Sunday, January 26, 2014

Searching for Tony Plush

                           I've been saying for years that there needs to be more characters in the game.  When Ozzie Gullien was fired as manager of the Marlins, it almost seemed like an end of an era.  Gone are the days of Bill "Spaceman" Lee, Al "Mad Hungarian" Hrabowsky, and Dennis "Oil can" Boyd.  Nicknames seem few and far between these days.  Sure, you have your Tim "The Freak" Lincecums and your Carlos "El Caballo" Lee (who has retired, actually), but the true oddballs seem to be on the way out...which is why I was happy to hear that the Cleveland Indians had signed Nyger Morgan to a minor league deal.

                 Morgan doesn't have a nickname, per se, more of an alter ego by the name "Tony Plush."  In recent years, football players like Chad Johnson (Ocho Cinco) and basketball players like Ron Artest ( Meta World Peace) have out and out changed their names...Johnson simply changed his name to his number in Spanish, and Artest to probably the last thing in the world he has ever represented.  These moves seemed more like an ego thing, while Morgan just seems like he's trying to get a rise out of people.  Of course, Johnson and Artest were both superstars, while Nyger is...well,  the jury's still out...

         Let's just say that baseball wasn't Morgan's first choice...Believe or not, it was hockey, being inspired by watching the 1988 Olympics. He played as an affiliate players for the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL, where he received ten penalty minutes (due, in part to his notorious temper). After not making the squad during training camp, he wandered from semi pro team, to semi pro team in Canada, 'til he decided to give baseball a try, eventually getting signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and making his debut with the big club in 2007.

            He was traded to the Nationals for an even bigger head case, Lastings Milledge. Milledge was famous for a stunt he pulled while with the Mets, going around the field and hi fiving the fans after his first home run in the majors.  It was with the Nationals where Morgan let his emotions get the best of him, as he tried to rob a home run from the Oriole's Adam Jones...thinking the ball fell out of his glove and over the fence, Nyger threw his glove in disgust, and stormed off, leaving his team mate to retrieve the ball, but not after Jones had circled the bases for an inside the park home .run

          His temper got him in trouble again, as he was accused of throwing a ball at a fan.  That move- plus another incident where he charged the mound after being plunked- led to him being fined.  On the plus side, he also became the first Nationals' player to steal three bases in a game.  He was/is undeniably fast, being among the league leaders in stolen bases for a few years.  However, he also led the league in caught stealing twice...Tim Raines, he aint.

             His best year so far was with the Brewers in 2011; hitting over .300 and stealing 42 bases.  Nyger also got the game winning hit in game five of the 2011 LDS.  It was around this time he developed the Tony Plush character.  His stock never seemed higher.  However, due to a poor 2012, Morgan- like a lot of major leaguers do- decided to revive his career in Japan.  It seems to have worked, as the Indians are giving him a shot.  Will he make the team  ?  I hope so...he is a breath of fresh air among the robots and Goddies in the game.  He's almost like a less psychotic Milton Bradley...the baseball player, not the game board company...but then again, aren't we all...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Crime Story...

                        Well, as we all know, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame on January 8th, 2014.  There has been a lot of controversy about Maddux not being a unanimous pick, with 16 writers leaving him off, but the fact is, he's in.  The Astros' Craig Biggio just barely missed getting in, but should get in next year, which makes last year's snubs even more infuriating.  There's a complete logjam for candidates now...there obviously needs to be a change; if not for the way the voting is done, then for the voters themselves.

                I mean, seriously, does Dodger beat writer Ken Gurnick really deserve a vote?  Not only did he leave Maddux, Glavine and Thomas off the list, he left off EVERYONE who played during that era.  The only player he had going in was Jack Morris and his 3.90 ERA.  Maybe Morris deserves it, maybe he doesn't...point is, you can't blame every player from the "steroids era" as if they're guilty by osmosis.  Really, is this clown going to deny Pedro, Smoltz and The Big Unit next year?  It also says a lot about how much the voters in general are punishing the hitters-Thomas not withstanding- who played in the '90s and '00s.  In other words, if things go the way they probably will, 5 out of 6 HOF entries for this and next year will be pitchers, unless Biggio squeaks in.

     The only pitcher eligible for the Hall that has been linked to PEDs is of course, Roger Clemens. He, along with Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Palmiero, and the two who were never proven-Piazza and Bagwell-will probably have to wait a long time to get in, if they do at all.  Maybe it's unfair, but I'm not here to debate that, mostly because that's all anybody ever seems to want do when the subject of the Hall of fame comes up. However, there still are some who are still in contention that I will talk about deserving induction.

                  Last year around this time, I wrote about Tim Raines, and how he should be a slam dunk candidate. He's still on the ballot, along with Lee Smith, Alan Tramell and Fred "Crime Dog" McGriff.  While they're aren't many closers in Cooperstown, Smith probably deserves it.  He was consistent- kind of like a pitching version of Eddie Murray- but he wasn't as dependable as say a Mariano Rivera, or had Cy Young seasons like Dennis Eckersley and Bruce Sutter.  That, coupled with the fact that he pitched for many teams, probably have caused him to be overlooked...oh, and he took forever to get to the mound...

            On the opposite end of the scale, Alan Trammell played his entire career with one team; the Detroit Tigers. His numbers were good for a shortstop in the '80s, but they suffered in comparison to the offensive minded shortstops of the following decade like Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Nomar Garciaparra and, to a lesser extent, Omar Visquel.  Trammel- much like fellow team mate Jack Morris- seems to be Veteran committee bound once he falls off the ballot. Also, there's Schilling and Mussina, who will both have to wait awhile, mostly because of the pitchers ahead of them.

         The one candidate who I think is completely being overlooked is McGriff.  First of all, he had a great nickname...Crime Dog...People under the age of thirty (and over the age of sixty) probably won't get the reference, but in the mid '80s, the was a cartoon dog named "McGruff."  He dressed like a detective from the '40s, and (naturally) had a rather gruff voice.  He urged kids to "take a bite out of crime", sometimes paired with a non cartoon teenage girl, who sang and danced about the evils of drug use, singing  "Users are losers and losers are users, so don't do drugs...don't do drugs..."

             Crime dog led both leagues in home runs, hit 493 total ( tied with Lou Gehrig all time), drove in over 1,600 runs, never was linked to PEDs, to my knowledge-he had that muscular, yet slender, Jim Rice build- yet only received %11.7 of the vote, which is a crime, in my opinion.  Sure, he played first, where you're supposed to produce, but so did Eddie Murray, who has very similar numbers.. .But then, Eddie hit the milestones that used to matter, in 3,000 hits and 500 homers, back before PEDs made things both confusing and infuriating, voting wise.

          In conclusion, let me just say I think Biggio, Raines and Piazza will get in within the next few years, and Smith-who is still walking in from the bullpen as we speak-will get in during a slow year, much like former team mate Andre Dawson.  As for McGriff...who knows...hopefully people will come to their senses...left off the ballot for years has been one player I think has been totally overlooked; catcher Ted Simmons, who made eight All star teams during his time with the Cardinals and Brewers.  My favorite story of Simmons is when he was catching the Cardinal's insane closer, Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky, a pitcher who would regularly stomp on the mound and intimidate hitters with his homicidal glare and fu manchu moustache.

                 Many people got a little tired of the Mad Hungarian's act, mostly umpires. This one time, however, four time batting champion Bill Matlock came to the plate, and decided to mimic Hrabosky's antics on the mound while at bat. He stepped out of the box, stomped around, made a big fuss, much to the amusement of the crowd and umpire.  Even Hrabosky seemed to enjoy it.  The one person who didn't was Ted Simmon's, who decked Matlock when he came back to the THERE's a competitor...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Short people...

                       I was looking at a baseball website, (whose name I will not reveal) trying to see who the shortest home run hitters were. This site had two different lists; one was called "Shortest home run hitters", which included many 6 foot plus players.  After a couple of people complained, they tried to rectify the situation by putting out a list called "Greatest home run hitters under 6 feet."  On this list, there were such short players as 5' 7" Joe Morgan and 5' 9" Matt stairs, who weren't included on the previous list.

              One player who was on neither list-and the reason I looked this up in the first place-was Hack Wilson.  At 5' 6" tall, he would have been the shortest player to be included on either.  The omission was shocking to me, to tell you truth.  At first, I thought it was one of those, "I didn't live through it" kind of things, but there were a decent amount of old timers there, including Mel Ott, who was Wilson's contemporary. 

              Wilson hit only 224 home runs, but didn't play all that long, and for a time,  was one of the most feared hitters in the league.  His 1930 season alone should have placed him on the list; 56 homers-a National league record for almost seven decades- and 191 RBIs, which is still the Major League record.  Granted, it was the '30s, where everyone seemed to be hitting it out, and he was playing half his games in hitter friendly Wrigley field, but still, those are eye popping numbers.

          Also, it wasn't like he was .230 hitter... he  batted .356 for the year ( on top of his 56 homers and 5' 6" frame, which is a little weird).  While 1930 was his best year, there was a good four, five year period that Wilson put up awesome numbers for the Cubs, leading the league in homers a few years, and RBIs...although he did lead the league in strikeouts a couple of times, which is probably where his nickname came from(actually, there are many theories, one is that Giants manager John McGraw called him hack because his body was shaped like a taxi cab).

            He started his career in the early '20s with the New York Giants, and got to play in the 1924 World series against the Washington Senators, making a costly error in one of the games that led to a loss.  He was never a good fielder, and probably would have been a D.H. if he had played in the modern era. You might say he was almost the prototype for Dave Kingman...minus the rat giving abilities...After his gaffe in the series, he was shipped to the Cubs. He then ended his career with Brooklyn and Philadelphia.

               Of course, all of us have our weaknesses. Hack's was alcohol, which not only shortened his career, but also shortened his life, dying at the age of 48 of pneumonia. There was also a saying that at 5' 6" and 190 lbs, Wilson was built along the lines of a beer keg, and not unfamiliar with it's contents... although I would say he looked like more of a whiskey drinker.  He ended up bar tending outside of Ebbets filed, singing for drinks, and getting in trouble. Either way, he still is the shortest player to hit homers at such a pace, albeit briefly.  He was inducted into Cooperstown in 1979.