchants on that issue, but there is downright anger with the village administration about the state of Cooperstown in general.
The anger is being felt on multiple counts. The implementation of paid parking on Main and Pioneer streets has been met with fury, with many of the merchants claiming that it has discouraged many customers from coming into the village. Endless construction on Chestnut Street, which has been going on since the early spring, has made it difficult for people wanting to come to Cooperstown from places like Hartwick, Milford and Oneonta.
And then there was the recent controversial concert at Doubleday Field, featuring the Grateful Dead revival band, Furthur. (Yes, that’s how the band’s name is spelled.) The concert brought in heavy use of illegal drugs, ranging from marijuana to cocaine and LSD, while also allowing the so-called “Shakedown Street” vendors to sell alcohol and other products without proper permits.
It is amid this backdrop of anger that Hall of Fame Weekend is taking place. Some merchants are hoping that the induction will bring some much-needed cash to town, but a negative impact is already being felt at the autograph shows. Business is down at the signings, with lines looking shorter than they have in years. That is great for fans who don’t want to wait long for their autographs, but a bad sign for promoters who have paid out large guarantees to Hall of Famers and other retired players. Money figures to be lost.
On the bright side, Hall of Fame Weekend still has two more days of activity. If the good weather holds up, perhaps some of the economic losses can be minimized.
News and notes: Ozzie Smith’s “Play Ball” event on Friday has raised $5,000 for the Hall of Fame’s educational programs. As a museum teacher in Cooperstown, I will gladly add my thanks to “The Wizard.”… Let’s add Tommy John to the list of notables who will be in town for the weekend. The 288-game winner will attend Saturday’s Awards Presentation, where Dr. Frank Jobe will be honored as the pioneer of “Tommy John surgery.” After missing part of the 1974 season and all of 1975 because of the radical surgery that saw a ligament from his leg transplanted onto his left arm, John returned to the Dodgers in 1976 and remained in the major leagues until 1989... Another honoree on Saturday will be Thomas Tull, whose company produced the critically acclaimed film, 42. The Saturday Awards Presentation will be emceed by Greg Amsinger of the MLB Network.
Twenty years ago today marked another low point for arguably the least likable team of all time: the 1993 Mets.
This is a club that really made it rough to be a fan. Let’s start with the basics. They lost a lot of games, finishing with a 59-103 record. Well, that’s bad, but that doesn’t mean they’re unlikable, just that they ain’t any good.
True, but there’s also this: they were underachievers. The Mets' Pythagorean record placed them at a 73-89 mark, 14 games better than their real record. Folks, you don’t underachieve by 14 games without a lot of crucial clutch breakdowns.
Again, true, but it’s still far too harsh to call them one of the least likable teams of all time just for losing games. Yeah, but it’s what they did off the field that really set them apart.
Their most infamous incident happened earlier in the week. On July 24, 1993, aging outfielder Vince Coleman threw a firecracker from a car—where people were standing. He hurt three people with his malicious toss, a woman and two children. They were just waiting for autographs outside Dodger Stadium. Coleman faced felony charges for that and ended up doing 200 hours of community service.
You’d think the Mets would learn from having one of their teammates stuck at the center of a vile and rotten incident. You’d be wrong.
Just three days later, on July 27, 1993, a new incident happened. One member of the team thought it would be a real gas to spray bleach into a group of reporters. Yeah, that’s not a good thing to do. No one was hurt, but still, who the hell fires bleach at people, especially just after a teammate faced charges for what he’d thrown at people?
In fact, for a while no one knew who did it. Not until Aug. 10, 1993, did someone step forward: Bret Saberhagen. He apologized and donated some pay to charity.
It shouldn’t have been too surprising that Saberhagen was the culprit, because this wasn’t his first offense against the media that year. On July 7, he threw a firecracker under a table near reporters at Shea. That time, he didn’t wait to come forward—and for that matter he didn’t apologize, either. He said it was a practical joke, and if the media couldn’t take it, forget them.
Then, 17 days later, Coleman showed just how horribly wrong Saberhagen was in his indifference. And three days after that, Saberhagen showed he was too thick-skulled to learn the lesson. As long as someone has to be the biggest underachieving team of all time, thank God it was these cretins.
They had some of the worst behavior of any team ever, and one of their more notable incidents happened 20 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversaries and “day-versaries” (which are things that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better items in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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Friday, July 26, 2013
Perfect weather provided an ideal backdrop to the first day of Hall of Fame Weekend. Temperatures in the mid-70s and low humidity greeted the first batch of Hall of Famers who registered throughout the day at the Otesaga Hotel. Among the first to arrive were Ozzie Smith, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, all of whom were scheduled to take part in Ozzie’s “Play Ball” event at Doubleday Field on Friday morning. (Play Ball gives paying participants a chance to interact with the Hall of Famers on the field, with all the proceeds benefiting the Hall’s educational programs.)
As the Hall of Famers began settling in, what appeared to be fairly substantial crowds made their way up and down Main Street. Despite concerns over a lack of attendance and a lack of living Hall of Famers, it turned out to be a busy day at the Hall of Fame and throughout the village. It was not particularly easy to find parking, always a good sign for business in Cooperstown.
In Hall of Famer news that had nothing to do with the weekend, retired Royals great George Brett announced that he has stepped aside as Kansas City’s batting coach and will return to his previous position as a Royals vice president. Named the Royals interim hitting coach in late May, Brett lasted less than two months on the job. Unfortunately, the Royals’ offense has shown little improvement over that time, so now it’s back to the front office for Brett.
A total of 34 Hall of Famers, down from the initial expectation of 40, are primed to make it to Cooperstown for this year’s induction. Four men have canceled their visits within the last four days: Luis Aparicio, Doug Harvey, Willie Mays and Tom Seaver. For an updated list of which Hall of Famers will be in town (and the list can change from day to day), visit the Hall’s website at http://www.baseballhall.org.
In addition to the signings we highlighted in Thursday’s preview, here are some other signings scheduled to take place over the weekend. Frank Robinson, Juan Marichal, Rollie Fingers, and Goose Gossage will all appear at the Stables Inn, located on Main Street. The baseball memorabilia store, Seventh Inning Stretch, will feature Ozzie Smith as its sole signer. In contrast to recent years, the Cooperstown Bat Company and the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum will have no signings this weekend.
While it’s important to track the Hall of Famers in town, I find it just as interesting to keep tabs on the non-Hall of Fame “celebrities” making the trek to central New York. This group typically includes former major league players, managers, and owners, along with famous members of the media, and occasionally actors. (Remember that Charlie Sheen made it to town last year) As of Thursday night, here is a list of the big names expected to arrive in Cooperstown.
Greg Amsinger (MLB Network broadcaster)
Bob Costas (NBC and MLB Network voice)
Jennie Finch (women’s softball player and broadcaster)
Peter Gammons (award-winning writer and broadcaster)
Buck Martinez (current broadcaster and former catcher)
Peter O’Malley (former Dodgers owner)
Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox owner)
Billy Sample (former broadcaster and player turned actor)
As other notables make their way into town, we’ll let you know. And keep an eye out for our retrospective look at Jerry Koosman, who will be signing on Main Street this weekend.