2013 Hall of Fame Ballot

The most controversy laden Hall of Fame ballot perhaps since its 1936 inception went out the other day, and the fates of such steroid tainted superstars named Bonds and Clemens and rumored, but never directly proven, users such as Mike Piazza will be at the mercy of the joke known as the BBWAA.

My personal take on most of the names appearing are brief. The steroid era happened. The era of Ruth provided inflated offensive statistics due to a number of factors, not limited to a tighter spun ball, the outlawing (but not total elimination) of such pitches as the spitball and shineball, and a culture change in the game from small ball to long ball. Many of the new age players of this generation were derided by baseball writers, purists, and players from a forgotten generation. The proof being this: Babe Ruth, I hope no one will question me here, was probably the greatest player of the era and probably all time. But the inaugural Hall of Fame vote had Ty Cobb getting a higher percentage of the vote than the Bambino. The point being, while there was some resistance to the era, it wasn’t completely ignored and shunned to the side.

In the mid to late 1960’s, pitching took over and became king, with such dominating seasons by pitchers like Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, Luis Tiant, and Sandy Koufax that the rules needed to be changed. These pitchers were celebrated, but after the adjusting of the height of the mound in 1969, the players who benefited offensively like Johnny Bench were not castigated because they were offered a new advantage thier predecessors did not. In fact, Bench is generally considered the greatest catcher of all time.

Conversely, greenines, amphetamines, trucker pills, all of the above, were rampant in baseball in the sport from its inception through the release of Jim Bouton’s landmark tell all, Ball Four, and probably even after it. These players are not penalized for their reliance on performance enhancers (and believe me, they are most assuredly performance enhancers).

Which brings us to this class. I hope any informed baseball fan knows that from roughly 1985-2003, steroids were being used by arguably the vast majority of major leaguers at least at some point of their careers. Now, I am not a licensed medical professional, but I can clearly remember watching the World Series in 1988, in the third grade, at the sage old age of eight, and myself and a bunch of my classmates all remarked that we thought Jose Canseco was on steroids. Heady stuff for eight year olds, but the point stands: watching baseball during the steroid era broke down to this: who had Hall of Fame talent enhanced by steroids, and who enhanced their talent to Hall of Fame by using steroids?

Because of the latter statement, I cannot in good conscience approve of Sammy Sosa or Rafael Palmeiro for inclusion in the Hall. Did they have great numbers? Sure. But Sosa’s game was utterly one dimensional, all light tower power, and before he grossly bulked up in the mid nineties (and grossly bleached his skin in the new millennium) he was basically Alfonso Soriano. A good player? Yes. A Hall of Famer? Hardly. Palmeiro had what I considered the sweetest swing in baseball during the era he performed. But he was never an all around GREAT player. Very good? You bet. But his candidacy is completely reliant on all those gorgeous stats he accrued, and the fact he tested positive proved that those stats were inflated and he were, thus proving as empty as Mr Finger Pointer’s head.

Mark McGwire I am on the fence on. Get back to me on that one.

With those out of the way, you come to Bonds and Clemens. Both players, before their documented steroid abuse, were on their way to Hall of Fame careers. Bonds was a slam dunk by the time 1998 rolled around and his hat sized started exponentially increasing, as he was the only 400 home run 400 stolen base player in the games history. He was a multiple time MVP, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award winner, generally considered to be (arguably, sez I) the best all around player of the 1990’s. Then he bulked up significantly in his mid thirties and turned into this ridiculous amalgamation of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. The stats were mind boggling. If he was not walked as many times as he was in 2001, the guy would have hit 100 homers, and no one can tell me differently. The guy saw maybe one pitch every two games that was hittable…and STILL hit 73 home runs. Part of that certainly can be attributed to Bonds once in a generation skills. But seriously now, everyone knew what was going on; he was good, but this was crazy. And the next few seasons back that up with similar Ruthian totals accruing at an age when most players skilled has so diminished that the only accruing stat they cared about was their financial ones. The fact remains, though, undeniably, Bonds is a slam dunk Hall of Famer. All world cheater and asshole? You’ll get no argument from me there. Undeniable Hall of Famer though.

Clemens is a slightly different case. He was arguably the most dominating pitcher in baseball from around mid 1985 until around 1993, when he got a contract extension from the Red Sox. He was a little dinged up during those years, not necessarily in the best of shape. In fact most Sox fans of the era will say, most diplomatically, grossly out of shape. They point to his diminishing innings and wins totals and say he was bilking money from the club. However, they also ignore the fact his peripheral statistics were still good, the ERA was still solid, excepting 1993, and the strikeouts were still there. Plus, those Red Sox clubs in the mid nineties were, to put it mildly, not very good, and if I were Clemens, I would not necessarily been the most motivated man in the world those years.

Then Clemens contract expired, and at that point, at 33, he was still a functional pitcher who had borderline Hall of Fame stats that could have easily been bolstered by a few sub-prime Clemens offering in the next few years. However, a funny thing happened: Red Sox fans, long suffering and miserable creatures back then, started blaming ALL of the teams problems on Clemens. Dan Duqette, sensing the sentiment and a chance to shed some big dollars, a big ego, and the opportunity to build a younger club, denied to offer Clemens an extension, uttering the now infamous phrase that Clemens “…is in the twilight of his career.” An honest, correct assessment? Possibly. Hell probably. However, not the best way to part with arguably the greatest pitcher in franchise history. Spurned, Clemens went to Toronto, met Brain “Mr. Tact” MacNamee, got in shape through the means of the time, and turned in two of his finest seasons in 1997 and 1998, before going to the Yankees in 1999. He had another two mediocre seasons in the Bronx, certainly not bad ones, then MacNamee rejoined his charge in 2001 and followed him to Houston as well for two unfathomable years in 2004-2005 from a pitcher in his forties.

Now, Clemens transformation was not as obvious as Bonds, but it was there, but the fact remains much like Bonds, Clemens would have been a Hall of Famer if he had simply pitched two or three mediocre years after leaving the Red Sox. Instead, he developed into the greatest right handed pitcher EVER, by the numbers. Once again, Hall of Fame talent enhanced by performance enhancers. Clemens is a Hall of Famer.

Lets stop for today. Next time we will get into the candidacy of guys who steroids were whispered about, but never proven true, Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell.

Marvin Miller 1917-2012

Marvin Miller died on Tuesday. The sad state of sports affairs would ignore this monument of sports history. ESPN on Tuesday morning had a special feature on Sean Taylor. While Taylor was an exceptional talent, the fact of the matter is no one human walking the planet had the impact on the sports landscape as Marvin Miller.

In the 1960′s-1970′s, baseball was king. Football had recently become popular through the “Greatest Game Ever Played,” the 1959 championship game contested by the Colts and Giants. But baseball was still the pre eminent sport on the landscape. And no one man did more to affect said sport than Miller.

Back in those days, players were still encumbered by the Reserve Clause, a clause in all major league contracts that essentially made players indentured servants to their ballclubs. In 1969, Miller and Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood challenged the antiquated edict, and, in the process of actually losing in the Supreme Courts ruling, changed the face of American Sport forever. The challenge of the reserve clause opened the door of free agency, and when Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally walked through those free agent doors in 1975, Sport in America was never the same.

Marvin Miller was the reason for this. While Flood lost the battle (and became one of Sports biggest Tragedies), Miller and the newly hatched Players Union won the War. It opened the doors for players ranging from Reggie Jackson to Alex Rodriguez to dip their toes in the affluent free agent drinking pool, and from the NFL to MLB, NHL to the NBA, it changed the face of American sports and ushered in the era of the Uber-Millionaires. The ten year contracts accruing millions upon millions a year for overhyped, overpaid athletes who in turn piss said millions away. It may not be the best system, but it IS the system of sporting contracts.

Unfortunately, Marvin Miller has not been recognized by Cooperstown. It is a farce. No one man not named Ruth has as drastically changed the landscape of the game, to the betterment of the players, to the dismay of the owners. Marvin Miller changed the game, and on this, the dawning of his death, I hope sports fans everywhere recognize and realize the full spectre, the broads and depths that this man changed the landscape of American Sport, for better or worse, forever in this country. Sean Taylor was a remarkable athlete. Marvin Miller was a remarkable man, and one who history should extol for centuries.

Take Aways: New England Patriots at New York Jets 11/22/2012

What to say after a game like THAT? The second quarter of Thanksgiving nights game was a farce. No other way to put it. While some credit can be given to the Patriots hard hitting defense (they still can’t cover), this game is all about one thing: The Complete and Utter Meltdown of the New York Jets. It was almost surreal watching that 52 second span where the Jets were playing hot potato with the football. And granted some plays were a little fluky (McKnight’s fumble goes directly to Edelman like a Rondo dish), the impetus of this abortion of a game has to go on Rex Ryan’s club. Sanchez running into his own linemans ass and fumbling, the Jets defense giving up an 83 yard touchdown…on the simplest of screen passes…I mean my God, we knew the Jets didn’t have the talent to match the Patriots Thursday, but all those turnovers are a direct result of horrible coaching during a short week. Embarrassing. And, to boot, we all know the Pats weakness is their secondary, right? So why did the Jets not try ONCE to go deep over the top? The Pats have proven they can’t stop the deep ball this (and last) season, so why not try? At worst they would draw a Pats Interference (you know, a PI called on a Pats player for not bothering to turn around to the ball). That lies on Tony Sparano, possible a worse OC than Brian Scottenheimer.

Basically, what we saw Thanksgiving was a funeral. This Jets team, as fun as they have been to antagonize over the last four years, has run its course. They cannot win with this quarterback, this defense, this coaching staff, this front office. Time for them to blow it up. Only one Jet came out of the loss better than going in: Darrelle Revis. He’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Welcome To The Third Ring of Hell.

Welcome to the new and (hopefully) improved Mariano Saves blog. For those unwashed masses who are unfamiliar with me (read: Everyone) my name is Chris Cucchiara and I have been an avid sports enthusiast for approximately 25 years now. I am very opinionated on all matters Baseball, Football, Basketball, Pro Wrestling (yes I lumped that in with sports. Big whoop. Wanna fight about it?), Golf, et al.

Most postings on this site will invariably revolve around the subjects listen, and I hope to provide a refreshing take on the surreal nature of it all. I encourage you to provide thoughts, analysis, criticism, outrage, whatever opinion you have. I am not an experienced writer, so I hope you understand this as I work out the kinks and try to find a suitable voice. So consider this a warning shot. I thank all of you (any of you?) for your time if you do visit, and will always be amenable to suggestions.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.