Thursday, January 08, 2004

Mo Vaughn announced today that he would not play in 2004 and probably not 2005 either. The first base slugger fell victim to an arthritic knee. The announcement, while short of a retirement statement, could mean the end for Vaughn's career. Vaughn had a terrific and productive career and cut a huge and imposing figure at the plate. The Fan would like to propose in a mini-thesis that there have been many Vaughn-like players in baseball history and unfortunately, they have a short shelf life.

The list presented here should give pause to all General Managers who seek to sign future Mo Vaughns to long term contracts. First, let's define "short shelf life": These are good or great players whose effectiveness lasted from ten to thirteen years:

Mo Vaughn - Ten effective to great years
Kent Hrbek - Twelve effective to great years
Willie Horton - Thirteen effective years (and one great one)
John Mayberry - Ten effective to very good years
George Scott - Twelve effective to very good years
Frank Howard - Twelve very good to great years
Boog Powell - Eleven effective to good years
Cecil Fielder - Eleven pro seasons until he declined (counting both Japan and USA)
Jose Canseco - Thirteen effective to good to great seasons
John Kruk - Eight effective to very good years

My thesis also considers that the ponderous size of these players limited their bodies the ability to maintain an effective level for a long period of time. The effect shortened their careers and though some of these players were among the best in their times for a short season, they lacked the ability to last long enough to give them Hall of Fame careers.

And of the Hall of Famers, the interesting pattern persists:
- Harmon Killebrew stayed in baseball for a long time, but he had thirteen great years. After those years, his skills and statistics diminished.
- Frank Robinson was imposing at the plate and had a long Hall of Fame career, but his stats sharply decline after fourteen excellent seasons.

Now I will be the first to admit that the flaw in my thesis is that I can't tell you what age the above players made it to the majors, which would of course affect how long they stayed around. But it seems to me that big, talented, imposing players tend to make it to the majors earlier than some others. I don't remember any of the above players being the "bang around the minors" type of player.

What about big imposing pitchers? Lee Smith? Fourteen seasons. Don Drysdale? Twelve seasons. Bob Veale? Seven seasons. Jose Mesa? Thirteen good seasons. There are more examples I'm sure, but CSI will be on soon.

What the history above would tell me is that if I was considering free agents or a trade to make and it was a big, raw-boned type of player, I would go for it up until the eighth season and then start making one year offers with incentives. It's a shame that these very good to excellent players don't hold up for very long, but their bodies just aren't made to take that many years of wear and tear.

Just ask the Mets.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Two interesting deals went down this week in Major League Baseball. First, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Roberto Alomar for one year at $1 million. Next, the Kansas City Royals signed Juan Gonzalez for one year at $4.5 million. The deals are interesting because they begin to show the new reality in free agent signings.

Roberto Alomar has burned his two former teams (the Mets and White Sox) the past two seasons with terrible years. In a Yahoo article that describes the deal, Alomar mentions that he is in better shape than in the previous two seasons. Of course, the hidden admission in Alomar's words are that he showed up the past two season in less than great shape.

Alomar, to me, typifies the type of player who got comfortable after years of making big money. Probably the most talented second basemen to ever play the game, Alomar could use a great year to cement his Hall of Fame status. He needs 321 hits for 3000 and could be a terrific pickup for the Diamondbacks who now have a very interesting team.

Juan Gonzalez has always been an enigma. A hugely talented player, Gonzalez has earned a reputation for lack of effort and a penchant for injuries. Personally, I think Juan has had a bad rap, but Kansas City basically commits what is small change today for one of the best hitters of our times. Gonzalez is only 34 and already has 421 homers in his career. Gonzalez could really blossom again playing for Tony Pena and I think this is a great deal for Pena's team.

The two signings show that major league teams are starting to consider their signings carefully. And some former marquee players are starting to realize that you have to play hard and put up the numbers if you want to continue to earn big paychecks. Both of those realities are very good signs for Major League Baseball and I will be rooting for those teams and those two formerly great ballplayers.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Pete Rose finally admitted to betting on baseball. The collective people of the world look at each other and say, "Well, duh." The only person who never seemed to get the truth was Pete Rose. We all knew he bet on baseball. We all knew he was addicted to gambling and that the addiction ruined his life in baseball. Now he has said the magic words. Should it matter that he did so?

I have stated before in this space my opinion of Pete Rose and my opinion hasn't changed with his new-found emotional strength to admit what he did. Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. His actions on the field speak louder than all that's happened off the field. But Pete Rose should never step on the MLB field again in any kind of official manner.

What Pete Rose has done is spend years lying to us. But he wasn't just lying to us, he was lying to himself and all the other players he played with, coached and managed. He thought for years that the big lie would wear us down and that after a while, we would soften our stance and forgive him what he never gave us a chance to forgive. Even now, he isn't asking for forgiveness or showing contriteness. He is simply saying, "Yeah, I bet on some games."

His new book is called "Prison Without Bars." Even the name of the book pushes for our forgiveness. The truth he doesn't get is that he fastened each one of those prison walls and locked his own key. Can anyone tell me what is different between Pete Rose and Art Schlichter? You remember Art Schlichter? He was the Colts quarterback who threw his life away because of his gambling addiction. The only difference between the two is that Rose's career was over before people knew what he was doing. Schlichter's career was just starting.

But Schlichter's sad case demonstrates that gambling addictions don't go away. The ex-quarterback's life has been like a bad B-movie since he left football. Can anyone prove that Pete Rose hasn't placed a bet in the years since he's been away from baseball? Can anyone unconvince me that the only reason he is admitting this now is because he only has two more years to be eligible for the Hall of Fame?

I stand where I stood before the admission. Let him into the Hall of Fame, but never again on the baseball fields in this great sport. And one more thing, if Bud Selig allows Rose to be eligible for the Hall of Fame, he should also reinstate "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, who has a much more compelling reason to be there than Rose.

The two men who should gain election in the Hall of Fame, without all the hoopla are Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor. Some will downplay Eckersley's career, but his career did two things. First, he put up the numbers: He won 197 games (three less than David Wells) and he saved 390 games. By my math, that means that Eckersley had a hand in 594 wins in his career.

Secondly, Eckersley changed the game and that alone should put him in the Hall of Fame. Before Eckersley, pitchers like Sutter and Gossage and Rollie Fingers pitched several innings a game and played their whole careers as relievers. By the way, all three of those pitchers should be in the Hall of Fame and only one is.

Since the Eckersley years, the closer is a one inning specialist and his career led to relievers like Tom Gordan, John Smoltz, Kevin Foulke, Jason Isringhausen and before them, Dave Righetti and Tom Henke. Anyone who changes the game belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Molitor should be a no-brainer. The lame argument that he spent a lot of time as a DH doesn't hold up in that he wasn't a lumbering guy at the end of his career banging homeruns and limping around the diamond. He stole fifty bases after the age of forty. Molitor didn't go out with a whimper. He batted .341, .305 and .281 the last three years of his career. He stole 504 bases in his career. He hit 605 doubles, 114 triples and 234 homers to go along with his 3319 hits and .306 lifetime batting average. My case rests.