The First MLB Drug Test And The Other Side Of Branch Rickey

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I was the first player drug-tested in baseball, and I am the one who asked for it.” – Babe Dahlgren

The Baseball Writers Association of America’s stance on The Steroid Era is well-known. They have made that very clear. There are folks on both sides of the issue. Many feel that the lack of evidence supporting the exclusion of players like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell from the Baseball Hall of Fame based on rumors that they may have used PEDs, is an injustice.

We also live in an era where it is hard to imagine people choosing integrity over the millions of dollars to be made with the popping of a pill or the injecting of a needle. These players may indeed be innocent, and if they are, they have the power, resources and platform to defend themselves.

Some other players never got that opportunity.

There was another player who once took a drug test, the first one in known baseball history. It was paid for by then-MLB commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, and it came back clean. For some reason, Landis and several of the commissioners that followed him, refused to make the results public, or provide that player with some level of justice.

Instead, former MLB All-Star Babe Dahlgren, once considered the best fielding first baseman in baseball, was sentenced to a life as a baseball vagabond.  Even after his playing days, he was plagued with the inaction of a baseball industry that had turned its back on him a long time before.

The whole story is chronicled in the book, Rumor In Town: A Grandson’s Promise to Right a Wrong, written by Dahlgren’s grandson, Matt Dahlgren.

Sadly, two of the most respected figures in baseball history played a large role in Dahlgren’s misery, and it is perhaps that reality which is responsible for the lack of coverage and discussion of these events.

From Gotham Baseball’s Spring 2011 Issue, “Going Nine: The Other Babe”

“The guy can do everything, and I have a hunch that he invents plays as he goes along. If an old-timer were to swear to me on a stack of testaments that there was every a greater defensive first baseman than Ellsworth ‘Babe’ Dahlgren of the Yankees I wouldn’t believe him.” John Lardner, The New Yorker, June 13, 1940

According to Matt Dahlgren, Babe was also the victim of a vicious rumor; he was a marijuana smoker. Mike Lynch of Seamheads.com summarized it best, stating that the rumor was “started by a Hall Of Fame manager, perpetuated by a Hall of Fame executive, and buried by a Hall Of Fame Commissioner.”

Dahlgren started his career in the Boston Red Sox farm system and was poised to become the team’s first baseman until the Bosox acquired the Philadelphia A’s slugger Jimmie Foxx.  It seemed a trade to another team made the best sense. However, he was dealt to an even worse situation; the Yankees, where Lou Gehrig was entrenched. Determined to prove that he belonged, Dahlgren took his game to the Yankees’ top farm team in Newark in 1937, where he hit. 340 for the Bears, one of the greatest minor league champions in baseball history.

He would make the Yankees in 1938 as a utility man, but played in just 27 games, mostly as a pinch-hitter. In 1939, he would make the most of an opportunity he desperately wanted, he just hated the way it happened.

Replacing Gehrig, Dahlgren hit a home run, a double off the top of the fence and two drives that were caught against the fence in a 22-2 rout over Detroit.

“I especially admired Gehrig because he was a first baseman like me,” Dahlgren told Newsday’s Joe Gergen in 1988. “I never dreamed one day I’d be in New York to take the man’s place.”

He would hit only .235 that year for the Yanks, but he would hit 15 home runs and drive in 89 runs batting seventh or eighth in a powerful lineup. In the World Series that year, Dahlgren would hit his only World Series home run, helping the Yankees sweep the Reds. The future looked bright for the 27-year old Dahlgren. Then he went home to San Francisco, and his life would never be the same.

According to the book, Bay Area legend Lefty O’Doul hated the fact the Joe McCarthy, and not he, was the manager of the New York Yankees. He was often telling anyone who would listen that “Ol’ Marse Joe” was a push-button manager and that “anyone could manage the Yankees”. An Associated Press photographer took a picture of Dahlgren receiving “batting tips” from O’Doul at an off-season workout (the reality was that they barely talked that day). Combine the cracks that O’Doul made that day to the media in attendance like, “The Yankees have to send me their players to learn how to hit.” was the killer. The Yankee manager may have been a legend, be he was also was a thin-skinned person, as well as a heavy drinker. Throw in the fact that the now-veteran first baseman was very well-liked by his teammates and the local press, there was the makings of a very bad situation.

Dahlgren had another solid year in 1940, hitting .263 / 12/ 73, and played a brilliant first base, but when the Yankees did not win the pennant. McCarthy seemed to blame Dahlgren, citing a key error down the stretch that cost the Yankees a ball game.

He was sent to the Boston Braves in 1941, was dealt midway in that season to the Cubs, where he really played well, hitting .263 / 23/ 89 for the season. While Dahlgren was having the best year of his career to date, McCarthy was telling the New York sportswriters – who all liked Dahlgren and thought he was a superb first baseman and were watching Johnny Sturm hit just .235 with no power and nowhere near the glove – that Dahlgren’s arms were too short to play first base.

Really.

The longer the season wore on, the longer it looked to the media like McCarthy must have had a personal beef with Dahlgren, and the writers pressed McCarthy on the trade. Now, remember, it was the 1941 season, and Joe DiMaggio was setting his magical streak and Ted Williams was hitting .406 for the Red Sox. Though sad he had left the Yankees, Dahlgren was happy in Chicago, playing well and finally getting the accolades he deserved.

Then, almost instantly, Dahlgren would spend the rest of his career as a talented and mysterious vagabond. In 1942, he would get traded from Chicago to St. Louis to Brooklyn (where Branch Rickey would accuse him of smoking marijuana, the first time Dahlgren would hear of the rumor) to Philadelphia (where he became an All-Star) to Pittsburgh (where he would drive in 101 runs and hit .289 in 1944) and finally back to St. Louis, where he would finally be discarded.

In the midst of the incredulous rumor, Dahlgren informed then-Commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis of the rumor, and the Judge, according to the book, paid all the expenses for what would prove to be a “clean” drug test for Dahlgren. But Landis and every subsequent Commissioner – up until his death in 1996 – failed to address Babe’s cause.

Dahlgren also died not knowing who had started the rumor. He had always assumed that it was Rickey, because of the way the situation had played out. It wasn’t until his grandson Matt, who wanted to write the manuscript that would become “Rumor in Town” (Babe’s original manuscript, as well as a letter from Landis proving the rumor existed, were lost in a fire at Babe’s home in 1980), that the origin of the rumor surfaced.

Dahlgren was doing research for his book when someone suggested that Marty Appel, arguably the preeminent Yankees historian, might be the person to provide stories about his father.

Appel told him about a conversation he had with New York Times sportswriter John Drebinger in 1973, recalling McCarthy talking to a small group of baseball insiders at the end of the 1940 season. Drebinger, Appel remembered, recalled that McCarthy was griping that he Yankees would have won the pennant in 1940 had it not been for an error that Dahlgren made in a late-season game against Cleveland. leveling a blow that all but ruin a man’s career;  “Dahlgren doesn’t screw up that play if he wasn’t a marijuana smoker.”

Tired of being made a fool for suggesting that the obviously proportionally limbed Dahlgren’s arms were more than long enough to play first, McCarthy decided to spread a rumor so incredible, so scandalous that few would ever repeat it. But someone did.

“Rumor in Town” might be a promise by a grandson to his grandfather to right a terrible wrong, but one would hope that it also motivate Major League Baseball or motivate the BBWAA to right a terrible injustice. To date, the case is one that MLB doesn’t feel needs to be reopened.. And that is a big a tragedy as was the rumor that cost Babe Dahlgren his career.

QBC 2014: Meet The New Media

On Jan. 18, 2014, a very special baseball event will be happening at McFadden’s at Citi Field; the first-ever Queens Baseball Convention. It is a celebration of the New York Mets, by New York Mets fans and it’s being put together by two of the best Mets fansites in creation; MetsPolice.com and The7Line.com.

My contribution, other than attending with my dad (You know him as the Terry Collins look-alike) and my son (who still misses Jose Reyes), will be moderating the New Media panel, which will kick off the event at approximately high noon.

I say “high noon” because, well, I am the reigning Mets Gunslinger of the Year.

The reason I wanted to be a part of the QBC was simple; for years I have wondered why the Mets – a team clearly in need of energizing its fanbase — no longer held offseason FanFests ( as many teams in MLB currently do) or their once-annual Mets Caravan. With the opening of a new ballpark in 2009 — which could easily host a FanFest for baseball-hungry Mets fans — it seemed like it would only be a matter of time for one to be organized. The folks at MetsPolice.com and The7Line,com decided they didn’t want to wait anymore and have put together a great event for Mets fans of all ages.

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The New Media panel is especially exciting for me as it allowed me to bring together some of the biggest names the Mets blogosphere has to offer:

Matt Cerrone (MetsBlog.com) – Matt is the lead writer and creator of MetsBlog.com, which reaches more than 3.5 million page views per month. Prior to making MetsBlog.com a full-time job in 2006, Cerrone worked as a communication strategist for politicians, authors and entertainers. In 2007, he partnered with SportsNet NY, the TV home of the Mets, to help develop more in-depth content for MetsBlog.com, while working to create new team-specific blogs for their website, SNY.tv.

Greg Prince (FaithandFearinFlushing.com) – Greg is a professional writer, editor, and communications consultant whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Online Edition and on SNY.tv and MLB.com. He is the author of the book “Faith and Fear in Flushing” and “The Happiest Recap”.

Jason Fry (FaithandFearinFlushing.com) – The co-author of FAFIF.com, Jason is s a writer, editor and media consultant in Brooklyn, N.Y. He spent more than 12 years at The Wall Street Journal Online, serving as a writer, columnist, editor and projects guy. While at WSJ.com he edited and co-wrote The Daily Fix, a daily roundup of the best sportswriting online. He blogs about the Mets at Faith and Fear in Flushing, and has written for or consulted with Nieman Journalism Lab, the Poynter Institute, Yahoo! Sports, MSG.com, Deadspin, Baseball Prospectus, EidosMedia and the Library of Congress.

Kerel Cooper (OnTheBlack.com) – Kerel is the owner and operator of OnTheBlack.com, and whose video podcasts are among the most-watched in the Mets blogosphere. It has been featured on such industry leaders as Metsblog.com and various other Mets Sites. Kerel is also the Senior Director of Digital Ad Platform Strategies for Advance Digital.

Steve Keane (KranepoolSociety.com) – Steve is the creator of the popular Mets blog “The Eddie Kranepool Society” and numerous podcasts about the Mets. A true-blue Mets fan, Steve is never afraid to tackle any subject when it comes to the Mets, and that includes taking on the ownership, front office and the players. He is a also a popular guest on many of his fellow panel members’ podcasts as well.

Mike Silva (ESPN LI 107.1/96.9FM) – Mike currently hosts the “Weekend Watchdog” on Long Island’s ESPN Affiliate Champions Radio (107.1/96.9 FM Suffolk County) from 10AM to 1pm every Saturday. His longtime “NY Baseball Talk” podcast was one of the longest running of its kind, and is well-known to Mets fans for his other blog and podcast “Sports Media Watchdog”.

Taryn Cooper (KinersKorner.com) – “Coop” is a special part of the Mets blogosphere for many reasons, not the least of which was her first effort “My Summer Family”. You can find her now at Kiner’s Korner and hear her on the Kult of Mets Personalities podcast that has a great following.

Ed Ryan (MetsFever.com) – Ed owns and operates MetsFever.com, and stands out as one of the more even-handed Mets bloggers in the industry. He’s been blogging about the Mets since 2006, and was a regular on many of the Mets former and current message boards way before that.

The QBC is going to be a blast, and if you are a Mets fan, you should really do yourself a favor and check it out.

For tickets, a schedule of events and any info, go here - http://queensbaseballconvention.com/

 

Gotham Classic: Peas in a Pod; Goldis and Bernazard

Editor’s Note -This story was written the day after Willie Randolph was fired by Mets – MH

Back in 2004, or the last time the Mets’ front office was in this much turmoil, one guy (with some help from another guy) was the divisive force that created so much havoc that super-prospect Scott Kazmir was traded for a injury-prone, arbitration-eligible (and serious non-tender candidate) right-hander, Victor Zambrano. That guy’s name was Al Goldis, and his partner in crime was Bill Livesey. Yeah, those guys. “The Super Scouts”. These two geniuses helped destroy a blossoming farm system, an exceptional scouting department, and got an undeserving GM fired. They also helped turn a fan base against Jeff Wilpon.

Sound familiar?

Later that year, after the white-hot venom of the Mets’ fan base had erupted for several months, the Mets decided that Omar Minaya would fix all of the Mets’ problems, repair the front office, and circle the wagons. At first, he did. Then he made the mistake of hiring Tony Bernazard as his assistant.

Unlike Goldis, whose agenda to usurp any influence that newly-minted GM Jim Duquette (after spending half a year as the interim GM after Steve Phillips was fired) began the day he was hired, it took Bernazard a year before he got himself promoted to VP of Player Development, despite having not a shred of scouting, coaching or front office experience. That’s quite a trick. But hey, his resume clearly indicated his fine work on the World Baseball Classic.

He never wanted to undermine his good friend Omar Minaya, but his actions and behavior have had the same result. Even better, like Goldis, he has – for the most part — put enough of his cronies in place so that any criticism – or corroboration – is virtually non-existent.

Let’s rewind back to July 30, 2004.

The day before the Kazmir trade was made. Several days earlier, noted columnist Bob Klapisch was on MSGSportsDesk discussing a trade rumor that had the Mets considering trading Scott Kazmir in exchange for The D-Ray’s Victor Zambrano. The emerging Internet community reacted with outrage, stating the Mets would never make that deal, etc. They also added that Klapisch “made it up”.

At the time, I was working at the Associated Press, knew of Klapsich’s reputation (which was excellent) and started checking with all of my contacts with the Mets’ Minor Leagues to see why they were considering dealing their top pitching prospect, who was rated by Baseball America as the a Top 5 blue chipper in all of baseball.

The answer was Al Goldis. I got this info at 11:30 pm EDT on July 29th, spent the next few hours writing the story and publishing it on the then-Mets Inside Pitch website (now insidepitchmagazine.com). Here is the relevant body of that article:

Given this is Jim Duquette’s first full year as general manager, it seems ill-advised that right before the all-important trading deadline, his role is being being circumvented by others in the front office.

Yet, it appears that’s exactly what is happening…(as) sources indicate that Mets’ owner Fred Wilpon is starting to tune out Duquette at the worst possible time of the year.

“Superscout” Al Goldis is the man that Wilpon is apparently listening to, …(and) has become increasingly active in the team’s day-to-day activities, including constant criticism of the team’s scouting and minor league development people, as well as pushing for the trade of some of the team’s top prospects for a all-out run at the NL East. (Matt) Peterson and left-hander Scott Kazmir are the team’s top pitching prospects, yet each are being bandied about in trade talks, only months after being considered untouchable. Duquette, widely known throughout baseball circles as a patient man _ especially when it comes to the club’s farmhands _ is rumored to be against trading either player.

Yet, somehow, Peterson may very well be on his way to Pittsburgh, while Kazmir is supposedly the (main component) that would net the Mets’ righty Victor Zambrano from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

For a team that spent much of the offseason selling its fan base on the future and it’s so-called “Plan”, this chain of events is alarming to those who believe the Amazin’s only hope of consistent playoff contention is the minor league system. Duquette, the lone voice opposing ex-GM Steve Phillips’ the ill-fated deals for Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn, has suddenly appeared to have changed course.

“No one is untouchable” said Duquette, who appeared as a guest on ESPN 1050AM on Thursday.

The “win now” mantra that is emanating from Shea Stadium the past few weeks makes the non-signing of Vladimir Guerrero, on his way to a possible MVP season for the Angels, now seem ludicrous. If Fred Wilpon thought highly enough to hire Duquette in the first place, why allow Goldis, who is supposed to a special assistant to the general manager, to have such sway in the team’s makeup? Along with Director of Scouting Gary LaRocque and Minor League Coordinator Guy Conti, Duquette have presided over a complete overhaul of the team’s minor league system, now considered one of the best in baseball.

The lack of trust being shown Duquette is (alarming), whose opinions are being shunted aside in favor of a “subordinate”, who just happens to have the owner’s ear.

The next day, those trades were made, and as the fans’ reaction started to explode, people started looking for folks to blame. Not a single writer, save Newsday’s Dave Lennon (who got Peterson to say, “Go ask Al Goldis”, in answer to a direct question about his role), ever mentioned Goldis’ name in any of their stories.

Why?

“(Goldis) is never around.” said one writer a few days after the deal. He was from a major NY tabloid, who is now out of the business, but I couldn’t reach him to get permission to use his name in this story. Frankly, it’s not important. What is important as his next sentence. “It’s easier to blame (Mets pitching coach Rick) Peterson. He likes Zambrano, was impatient with Kazmir because he didn’t buy into Rick’s program, and he’s weird.”

What? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I told him that his paper’s actions were unethical and that I would print what he said. He didn’t seem to care, I printed it, and even have repeated it on dozens of radio shows since. No one seems to be too disturbed by it.

The truth is, Peterson’s input played a role, and as he was the “CEO of Pitching”, but his “I’ll fix him in 10 minutes” comment, perpetuated as the REASON, is regurgitated nonsense. Much like the oft-repeated “Play it again, Sam” line from “Casablanca”, it doesn’t exist and is a myth. Also, John Franco and Al Leiter, while liked by ownership, were not asked for their input at the time of the deal. At that time, there was a growing resentment between certain members of the media, the two aforementioned veterans, and the manager.

Again, sound familiar?

Contrary to a recent TV report, and confirmed by more than one former member of the 2002 front office, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, though respectful of Goldis, who was once the young Wilpon’s batting coach, did not “engineer” the Kazmir trade. As I reported then, and am reporting now, Jeff Wilpon was very reluctant to deal the young left-hander, who had become a fan favorite before ever throwing a pitch for the big league Mets, because of his tenure with the younger Wilpon’s claim to fame; the Brooklyn Cyclones. The opinion was shared by Duquette, long an admirer of the building of an organization from within.

The only problem was that his “assistants” had been spending the season plotting their purge of the previous – and current – regime’s prospects. Adding to that dynamic was the fact that Fred Wilpon had never really trusted Duquette’s evaluation skills, and had tried to hire Minaya away from the Expos in early 2004 before grudgingly giving the job to him. Instead, he hired the superscouts.

”We knew when Jim took over that that we had to hire two superscouts right away,” Fred Wilpon told the New York Times in 2005. “’Now Jim has two guys who are very, very important to him.”

Ah, the irony.

But later that summer, while the shining light of Art Howe had finally begun to dim, the Mets were again playing under expectations. Faced with slim-to-none hopes of making the postseason, the “Kitchen Cabinet” pulled the trigger. It was the room, dominated by Goldis and Livesey (whose role was excellently portrayed by Lawrence Rocca in a story published in the Newark Star-Ledger in August of 2004), that Fred Wilpon listened to and trusted the wrong people, and a franchise was ruptured.

The “all-powerful” Jeff Wilpon, who had urged his father to give Duquette a shot at the full-time job, then had to tell his friend that he was out and Omar, Fred’s personal choice, was in. The backlash from the deal was so unexpected, so bitter and so intense that “someone needed to pay the price.” Only recently has Duquette ever spoken about who pulled the trigger and even then, by only saying “There were too many cooks in the kitchen.”

Over the next two years, Wilpon’s money, Minaya’s personality and a very professional Willie Randolph were able to turn things around quickly, but as the organization started to heal itself, another man who would be King started to exert the influence bestowed on him by the GM. The difference is, this assistant GM had his sights set on the manager, pitching coach and others in the organization. He operated in the shadows like Goldis – and started driving good people out of the organization.

I wrote about this in the summer of 2005, as did Madden and Newsday’s Ken Davidoff.

Peterson kept his job (Bernazard realized that the Wilpons hired Peterson, not Duquette, a little too late), but he was able to drive Minor League Coordinator Tony Tijerina out the door. Most fans don’t know “T.J.”, but the former minor league catcher served as a player, coach, manager and assistant to Guy Conti (who he replaced as Coordinator) for the Mets since 1991, when he was drafted in the 13th round of the amateur draft. Deemed “too negative” by Bernazard to be a cog in his machine, he was replaced by Luis Aguayo.

Yeah, the new third base coach.

The new first base coach is former Minor League Manager of the Year Ken Oberkfell. The superb skipper, who helped develop David Wright, Jose Reyes and Kazmir, was really supposed to be the Mets manager in 2005. But once his biggest supporter (Duquette) was replaced as GM, he wasn’t even given an interview. Retreads Terry Collins and Jim Riggleman were, though.

The only good thing to come out of this whole debacle is that Oberkfell and new pitching coach Dan Warthen are getting their chance to work for the Mets. Finally. Good things do happen to good people.

Now to Randolph. Undermined by Bernazard, the lack of any real confidants on his coaching staff (interim manager Jerry Manuel was an Omar hire), and all of the mistakes made by the front office doesn’t change the fact that he wasn’t a very good manager. He deserved to be fired last year, got a chance to redeem himself, but didn’t deserve to get fired the way he did. Blame Omar Minaya for the clumsy way he handled this entire situation. Blame Omar Minaya for his assistant’s constant open-door policy with the Latino players, which hurt the skipper’s credibility. But stop blaming Fred and Jeff Wilpon for stuff they didn’t do.

Fred and Jeff Wilpon did not order Omar Minaya to fire Willie Randolph in the middle of the night. That was Minaya’s doing, and was on Minaya’s timetable. Sure, much like former Met Bobby Valentine’s ill-advised “Baseball at-bat on Marijuana” pantomime at the Tony Tarasco press conference in 2002, Randolph’s comments on race and SNY were an impetus for then Phillips and now Minaya to get the final approval from Fred Wilpon to fire the manager. Fred Wilpon is building his rotunda to honor Jackie Robinson, and is the guy who really hired Willie Randolph in the first place. He was hurt, and shocked that his manager could say the things he did. The moment they were made, the last real support Randolph had died. Jeff Wilpon? He was ready to fire Randolph after last year’s collapse, sure. So were a lot of people. Had he really “run” the organization, he would have. He deferred to Minaya. So much for that nonsense.

My favorite line lately is “Jeff Wilpon leaked info to the media”, as being blamed by many for the terrible timing of the firing. One writer even went on to say that Jeff “picked his favorite media guys” and told them that the firings were imminent. Really? Who would those guys be? The answer is zero. The media has been relentlessly smearing Jeff for years. Some have called him “Paris Wilpon” and others spew derivatives of “rich, spoiled, silver spoon brat” around the tabloids and blogs for good measure.

He’s no George Clooney. But he’s honest and while he often chooses not to comment, he never gets the benefit of the doubt. He had a few weeks there in the winter, as he was lauded for his role in the Johan Santana negotiations, but otherwise, is never fairly treated.

“Why should he have any say in the team, he’s just the owner’s son.” barks Chris Russo on WFAN. Sure Chris, I’m sure if you, or Peter Gammons or Vinnie From Flushing’s dad owned the Mets, you’d get a job in some other industry. Jealousy, thy name is everyone not named Jeff Wilpon.

Admittedly, both Fred and Jeff can be their own worst enemy, as they lack the communication ooze of PR hacks. But they are straightforward, honest, family men that refuse to lower themselves to debating with people that use personal attacks, embittered ex-employees and innuendo to publish the “facts”. Their biggest problem is that they put their trust, consistently, in the wrong people. From Al Harazin to Steve Phillips, the list is long.

Fred Wilpon loves baseball. He loves it so much that during this spring training he was talking to anyone who would listen about young pitcher Jon Niese. Jeff Wilpon loves baseball so much he goes on scouting trips to watch all levels of the farm system. They have been wrong often, and are stubborn, and defensive. But they love this club, want to win a World Series, and dammit, in a industry that is littered with franchises that could care less about being competitive, they desire excellence.

They’re not perfect, and they sure as hell have no particular affection for me (which is an understatement), as I have been extremely critical of ownership through the years. But they are NOT at fault for this latest debacle. This is fully and completely the responsibility of Omar Minaya.

Because he’s extremely likable, friendly and a honest GM (who understands his fan base more than most GMs), so much like painting Rick Peterson as a vindictive mad scientist, the media’ decision to portray Minaya as the reluctant triggerman is equally easy.

The evil Queen did not send the huntsman into the woods to kill Snow White. Great drama, great soap opera, but ultimately, bull.

The truth? Minaya’s firing of Randolph had a heckuva lot to do with his own job security. If he’s going to go down, he’s going to go down with his own guy, Manuel. You see, back in 2005, Rudy Jaramillo was Omar’s first choice to manage his club. Bobby Valentine was also a consideration, but not an option. Randolph – who had been linked to the Reds with Minaya as a possible manager-GM team in 2000 — was a compromise candidate, agreed on by Omar with full support – and strong suggestion — of ownership.

Then-newly hired Bernazard was never really on board with the hire, but waited until he had consolidated his power to start sowing his seeds of discontent. For nearly two seasons, Bernazard has been undermining the skipper in the clubhouse and in the front office. Thanks to The Daily News’ Bill Madden and WFAN’s Mike Francesa and Chris Russo (the latter two are sadly, vastly uninformed in other aspects of the story), his role took him out of the shadows a bit.

“(Thankfully) he’s Minaya’s problem,” said one baseball official, who spoke with Gotham Baseball Magazine on condition of anonymity. “He and Goldis are peas in a pod.”

So, the free-for-all now being directed at the Mets’ ownership, while par for the course, is ridiculous and unwarranted.

Randolph deserved to be fired at the end of last season, and 2008 should have been the beginning of a new regime. Minaya decided to keep the manager, and couldn’t bring himself to make a decision that was months in the making. He repeatedly told people in Tuesday’s press conference that it was “his decision”, yet the mudslinging of Fred and Jeff Wilpon is the main theme of what you read and hear today.

Unfair, and far from the truth.

All indications are that, even if the Mets miss the postseason again, Minaya will be safe. But will Bernazard? For the Mets’ sake – and Minaya’s – a real VP of Player Development is needed. It’s hard to imagine Minaya firing his friend, but maybe like in “What About Bob”, the Mets will find someone to take him off their hands.

Bernazard was in line for the Pirates GM job (which went to Neil Huntington), and lots of Mets’ insiders were secretly hoping he would get the gig. He didn’t. He is also being rumored to be in line for the vacant Seattle GM job.

Don’t be surprised if you see lots of crossed fingers at the next organizational meetings.

Does Methodology Matter?

“My nature is such I am not interested in buying things. Building something is fun. That’s competition. That’s what the real fans really want.” – M. Donald Grant, 1978

When the once-powerful M. Donald Grant was cut loose by the New York Mets, he defended his penurious spending practices to his sometimes defender, the bombastic Dick Young, in a column written on Nov. 25, 1978.

In print, Young followed the quote from Grant with a quotable of his own:

“(Grant) has overestimated the fans. The fans want a winner, and could care less how it is achieved. That is the lesson we have all learned, or should have.”

Forget the backstory of Seaver and Thornton Geary; Young was once a great columnist who — for a great deakl of time — understood the fans of New York better than most.

I don’t bring this up to dredge up the eventual erosion of every ethical Young once stood for, but to ponder the point he was trying to make. Do fans really care about the methodology more than the result?

The Miracle Mets shocked the baseball world with a fresh-faced kiddie corps led by Seaver and Koosman. The arrogant, hedonistic 1986 version also won the brass ring, yet are as beloved by their fans as much as the New Breed who cherished theirs.

The current Mets fan is understandably impatient. Confused about the ownership’s true financial standing, or celebrating the “sensible” approach to team building is a constant theme on social media and on sports radio.

But in the end, does it really matter HOW success is eventually achieved? I would really like to know.

The Full Nelson: The Man Who Saved The Mets

“There are still a lot of National League fans in this town. If you can show them a clean stadium where they can get a beer and a hot dog and have a good time, you’ve got a good thing going.” – Nelson Doubleday.

The year is 1979. The cheers from the magical summer of a decade ago have long grown silent. The New York Mets have the worst record in the National League. A stadium, that just 15 years ago hosted the All-Star Game and was a major attraction at the 1964bWorld’s Fair, is filthy, neglected and on most days, empty. With the exception of homegrown matinee idol and All-Star center fielder Lee Mazzilli; the once-Amazin’ Mets are an embarrassment.

John O. Pickett, the owner of the New York Islanders, knew something about what buying a downtrodden franchise and making it a champion. So he convinced his country club pal and publishing magnate Nelson Doubleday (a fellow investor in Pickett’s once-pathetic, now on the cusp of greatness hockey team), that they should buy a 40 percent interest in the woebegone Mets.

At first, the process seemed daunting; finding a group that made sense to partner with failed a few times, and there were plenty of other parties vying for a shot at rebuilding New York’s National League club. One of those groups included a real estate developer named Fred Wilpon, who was willing but unable to raise any cash. He and his brother-in-law Saul Katz had a little more than a million bucks, but the price-tag for the Mets was 21 million dollars, a record sum at the time.

In a decision he would later regret, Doubleday – at Pickett’s urging — agreed to allow Wilpon to become part of his ownership group. Doubleday Publishing would control 95 percent of the team and Doubleday himself would serve as chairman of the board. Fred Wilpon owned anywhere from 2.5 % or 5% of the club, depending on who you wish to cite at the time of the sale.

The Associated Press ran several stories on the sale of the Mets to the Doubleday group, one which mentioned Pickett as the other principal investor (the AP story was titled “Lowly Mets Sold To Printer”), stating he’d been “identified with Sterling Equities, Inc.”, the real estate firm owned by Wilpon and his brother-in-law Saul Katz.

Neither Pickett or Doubleday liked the limelight.

“We never wanted the spotlight and were never in the spotlight even when we were winning,” Pickett said of his ownership group during the glory days of the Islanders. “It just wasn’t important.” – NY Daily News, Feb. 15, 1998

Neither was putting his own personal stamp on the team. Like Doubleday, Pickett believed that he was a owner first, fan second, and the best way to build a champion was to hire competent professionals and get out of the way. Bill Torrey (who was hired as the team’s first-ever GM at Doubleday’s urging), and Al Arbour, the respective Hall of Fame GM and coach did their jobs, Pickett went to the games.

Pickett and Doubleday assumed that this would be the case with the Mets. That modesty would backfire, as their “front man” for the ownership group would be Fred Wilpon. The long-suffering Brooklyn Dodgers fan and childhood friend of Sandy Koufax was the spokesperson at the press conference introducing them to the New York media. Doubleday even gave Wilpon the title of team president and CEO, believing that like his own title, Wilpon would treat his role on the team as largely administrative. Pickett had his hands full with the Islanders, Doubleday was running one of the biggest publishing houses in the country, and figured Wilpon’s real estate company would keep him equally engaged. In fact, the second largest error made by the Doubleday ownership group (including Wilpon in the Mets purchase was far more egregious), was not hiring someone outside of the ownership group to serve as President and CEO.

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Most people who follow the team today simply refer to the purchase of the Mets in 1980 from Charles Shipman Payson as when “Doubleday and Wilpon bought the team.”

In the New York Times, however, Doubleday was the guy who bought the team. Joe Durso, the late Hall Of Fame sportswriter from the New York Times called Pickett “ the man who had brought all the investors together” and preferred “to stay in the background and probably would,”

Wilpon, in what would be a foreshadowing of decades of strange quotes, said at the press conference,” John Pickett was very instrumental in guiding us, but there is no definite role for him now.”

Implied or not, it gave the impression Wilpon was dismissing Pickett, rather than giving him credit for putting the group together. It would be the first of public gaffes by Fred Wilpon and his employees that would eventually define the “Wilpon Doctrine”; take a simple situation and complicate it with over-thinking, and defensive corporate-speak.

Doubleday owned 11% of the Islanders during their heyday, and saw firsthand how Pickett’s style worked superbly. With the Mets, by allowing Frank Cashen to build slowly and surely – — and keeping Fred Wilpon from becoming too involved in the day-to-day executive he was becoming — the Mets would become a champion.

Doubleday still gets far too little credit for being THE owner of the Mets during their rise to glory. Part of it was his own doing, as he distrusted the media and granted few interviews during his tenure. One interview he did give, however, to Nancy Perry of Fortune Magazine was incredibly revealing.

Conducted over a course of several conversations with Doubleday in January of 1986 months before the amazing summer and fall that was to follow, it is by far the most complete interview ever done with the former Mets owner.

Six years ago, he says, everybody thought he was crazy to pay $21 million for a team that had finished last in the National League’s Eastern Division for three seasons in a row and was losing money. Friends laughed. Some Doubleday directors questioned his judgment. Worst of all, the “Cuckoo Convoy” thought he was nuts.

Back then Doubleday was in a group of citizens’ band radio freaks who met over the airwaves on their daily commute into Manhattan. A diverse group ranging from a maintenance man to a phone booth manufacturer to a big-time book publisher, they nicknamed themselves the Cuckoo’s Nest Convoy. Doubleday’s on-air name was the Bookworm. For five years, before CBs gave way to cellular car phones, he and his good buddies met to kibitz, talk sports, and tell jokes. He invited them to lunch at ”21,” greeted them at Shea Stadium by flashing ”Welcome Cuckoos” on the scoreboard, and chattered with them nonstop on the CB.

”It seemed a hideaway for him,” says Miles Godin, an advertising executive known to CBers as Magic Pencil.’ At Doubleday, everyone did things because he was Doubleday. But with us he was just the Bookworm.”

The day after he bought the Mets, Doubleday stopped as he did every morning for coffee with the Cuckoos at the McDonald’s on Astoria Boulevard in Queens. ”What are you buying a crummy team like the Mets for?” they razzed him over Egg McMuffins. His reply was prophetic. ”Just you wait,” he retorted. ”Give me five or six years, and they will be a first-place team.”

The Doubleday Publishing heir eating Egg McMuffins at McDonald’s in Astoria? Hanging out with a bunch of his CB buddies? Now this is a guy who should have let us peek behind the curtain more often.

In any event, he went out and made good on his boast, hiring former O’s executive Cashen to run his team. He was “the best guy for the job”, or so said MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, for whom Cashen had been working for several years.

For the next six seasons, Cashen would have a free hand in creating a World Series-winning team. The front office dynamic was baseball first, everything else secondary and was cited by many as the reason for the consistent progress made by the new regime.

“Nelson made sure the baseball people were left alone,”said one former team employee, who asked that her name not be used. “In the beginning, Nelson deferred to Fred on things of a baseball nature because Nelson always thought himself as a fan and Fred had played in college. But as time went on, Fred wanted more than just a seat at the table, he wanted policies put in place that would give him more day-to-day contact with the baseball people. Nelson wouldn’t allow that. It caused problems.”

Not on the field, though, as the 1984 Mets, led by new manager Davey Johnson, started to reap the benefits of great drafts and solid trades. For all of the mistakes it made and would make (and they made plenty), Cashen’s front office was full of talented evaluators and administrators who knew their roles. They also worked well with others, as many got themselves hired by other teams. For the most part, it was an operation allowed to function without ownership interference.

New York Times columnist Joe Durso would write in 1986 that the Mets were a model franchise:

In an era when some owners of baseball teams not only telephone the dugout but also summon the manager and feud with the players, the Mets are pursuing their destiny these days in a remarkably benign relationship with their owner.

It is even more remarkable because Nelson Doubleday is the present and future chairman of the Mets: He is the man who bankrolled the team when it languished on the bottom six years ago, and the man who reflects its soaring success at the top today.

Like most owners, he is the Boss. Unlike most, he keeps his distance. He rarely visits the locker room, never second-guesses the manager and never, never calls the dugout.

”When the dugout telephone rings,” Ron Darling was saying the other day in Shea Stadium, ”you never imagine it’s Nelson Doubleday. It isn’t, and it never could be.”

”Not with that owner,” he added, with meaning. ”And not with that manager.”

”If I ever tried it,” Nelson Doubleday said, wincing at the thought,”Davey Johnson would probably take me apart.”

There’s no mention of Wilpon in that piece. Nor should there have been. Doubleday set the tone of the organization, and despite the growing presence of Wilpon (especially in Cashen’s office), Doubleday still sat at the head of the table.

But things were already starting to change.

***

Jesse Orosco’s triumphant pose after the final out of the 1986 World Series is remembered by every Mets fan who witnessed it at Shea Stadium, or who watched it on NBC. What’s forgotten is that Doubleday was nowhere to be found afterwards. He was not present in the clubhouse after the game, did not accept the World Series trophy from Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and did not attend the ticker tape parade.

In the aforementioned interview with Fortune, he was quoted as saying that he didn’t want the publicity, and that his feelings when the Mets clinched the championship was “tough” for him.

”The thing I never realized during the last two weeks,” he finally says, ”was the involvement of the city of New York. I think I was involved with the Mets and with winning, but . . .” His voice quavers and he breaks off, unable to continue. Tears glisten in his eyes, trickle down his cheeks.

”I had no concept,” he whispers after a moment. ”I really had no concept of just how much this meant to a lot of people.” He brushes the tears from his face, embarrassed, but they keep coming. ”I guess I surprise myself when I do something right,” he says.

It wasn’t until the year 2000, with the Mets facing the Yankees in the World Series, did anyone put some of the puzzle pieces together. Yes, Doubleday was a man who cherised his privacy, but according to Andrew Rice in the New York Observer, the emotion and lack of attendance during what should have been a triumphant time for Doubleday might have been borne out of anger, outrage and a sense of betrayal.

“ … around the same time, Mr. Wilpon was outmaneuvering Mr. Doubleday, parlaying his 5 percent stake into half-ownership. At the time, Mr. Doubleday was selling the publishing company that owned the Mets to the German firm Bertelsmann A.G. But Mr. Wilpon had a right of first refusal in the event of any sale of the team, and his lawyers made it clear he was ready to exercise it. In a settlement, the two men agreed to become equal partners, paying Bertelsmann $81 million for the team. It has been said that Mr. Doubleday never forgave Mr. Wilpon.”

We now know that during the 1985 season, while Doubleday was busy revamping his family’s publishing company (impressively enough to start a bidding war for its eventual purchase), Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz started investing with Bernie Madoff, and had lots of new money to play with.

When Bertelsmann purchased Doubleday Publishing, Doubleday not include the Mets in the sale because was planning on purchasing the club for himself. He had grown weary of playing offensive line for his GM against Wilpon, who clearly wanted his children to start getting involved in the team. It was not a situation Doubleday wished to continue. He felt “ambushed” said another former employee, who still works in baseball and did not wish to be identified.

In 1993, Doubleday would resurface after the Bud Selig/Jerry Reinsdorf-led ouster of then-Commisioner Fay Vincent, disagreeing vehemently with the decision and the people he believed to have led the movement.

Doubleday not only questioned loyalties, but vote-gathering tactics of three anti-Vincent owners: Bud Selig of the Milwaukee Brewers, Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox and Peter O’Malley of the Los Angeles Dodgers, even though all three have been quoted as saying they were not the leaders.

“They got 18 votes,” Doubleday said. “They conned 18 votes. Even the people who said, ‘The commissioner did a lot for us,’ they voted against him. That includes two of the newcomers. I don’t know what those guys promised them, but they must have promised them some sweet candy.”

As Doubleday predicted, the machinations of the owners would prove catastrophic. Vincent was more inclined to work with the MLBPA, whereas Selig and the owners were not, which would ultimately result in the 1994 player’s strike that would wipe out the World Series.

Unfortunately for Doubleday, his anger got the best of him. John Helyar, a Wall Street Journal reporter who co-wrote the best-selling “Barbarians at the Gate,” quoted Doubleday in his book making a racial slur. In the “Lords of the Realm”, Doubleday, angry that NL President Bill White and AL President Bobby Brown agreed to letting the owners call the meeting to vote to oust Vincent, yelled at both of them. “Well, I guess the Jewboys have gotten to you,” referring to Selig, the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, and Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox.

What Doubleday didn’t know, and what most still don’t realize, is that Fred Wilpon very quietly was allying himself with both Reinsdorf and Selig in the ouster of Vincent. Wilpon may not have ever been as savvy a baseball man as he thought he was, but he was very good at creating networks of influence. It would prove very useful in the years to come for Wilpon, especially with regards to his relationship with Selig, who would become the next Commissioner.

Doubleday was extremely embarrassed and upset by the incident, and again removed himself from the public eye. It wasn’t until the Mike Piazza trade, a deal he pushed for, that Doubleday was back in the picture.

”Absolutely I’m getting more involved,” Doubleday. ”I’m around. I am back. I’m going to be much more involved. I had a lot of family stuff I was doing. It took up a lot of my time and I’m now able to concentrate on baseball.”

Doubleday would make news again during the 2000 World Series by publicly stating he did not share his partner’s vision of a new Ebbets Field.

“I’m not particularly interested in seeing a whole lot of taxpayer money going into a New York Mets fancy-dancy stadium,” Doubleday told the Observer while watching batting practice before Game 3 of the 2000 World Series. “We could [renovate Shea Stadium] over three years, section by section. This is a pretty nice place to play ball.”

The stadium issue was the last straw for Doubleday, who spent most of the last few years of his ownership trying to find the highest bidder for the Mets.

Last year, Mr. Doubleday was ready to sell 80 percent of the team to Cablevision for $400 million-a deal that could have shielded his children, who are uninvolved in the Mets’ affairs, from huge estate taxes. But Mr. Wilpon scuttled the deal, out of a concern that, as a minority partner once again, there would be no assurance that he would still run the team. Jeff Wilpon, who is closely involved with the day-to-day planning for the new stadium, is said to be eager to take over the team one day. – NY Observer

In 2002, Doubleday based the value of his franchise on the Cablevision offer in 1999, which was reported to be $500 million. So when he finally decided to sell to Wilpon and Katz, it seemed a fair valuation of the franchise could not be agreed on by the two parties, so a mediator was appointed. When he came back with a figure of $391 million, it appeared to Doubleday that the very agreeable “independent” mediator (who had once worked for an accounting firm hired by Fred Wilpon at Sterling Equities) and the MLB Commissioner were working in “cahoots” to lesson the value of the franchise.

He filed suit, claiming Robert Starkey’s valuation of the Mets was related to the owners trying to keep the Major League Players Association in the dark about the real value of baseball’s franchises, and that he was being shortchanged because of it. When Wilpon countersued, Doubleday finally sold his share to Wilpon and Katz for far less than he (and Forbes magazine, who valued the team ar $454 million ) thought his share of the franchise was worth. The reason for his quick capitulation is not known, but it’s not hard to speculate whether the strong relationship between Fred Wilpon and Bud Selig played a role.

Defeated, Doubleday would not go out quietly, angrily lashing out in what would be his last interview for very long time, unleashing a tirade of bitterness at the Newark Star Ledger’s Larry Rocca on July 21, 2003.

It has been almost 11 months since he completed the sale of his half of the Mets to Fred Wilpon, and Nelson Doubleday misses being involved in Major League Baseball, which is not to say he misses being involved with the Mets.

“I think it’s been awful out there,” Doubleday said by phone early Friday night from his Long Island home. “I don’t want to fire shells at somebody, but we’re 22 games out. It’s so close that it gets you nervous. We might fall into a minor league. We might not even make it into Triple-A.

Doubleday has great disdain for Fred Wilpon, but maybe even more for his son, whom he single-handedly kept out of the organization in recent years.

“I saw a comment in another paper after the (Roberto) Alomar trade, that it was a very good trade, but it would have been an excellent trade if they had included Jeff Wilpon. (John) Franco and (Al) Leiter meet with Mr. Jeff Wilpon everyday. Mr. Jeff Wilpon has decided that he’s going to learn how to run a baseball team and take over at the end of the year. Run for the hills, boys. I think probably all those baseball people will bail.” …

Doubleday also said he “felt badly” that Steve Phillips and Bobby Valentine were fired. “I mean, Art Howe?” Doubleday said. “Come on. This isn’t Padooka.” … Doubleday misses baseball, but not the Wilpons or the Mets.

The real tragedy isn’t that Nelson Doubleday isn’t the majority owner of the Mets anymore, because had he not been forced to bring Wilpon in as an equal partner in 1986, he likely would have sold the team once his health issues became serious during the early 1990’s.

Instead, it is that the 1980-1986 period of Mets history isn’t remembered as “The Doubleday Era”. Whether its revisionist history mandated by a Wilpon administration that has spent much of its existence ignoring Mets history, the Payson Family, Bill Shea, the 1973 NL pennant winners, or go-along, get-along journalists who have been scarred by the thin skins of the aforementioned ownership group, it’s always Wilpon and Doubleday this, or Wilpon and Doubleday that.

Sorry, folks, it was Nelson Doubleday, with or without Bernie Madoff’s favorite investor, who stepped in when Shea Stadium became a ghost town.

For years, Mets fans have been complaining that people like Davey Johnson, Frank Cashen, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden deserved to be in the Mets Hall of Fame, a modest display once housed in the old Shea Stadium Diamond Club. When Citi Field opened to mixed reviews, with many wondering if the Brooklyn Dodgers were returning to the borough to play there, there was no Mets Hall of Fame to be seen. When asked, Fred talked about vague plans for its future.

“We’re intending to have a Mets Hall of Fame,” Wilpon said after the dedication of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda in April. “We haven’t put it into practice. We’ll have a Mets Hall of Fame, Mets memorabilia. Things of that nature.” … Asked where the new display would be, Wilpon said, “We haven’t really exactly said where it’s going to be. We think it’s going to be out in the food court, where so many people will get to see it.”

Citi Field, whose opening was marred by a Jody Gerut home run which beat the Mets, and a season where the Mets would lose 92 games, would be vilified more as the terrible season wore on. So the food court idea was transformed into a very nice Mets Hall of Fame for the 2010 season, and Cashen, Hernandez, Strawberry and Dwight Gooden were enshrined in a very nice ceremony.

Yet the person most responsible for the 1986 World Series trophy, a prize that the franchise has yet to regain, is nowhere to be found.

If anyone deserves a spot in the Mets Hall of Fame it is Nelson Doubleday. He probably wouldn’t attend the ceremony, would likely turn down the honor even if he was so honored, but future generations of Mets fans should know and appreciate his place in New York Mets history.

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Manhattan’s Last Champions

(Editor’s Note: This story, written by the amazing Greg Prince (Faith And Fear in Flushing) was originally published in the third issue of the print run of Gotham Baseball, which is now part of the national archive at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum . Mr. Prince graciously allowed us to re-publish the story for the digital re-launch of Gotham Baseball back in April of 2011.- MH)

Think of the 1954 Giants as The Boys of The Summer Before.

Perhaps the date is the first clue. The World Series could hardly have started any sooner, and given the course of events that quickly unfolded, there was no way it was going to end any later. In its time, that was a good thing.

But a half-century and change down the road, you have to wonder: What was the rush?

Leo Durocher’s New York Giants swept Al Lopez’s Cleveland Indians four straight to capture the 1954 World Series, a quartet of contests that commenced the afternoon of September 29 and wound up well ahead of supper October 2. In terms of the calendar, no Fall Classic has ended so soon since. October, which nowadays hosts three tiers and typically three weeks of playoffs, wasn’t even 40 hours old when the Giants became champions of the world.

Maybe if it could have been imagined that they’d never win another one — that in fact the New York Giants would cease to exist within three years of the final Indian out — the Jints would have strung the Tribe along a little longer. Maybe, but not likely. When you are an underdog of historic proportions taking out the legs of an overwhelming favorite, you don’t stop and think about posterity’s ramifications.

Still, maybe there was a harbinger hidden in the four-game sweep. In 1954, the Giants took care of business in short order as if they couldn’t wait to leave the stage. One year later, the Brooklyn Dodgers, having waited their fair share of Next Years, jumped into the spotlight, prevailing in their perennial struggle for a championship across seven games. Yes, the Bums left Brooklyn, but the ’55 Dodgers have never exited the popular consciousness.

One year, one borough apart, but the respective legacies left behind by what transpired in Manhattan in 1954 and Brooklyn in 1955 seem leagues apart. The Dodgers are perpetually romanticized. The Giants are mostly gone. Despite receiving a New York City ticker-tape parade (something the Yankees during their run of five straight championships between 1949 and 1953 never got), it feels as if history’s parade has passed the 1954 Giants by.

How come?

Well, for one, the Dodgers of the 1950s instantly became the Good Old Days to a lot of people who made like O’Malley and left Brooklyn themselves. By then, the Giants’ prime was already past; really, they represented the Good Old Days long before 1950 rolled around. Also, Brooklyn would be mourned post-1957 as no longer big-league. Take away a team, take away an identity. New York, on the other hand, was and is New York. The Giants, in a sense, got replaced. But, the thinking went, there could never be substitute for Dem Bums.

If that’s indeed what’s happened, it doesn’t make it right. Manhattan’s last champions need to be held in higher regard.

Team ’54, where are you?

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Hodges Belongs In Hall

The case for Gil Hodges in the Hall of Fame is both statistical and emotional. It also points out all of the inconsistencies that go into the flawed process of choosing Hall of Famers.

Considered by many to be the finest fielding right-handed first baseman in the history of baseball, and certainly among the top five of all-time, Gil Hodges is currently the best player eligible for the Hall of Fame who is not in.  There are at least 10 players less deserving of enshrinement gracingCooperstown’s hallowed Hall.

The question is when will the veterans’ committee, made up solely of members of the Hall of Fame correct this mistake.

After his first year on the ballot (at one point writers kept deserving players off their ballots in the players first year of eligibility, reserving first year votes for only the best of the best) no player who ever finished ahead of Hodges in the balloting has not been elected to the Hall of Fame.  Of those who finished ahead of him in his initial year on the ballot, only Marty Marion, Allie Reynolds, Joe Gordon and Johnny Vandermeer were not ultimately enshrined.  Both Marion and Gordon are considered by many to be deserving players who have been slighted.  (Editor’s Note:  Since this was first published, Gordon was chosen to the Hall of Fame, in 2009).

The list of players Hodges finished ahead of in the voting, and the number of times that he did it – is impressive.

What is interesting is the comparison with former Brooklyn and (Los Angeles) teammate Duke Snider.  Coming onto the ballot one year later, it took Snider seven years to get to a level of support that Hodges had on every ballot after his first, and eight tries to pass Hodges in the balloting, finally accomplishing it in 1978.

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If this was a comparison of peers, similar to the Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady arguments that dominated talk-radio in November, Hodges would have a clear advantage, having beaten Snider the first seven times they went against each other.

In 1980, Snider was elected to the Hall of Famer in his 10th year on the ballot.  Obviously, many writers took their time determining that the Duke of Flatbush was a Hall-of-Famer.  Makes you wonder what made them change their mind.  A comparison of the two teammates shows some interesting things. Snider was a eight-time all-star, who drove in over 100 runs six times, and hit 40+ home runs four straight years.

Hodges, was also an eight time all-star, and drove in 100 runs seven straight seasons.  Hodges had three gold gloves, Snider none, but was in competition with Willie Mays and Richie Ashburn, so the comparison may be a bit unfair.

Snider seemed to burn brighter, Hodges more consistently.  So what happened? Numerous things could have hurt Hodges candidacy.  His untimely death in 1972 removed him from the public eye, and after initial spike in the voting, Hodges did not pick up much more additional support.

Additionally, few have argued how Hodges stacked up with Whitey Lockman, Joe Collins, Moose Skowron, Bill White and Orlando Cepeda at first base.  Hodges was clearly the best.  But the Reese vs Rizzuto (both in) and Willie, Mickey and The Duke (all three in) were emotional debates that continued into the seventies and beyond, keeping all in the front of voters minds.  Everyone knows Terry Cashman’s song.  Only Mays and Mantle were unquestionably better than Hodges.

The bitterness over George Steinbrenner and the Yankees heavy-handed tactics in getting Phil Rizzuto in may have also backfired against Hodges, particularly with non-NewYork based voters.  A backlash against a perception of too many Dodgers, Yankees and Giants in the Hall could have also contributed.

The Gold Glove award was not awarded until 1957, and Hodges won the first three. But his career was winding down by that point.  Who knows how many he would have won earlier in his career. Snider, with Mays and Ashburn as contemporaries, was unlikely to ever win a Gold Glove for centerfield play.

Lastly, the turmoil that was Shea Stadium from the death of Joan Payson until 1982, certainly had to hurt Hodges. The Dodgers have been criticized by many for abandoning theirBrooklynstars during that era, concentrating on those who went west.  The Mets, for whom Hodges also had his number retired after winning the 1969 World Series, were expected to carry the ball on his candidacy.  Like most other things in that era, they dropped it.

Richie Ashburn and Red Schoendienst both had tremendous support of their teams leading the push to get them through the veterans committee, which led up to their elections. The Wilpons, devotees of everythingBrooklyn, have not made this more of an issue since taking ownership of the team.

Realistically, Hodges is on the border statistically as an offensive player.  Injuries limited the end of his career, keeping him at 370 home runs, short of the 400 that was a magic number of sorts for players of his era.  Playing in a stadium that favored left-handed hitters for most of his career, his reputation as a clutch hitter was deserved.

While his post-season history has on it one of the worst post-seasons ever (an 0-21 in 1952) he bounced back to post solid numbers in 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1959, raising his career post-season average to .267.

Few in baseball were ever held in as high esteem as a person as Hodges, both as a player and a manager. Brooklynfans flocked to their churches to pray for him during his slump in the 1952 Series, which inspired the title of a best selling book, Praying For Gil Hodges.

As a manager, he took over a franchise that epitomized ineptitude, and won a pennant in his second year, was over .500 three of his four years as manager, and finished with a .530 winning percentage as Mets manager overall.  He inspired such respect that Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver still refers to him as Mr. Hodges when speaking of the ’69 Mets.

The reality is, baseball needs to induct Hodges as soon as possible.  While his 370 home runs are no longer eye-popping in comparison to the numbers of Rafael Palmiero and Mark McGuire, the contrasts between those modern sluggers and Hodges could not be greater.  No suggestion of steroids, amphetamines, corked bats, or cheating of any kind where Hodges was concerned.

If Joe Morgan is truly as outraged by the modern player and the influences of performance enhancing substances, then he should join Seaver in championing Hodges inclusion.  The Hall could use a man whose numbers are untainted by suspicion, whose character is unquestioned.

Offensively, Hodges numbers are on par with Snider, Cepeda and a more modern contemporary, Tony Perez.  Defensively, Hodges is to first base what Ozzie Smith is to shortstop, Bill Mazeroski to second base, Brooks Robinson to third – all Hall of Famers, while a far superior offensive player.

So why is he missing from the Hall?

Cooperstown Archive: The More Things Change: A History Lesson

(Editor’s Note) I have had the pleasure to work with the great Cecilia M. Tan on many occasions, first as an editor with Gotham Baseball from the birth of the magazine’s print and online days, then as a writer for the Yankee Annual, which Cecilia puts together each year for the Maple Street Press. She’s an incredible writer, and author, and her story below, originally published in the Fall 2006 print editon, is one of the reasons why Gotham Baseball is in Cooperstown. – MH

I went to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame Induction Weekend this year, which is a pilgrimage every baseball-loving fanatic should make at least once. While patrolling the main street of shops, I happened into a used bookstore. There a tiny, red-bound volume caught my eye.

The book, entitled “The Powder of Sympathy,” is from 1927, published by Doubleday, Page & Co., and appears to be a collection of essays by one Christopher Morley. Morley was something of a literary fixture in New York City during his lifetime. He was a founder of the Baker Street Irregulars, took on the revision of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, and was chums with Don Marquis of “Archy and Mehitabel” fame.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AND MORE! DOWNLOAD THE NEW GOTHAM BASEBALL – FALL 2011 ISSUE – HERE

Gotham Greats: Sal Maglie: The Barber Of Gotham

(Editor’s Note) To prepare for the upcoming release of the Summer 2011 issue of Gotham Baseball, here’s an article for our awesome online audience to enjoy. Of course, a free download of the entire first issue of Gotham Baseball is available here. MH

“Sal Maglie will never be elected to the Hall of Fame, unless there’s a Hall of Fame just for pitchers whom you wanted to have the ball in a game you had to win.” – Bill Madden, NY Daily News

For the first four years of his professional career, Sal Maglie wasn’t much of a presence, a prospect or a pitcher.  The Cleveland Indians signed him at age 21 in 1938, shuffled him off to the Tigers in 1940, who sent him all the way down to Single-A Elmira.  Given a chance to pitch on a regular basis for the first time in his career in 1941, he responded with a record of 20-15 with a 2.67 ERA over 270 innings.  His reward? He was left unprotected by the Tigers, who lost him to New York Giants via the Rule V draft.

At 25 years of age, Maglie, who had grown frustrated with professional baseball’s lack of commitment to him as a starter, nonetheless had a solid year for the Double-A Jersey City Giants, going 9-6 with a 2.78 ERA in 50 games, only seven of which came is a starting role.  One could say he only had himself to blame, as his inability to muster a respectable K/BB ratio (a dreadful .044 in his minor league career up until that point) was his main culprit,

Furious with baseball, perhaps more furious with himself, Maglie would quit pro baseball,  returning to his native Niagara Falls to work at a defense plant, as it paid better than minor league baseball.  That feeling would last two years.

Feeling that he still had something to prove, Maglie contacted the Giants, and they assigned him to Jersey City again. He responded with a 3-7 record with a 4.07 ERA, very below-average numbers for a 28-year old reliever trying to make it back into baseball.  But because of the manpower shortage caused by ballplayers being drafted, fighting and many still overseas in World War II, the big club needed bodies. Maglie finally get his shot at the bigs. In 13 games, 10 of which were starts, Maglie posted a 5-4 record with a 2.35 ERA and a miniscule 1.15 WHIP. His K/BB ratio was still below average, but it was better, and he also tossed three shutouts in the mix.  It was a promising start, partly because it was Maglie’s first brush with the man who would change his life, Giants pitching coach Dolf Luque.  It was Luque who would drill aggressiveness and intimidation into Maglie’s game, and according to Judith Testa, author of Sal Maglie: The Demon Barber, would “transform him from a marginal wartime hurler into one of the top pitchers of his time.”

To listen to an interview with Judith Testa about her Sal Maglie biography, click here

Sal Maglie as a Dodger, illustration by John Pennisi

It would take a long five years before anyone would notice, because Maglie would make the incredibly costly choice of joining the outlaw Mexican League.  He would finally learn how to become a dominant big league pitcher, but he would have to wait a long time before he could prove it.

His old pitching coach Luque would serve as his manager in Mexico for two years, but even the expert tutelage of his mentor could not make the awful conditions in Mexico bearable.  For the next three years, Maglie would alternate a whole variety of realities; he would spend a few months barnstorming with a bunch of ex-big leaguers,  move back home and buy a gas station, and then finally pitch again, this time in Canada.

The last time Maglie wore a Giant uniform, former Polo Grounds legend Mel Ott was the skipper.  A far better player than manager, the man who hit 511 career homers was also known as “the nice guy who would finish last”. The fellow who pegged him with that moniker was his eventual successor, Leo Durocher.  It was Durocher who would be Maglie’s manager when the right-hander, now a grizzled 33 years old, rejoined the team after Commissioner Happy Chandler lifted the ban against those big leaguers who had jumped to the Mexican League.

However like Ott, Durocher mostly ignored Maglie the first couple of months or so he was with the club.  Then he took the mound against the Cardinals on July 21, tossed an  11-inning complete game, and for three of the next four seasons, he would become one of the more dominant – and most feared — pitchers in all of baseball.

The guy who pumped gas in Niagara Falls was now instilling fear in the hearts of his opponents – and their fans. Acclaimed writer Robert Creamer, who chronicled Maglie in Sports Illustarted in 1951, put it best:

“(Maglie) hovers over the Borough of Brooklyn like the angel of darkness. Small children are cowed into obedience by the mention of its name, strong men pale and women weep.

“The Barber?” the Brooklyn Dodger fan asks fearfully, looking over his shoulder. “Is he pitching tonight? We never beat him. Never.”

This is legend, of course. Salvatore Anthony Maglie of the New York Giants (for indeed it is he) never scared a child to sleep, never made a woman weep and never beat the Dodgers every time he faced them, although his margin of superiority—23 victories over Brooklyn to only 10 defeats—is remarkable. But his undeniable effectiveness, his grim shadowy appearance, his obvious relish of the challenging job facing him each time he pitches against Brooklyn, have given him an aura of invincibility and made him a major character—hero and villain both—in the tremendously dramatic pageant of Dodger-Giant baseball.

He would finish the 1950 season 18-4, putting together a string of 45 consecutive scoreless innings along the way.

One of the young boys who Maglie did not frighten was named Ron Healey, who shared this story:

In the summer of 1951, I was walking along Bedford Avenue in back of Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Behind the right field fence. I noticed a window open which normally, was always closed. Little did I know, it led to the bathroom of the visiting team. That night, the Dodgers were playing the hated New York Giants. Looking out the bathroom window was Sal “the Barber” Maglie and third baseman Hank Thomson. When I first looked at Sal, I said, “Hi Sal” he said “Hi Kid”. I then said, “Hey Sal, would you sign an autograph for me?” He replied, “Sure”. I realized then that there was a cross-cross, heavy duty iron screen over the window. All I had with me was my small, spiral notebook I used for homework and a short pencil. I asked Sal, “How can I give you this notebook?” He replied, “Just pull a sheet of paper out, take the pencil, roll the pencil inside the paper, and pass it through the screen”. So, I tore out a piece of paper, rolled the pencil inside the paper, and passed it through the screen. Sal and Hank both signed it for me and passed it back. From that day forward, even though I was a big  Dodgers fan, I always liked Sal Maglie as a person. While I was in the US Navy in 1956, Maglie was traded to the Dodgers and pitched a no hitter. I was very happy for him.

Maglie would help the Giants complete their miracle run against the Brooks in 1951, leading the league with 23 wins, and would win 18 more games in 1952. A bad back in 1953 would limit his effectiveness, and his age (36) made doubters of even his most ardent supporters that he could bounce back in 1954.

He proved the naysayers wrong by posting a solid season (14-6, 3.26 ERA) in 1954, helping the Giants win their last ever World Series in New York.

The next season would be his last at the Polo Grounds, as despite a 9-5 record by the end of July, he was sent to the Cleveland Indians, but it would not be his last season in New York.  Maglie would pitch until he was 41, ending his career with stints in the Bronx with the Yankees, and with the St. Louis Cardinals before retiring in 1958.  Ironically, the “Demon Barber” would enjoy his last hurrah with the hated Brooklyn Dodgers, of all teams.

While still with Cleveland, Maglie had pitched well in an exhibition game in Jersey City (Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley had scheduled a number of games in Jersey City in 1956 in an attempt to jostle NYC lawmakers to build him a stadium in Brooklyn), and then-GM Buzzy Bavasi thought Maglie might be able to help the Dodgers.  Brooklyn had some injuries to its pitching staff in 1956, and manager Walter Alston didn’t trust a young left-hander named Sanford Koufax just yet, so for the bargain price of 100 dollars, the Barber became a Brook.

On his way to a 13-5 record, he would toss a no-hitter; win the game that clinched a tie for the pennant and in the World Series against the Yankees, would earn his only World Series victory (a 6-3 win in Game 1).  In Game 5, he would be on the losing end of the Don Larsen perfect game, and once again, it was wait until next year for the Flatbush faithful.

In later years, he would receive more attention, albeit negative, in ex-Yankee Jim Bouton’s book “Ball Four”. Maglie, then serving as Bouton’s pitching coach for the expansion Seattle Pilots, would be portrayed as a closed-minded, uncommunicative, and less-than-enthusiastic about Bouton’s new knuckleball,. type of person.  It should be noted that the one year that the Pilots would exist (they would move to Milwaukee to become the Brewers the following year) it was a miserable experience for all involved.  Besides, in 1967, as pitching coach for the 1967 “Impossible Dream” Red Sox, both Jim Lonborg and Dick Radatz would give a great amount of credit to Maglie being one of the best pitching coaches in the game .

Today, the best of baseball fans, the ones from New York City, the “baseball city” as former Mets GM Omar Minaya once called it, will remember Maglie as one of the Knights of New York Baseball during the golden age of the sport in Gotham.

An era in which Sal Maglie would never back down, never give an inch, and own the inside part of the plate.