Collecting Is a Passion That Lasts Forever

ALSO THIS ISSUE: NINE GUYS WHO SHOULD BE IN COOPERSTOWN BUT AREN'T

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Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

Long-time Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell amassed the largest private collection of baseball books, then donated it to the Detroit Public Library . . .

During the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1919, the minor-league Pasadena Merchants got national attention for hosting a “masked ballgame,” the first one in which all players wore masks . . .

A 2016 Marlins-Pirates series was moved from Puerto Rico to Miami because of the Zika virus . . .

The Tampa Bay Rays asked players to sub toe taps for high fives because of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 . . .

Leading Off

The Joy of Collecting

By Ray Kuhn

It feels like yesterday when, in fact, it was far from it. We are going back over 30 years here but the memory and the feeling are just as fresh as the initial moment. When it comes to baseball, I can say that about a lot of things.

After all, that is the beauty of the American Pastime.

Regardless of who you are, your age, where you live, or any other identifying factor, at the root of it, we are all the same. Baseball often serves as the great equalizer as everyone can share in the same moments and memories. Of course, it’s what you do with those memories that is entirely up to you.

When it comes to baseball and my childhood, well really my entire life for which I have memories, I’m not sure there is enough room on the internet for detailing all of that.

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 has just been brutal. Let’s not pull any punches here as the pandemic has been ugly and it almost feels wrong to find any positives out of the situation as there has been an inordinate amount of loss and pain. Our way of life has been disrupted to varying degrees, and while it almost feels disrespectful to say so, in some cases we have been forced to find new ways to entertain ourselves.

And that leads us back to a trip down memory lane.

It goes without saying that over the past 30-plus years, I have changed a lot since I was that elementary school kid getting a pack of baseball cards as a reward for a good report card.

Everything about that moment rings true, and I remember them in perfect sequence. It was a scene that was repeated hundreds of times throughout my childhood. Go to the store, pick out a pack of cards, generally not wait to even get home to rip the pack open, maybe eat the stick of gum, and then rush home to add my newly-acquired treasures to my collection.

That was only the beginning as I spent countless hours organizing, sorting, and enjoying my collection. There were card shows visited, and hours upon hours spent trading cards with friends.

As the years went on, that frequency and cadence began to change. My formative years of collecting began in the so-called “junk era” but at that point, those cardboard treasures were anything but junk. They were my heroes on the field coming to live inside those carefully-curated binders and boxes.

We went from just a few sets and brands to more than can even be named or counted; to say things got more expensive and confusing would be an understatement. While my focus went elsewhere, my love for baseball never waned, and the cards stayed tucked away in a closet while making a trip from my childhood home to my own home. I added a set or two, maybe a box of packs here and there, but that was it.

I certainly spent some time working on my Houston Astros’ collection, especially when it came to Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, but other pursuits took up a good portion of my time. But whenever I was able to jump back into “cardboard” world, things were always great.

Then 2020 hit and free time suddenly appeared. We were without baseball until July, so why not head into that corner of the house and jump back into the hobby. And man, it was great. I was transported right back to my childhood and memories of long-forgotten players came flooding to mind. Suddenly, I found myself adding to my personal collection and buying a few current boxes.

Not only that, since the internet was such a great place, I was able to easily acquire early 1990s boxes of cards just like the ones I used to eagerly purchase back in the day. It didn’t take long for the memories to return, and as life slowly gets back to normal, it’s something to hold onto and continue.

There is nothing like the feeling of ripping open a fresh pack of cards and grabbing Fernando Tatis Jr. and Vlad Guerrero Jr. rookie cards back-to-back. Or adding to that Biggio collection while working on building one of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa and searching for the next hot rookie.

As we hope to have a normal 2021 season, that doesn’t mean I’m going to forget my new/old hobby.

There certainly was something about seeing the release Thursday night of the design of this year’s Topps set with Tatis featured on the first card.

Now I can’t wait for February 10th, when those cards are officially released, as I make sure I will have a box in hand as soon as possible.

Ray Kuhn currently writes and talks about the game from a fantasy angle at Friends With Fantasy Benefits after previously covering the Houston Astros as part of the FanSided network at Climbing Tal’s Hill. Reach him at @ray_kuhn_28 or raykuhn57@gmail.com as he is always interested in talking or writing about our great game.

Cleaning Up

Nine Men Out: Guys Who Should Be in the Hall of Fame But Aren’t

By Dan Schlossberg

Nothing generates more heated arguments than the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Who’s in? Who’s out? Who’s in who shouldn’t be and who’s out but belongs in?

Voting for the Class of 2021 officially ended on Dec. 31, with results announced a month later, but that did not silence critics of the process. Including me.

Fourteen so-called “voters” turned in blank ballots, skewing the vote enough so that nobody was elected to represent the Class of 2021. Shame on them!

I strongly believe that Hall of Fame electors should fill all 10 spaces on their ballots – as they are required to do when they select Most Valuable Players in each league.

Filling every spot only indicates the order of preference and is not necessarily an indication that the elector wants every name listed to be enshrined. On the other hand, not filling all 10 spots skews the voting, making it difficult if not impossible for anyone to receive the required 75 percent of the vote – not only in the writers’ vote but also when the various veterans committees meet.

If I were a baseball beat writer, my ballot would have had 10 names, in this order of preference: Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte, Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, and Bobby Abreu.

It definitely would not include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, or Manny Ramirez, all suspected of inflating their final figures (literally) with performance-enhancing substances; Omar Vizquel, whose biggest hits seem to have been directed at his estranged wife; or Curt Schilling, whose outrageous political posts sparked a recall movement by voters who wanted to take his name off ballots already submitted.

Schilling’s support of the Capitol riots disqualifies him from ever standing in front of a podium — in Cooperstown or anywhere else.

On the other hand, I can make strong cases for a bunch of names not on the ballot who have somehow slipped from the Cooperstown spotlight – not to mention the minds of both the writers and the veterans committee panelists.

With nine innings in a game, nine men on a side, and nine weeks until the supposed start of spring training, let’s take a cue from my favorite baseball movie and look at my list of Nine Men Out – men who belong in the Hall of Fame but have been overlooked for one reason or another. Some of them may still get in via the veterans, whose recent picks of Harold Baines and Ted Simmons indicate that even those who drop off the regular ballots quickly can get second looks.

Here’s my list, again in order of preference:

1. Dale Murphy – The National League’s version of Cal Ripken Jr., he didn’t drink, smoke, or swear but he had uncanny durability, considerable power, and all five tools. Plus he’s the only man in NL history to win consecutive MVP awards without reaching Cooperstown. Plagued by bad knees, Murphy fell two short of 400 homers but twice led his league, had a 30/30 season, and won five Gold Gloves after moving from catcher to center field. He also had more total bases than anyone else during the ‘80s, finishing second to Mike Schmidt in home runs and second to Eddie Murphy in runs batted in during the decade. Murphy’s enshrinement is long overdue.

2. Gil Hodges – Like Murphy, Hodges had a solid decade, leading the NL in runs batted in during the ‘50s. Overlooked because of all the other Dodgers who reached the Hall, Hodges was a catcher who thrived after moving to first base. Hodges had 370 home runs – four of them in one game – made the All-Star team eight times. The soft-spoken Brooklyn native was later the manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets, which topped the favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

3. Charlie Finley – Mercurial, enigmatic, and egocentric, Finley was an insurance salesman who turned the rag-tag Kansas City Athletics into the world champion Oakland A’s with a skeleton front office. Like Larry MacPhail and Bill Veeck, both of whom are already in the Hall, Finley was a master innovator who later proved a master manipulator of playing talent, enabling the low-budget A’s to win five straight division crowns including three world championships. He had legendary feuds with Bowie Kuhn and Marvin Miller but was a visionary who correctly predicted the impact of free agency and arbitration.

4. Fred McGriff – Just eliminated from the regular ballot, McGriff managed 493 home runs, the same number as Lou Gehrig, even though his career was interrupted by multiple labor disputes. A five-time All-Star who played for six different teams, McGriff was a lanky lefthanded slugger who was one of the game’s most feared hitters. The 1994 All-Star Game MVP led his league in home runs twice and batted cleanup for the World Champion Atlanta Braves in ‘95.

5. Gary Sheffield – Like McGriff, Sheffield supplied tremendous power, hitting 509 home runs during a career divided among eight clubs. He also led his league in batting, total bases, and on-base plus slugging during his 22-year tenure in the majors, primarily as an outfielder. Sheffield won a World Series ring and nine trips to the All-Star Game and broke Hank Aaron’s single-season Braves franchise record for runs batted in. A selective slugger, he never fanned more than84 times in a season and had 300 more walks than strikeouts – an amazing feat by current standards.

6. Lew Burdette – If Bill Mazeroski merits a Hall of Fame plaque for hitting the home run that ended the 1960 World Series, Burdette should get one for winning three games in 1957. He also did much more, leading the National League in wins, complete games, innings pitched, and ERA during an 18-year career spent mainly with the Milwaukee Braves. A stalwart starter from 1953-61, he had the misfortune of being Robin to Warren Spahn’s Batman. But Burdette still won 203 games, exactly the same number as recent inductee Roy Halladay.

7. Jim Kaat – Thanks to Tony La Russa, who banished this slick-fielding lefty to the bullpen for the last four years of his career, Kaat finished with 283 wins. He had been on track to join the 300 Club before a sojourn in St. Louis that was his last stop on a 25-year journey that featured stops in five different cities. Before Greg Maddux took two more, Kaat had a record 16 Gold Gloves. He also hit 16 home runs. The rubber-armed three-time All-Star topped 300 innings twice.

8. Luis Tiant – With 229 wins, 187 complete games, and a sparkling 3.30 ERA over 19 seasons, El Tiante seems like a certain Hall of Famer. A three-time 20-game winner with a pair of ERA titles, the sidewheeling Cuban was not only a three-time All-Star but the holder of a lifetime WAR (Wins Against Replacement) of 66.1 – better than current ballot candidates Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson. A right-hander who remained in the majors past his 41st birthday, Tiant never won a Cy Young but that’s because his best season was 1968, when Denny McLain went 31-6. Tiant’s 1.60 ERA and nine shutouts led the American League as he finished at 21-9.

9. Tommy John – If not for the elbow surgery that was named after him, T.J. would have won 300 games and a definite ticket to Cooperstown. With 288, he still has more wins than anyone not suspected of cheating with performance-enhancing substances. The affable lefty pitched for six teams, earning four trips to the All-Star Game, and lasted an amazing 26 years, one under Nolan Ryan’s record for longevity. A workhorse who twice led his league in winning percentage, John had three 20-win seasons and a career total of 162 complete games – the equivalent of a full season. He says he’d rather be in Cooperstown than have a surgery named after him and who can blame him?

10. Other Brothers – Yes, Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry are in the Hall of Fame. But why are their brothers excluded? Joe Niekro won 221 games in 22 seasons, while Jim Perry had 215 in 17 years – and would have had many more if not deployed as a reliever for long stretches of his career. Perry was a three-time All-Star with a Cy Young Award, captured in a 24-win season, while Niekro was a Cy Young runner-up who knuckled his way to success, emulating his older brother. Joe even beat Phil with a home run once. Both Joe and Jim might be in the Hall today if their brothers had not become pitching legends.

Honorable Mention: Steve Garvey, Dave Parker, Rusty Staub, Tony Oliva, Dick Allen, Don Mattingly, Vada Pinson, Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, and George Steinbrenner.

HERE’S THE PITCH Weekend Editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is a former AP sportswriter whose byline appears in USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Latino Sports, Ball Nine, and forbes.com. The author of 38 baseball books can be reached via ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Defending National League MVP Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves has hit a best-in-baseball .340 with men in scoring position over the last five seasons . . .

The St. Louis Cardinals are desperate to boost their power output after finishing last among the 30 teams in home runs hit last year (54 in 60 games) . . .

Minnesota’s Alex Kirilloff is the only position player to get a hit in a post-season game before getting one in a regular-season game . . .

White Sox southpaw Dallas Keuchel, who gave up no runs in the first or second inning for the entire 2020 season, gave up two runs in both the first and second innings of his first playoff start for the Sox.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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