Cooperstown Confidential: The deadline, defending Old-Timers Day, and Hall of Fame weekendby Bruce Markusen
July 24, 2009
Putting aside the monumental issue of Roy Halladay, we seem to hear a different excuse every year as to why there will be little trade activity befoe the July 31 deadline. Based on what we’ve been reading in the mainstream media, the 2009 deadline will be no different.
Oh, there have been a few preliminary deals involving players like Mark DeRosa, Eric Hinske and Adam LaRoche, but no one is expecting any blockbusters between now and next week. With an assist from their media confidantes, general managers have already created an excuse: There are simply too many teams in contention for the wild card spots, and too few teams that have fallen completely out of the race.
Not to sound like the lead character in “Hannah Montana” (mentioned because it’s one of my three-year-old daughter’s favorite shows), my reaction to this illogical line of excuse-making is “Say what, say what?” In the American League alone, five teams have played poorly enough to put themselves on the wait list for next year: the Orioles, Blue Jays, Royals, Indians and A’s. In the National League, the list of excluded teams already includes the dreadful Nationals, the perennially poor Pirates, the disappointing Diamondbacks and the low-rent Padres.
So that is nine teams that have no prayer of the postseason and that list could grow between now and the 31st if the Mets do not suddenly reverse their July freefall. With nine or 10 bottom feeders, there should be plenty of talent available to teams that still have realistic dreams of postseason play in 2009.
Let’s consider the Nationals for starters. They have two legitimate veteran hitters who have significant trade value in Nick “The Stick” Johnson and Josh Willingham, along with potential middle infield help in Ronnie Belliard and Cristian Guzman. If interim GM Mike Rizzo doesn’t trade at least two of his spare veterans by the deadline, he will have proven that he is not ready to assume the role of fulltime general manager.
Then there are the Orioles, who not only can shop supplemental role hitters like Aubrey Huff and Luke Scott (or maybe even Melvin Mora if he’ll waive his no-trade clause), but also have available late-inning relief help in closer George Sherrill and setup man Danys Baez. With the O’s destined for another distant also-ran finish in the stacked AL East, there is simply no excuse for Andy MacPhail not to make a trade or two within the next few days.
Unfortunately, today’s general managers seem to have a Rolodex of excuses at the ready for inability to make deals. Aside from legitimate problems with complicated contracts and a poor economy, there is another basic obstacle at work here. Other than Billy Beane and perhaps one or two others, there are not enough wheeler-dealers among today’s conservative group of young general managers. Too many GMs want the moon for their expensive veterans, while too many other GMs are unwilling to give up even a couple of good prospects for solid veteran players who could push their fringe playoff teams over the top.
It’s almost as if every GM is afraid of making a mistake that will result in a skewering from the local media and fan base. Baseball could use an old-fashioned trader like Whitey Herzog or the late Syd Thrift, gunslingers who didn’t care how the media and fans reacted to potentially unpopular trades. Until a few wheeler-dealers take the place of the Sabermetrically inclined, stand-pat executives, the trade deadline will be doomed to be a period of inactivity and irrelevance…
Appreciating the near-great
It’s bad enough that the Yankees have become the last man standing when it comes to staging Old-Timers Day, but now we have to read articles from NBC Sports’ Matt Casey claiming that it’s time for the Yankees to give their longstanding promotion “a nap” for a few years. Apparently, he thinks not enough all-time Yankees greats showed up at the new stadium on Sunday. Some big names had legitimate reasons not to attend, like Don Mattingly, who is busy coaching with the Dodgers, and Rickey Henderson, who is swamped with commitments leading up to his induction in Cooperstown this week. Still, the headliners included Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage and Reggie Jackson, along with near-greats David Cone, Mike Mussina (who may make the Hall some day), Ron Guidry, Dwight Gooden, Graig Nettles and Roy White. In my mind, that’s a pretty good A-list, covering a range of standout players from six different decades.
But the focus on the stars and superstars misses the point of Old-Timers Day. For diehard Yankees fans, the opportunity to see the likes of Hector Lopez, Moose Skowron, Lindy McDaniel, Oscar Gamble and Chad Curtis means just as much as eyeballing the legends. It’s those foot soldiers of years gone by—the common, everyday players and the versatile role players the rabid fans remember—who tighten the fabric of Yankee history, helping connect the Mickey Mantle era to the Bronx Zoo Yankees to the Joe Torre Dynasty.
By stirring memories of those old teams—and perhaps teaching new fans about the team’s rich history—Old-Timers Day remains a relevant and enjoyable mechanism. Those who want to tear down, or simply reduce, the institution of Old-Timers Day have little understanding of what baseball’s history means to those fans who savor not only the connection to their childhood but those players and teams who came before them…
A great weekend
While we’re on the subject of institutions that honor the game’s history, one of the best will take place this weekend here in Cooperstown. The annual induction ceremony, featuring the official entrance of Henderson, Jim Rice and the late Joe Gordon to the Hall of Fame’s Plaque Gallery, provides a great way for fans to make connections with legends of the past, through Main Street autograph sessions, live interview programs and a free clinic for children ages 5 to 12.
As with Old-Timers Day, I love Hall of Fame weekend not simply because 51 Hall of Famers will descend on our sleepy town, but also because so many other former standouts routinely visit Leatherstocking country. Players like George Foster, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Bill Lee and Lee Smith make a habit of coming to Cooperstown, whether it’s to sign autographs or offer some baseball instruction to some wide-eyed youngsters. For those who cannot make it to Cooperstown, we’ll be live-blogging throughout the weekend and providing updates on whom and what we see. As always, it should be fun.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.
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