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Hall Pass

Vance McCullough —  Wednesday, January 9, 2013 — 3 Comments

As members of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (“BBWAA”) have casted their ballots, we are filled with questions on 2013’s Cooperstown crowning moment.

We could be in store for a surprise as no player could receive the required 75% of the vote (it has happened eight times in the past), or we could see a couple of ballplayers elected in the Hall of Fame this year.

But, there are many questions that one must ask themselves when looking at a hall of fame player:

How do we define greatness? Is it in the number of championships a player has to his name? Is it a career-leading statistic that etches him alongside the greats in the historic books? Is it his consistency as year-to-year All Star and fan favorite?

What if it was all these things? What if it was some combination? …or none of them at all?

What if these heroes we saw were steroid or PED users? What if they had the highest ERA (earned run average) of any player in the hall? What if some considered them a cheater? What if others considered them a hero?

How will we define greatness of those with achievements and asterisks?

These are the questions that baseball writers, historians, and fans are asking themselves on this very day. These questions will not go away, and we may never get the answer we feel is correct, but the show must go on. The ballots are filled out, the votes are in, and the results only hours away.

The voters – who are they?

To gain a vote to induct a player into baseball’s hall, you must be or have been an active member of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years. Once a writer receives a Hall of Fame vote, he or she is eligible to vote for life. An elector will vote for no more than ten eligible candidates, with no write-in votes allowed.

Decision day is upon us. It is time for the public to see who will be immortalized in baseball’s rich history. Though the question remains, how will these electors cast their ballots?

The Baseball Hall of Fame will announce their 2013 induction class, and this year’s candidates have been the most ballyhooed bunch of all time. Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa – most top candidates are associated with the juiced era and accused of using.

While others are not regarded as Cooperstown class, see Jack Morris.

To qualify for the Hall players must have played in 10 major league seasons, and the career must have ended five years prior to election. To be voted in, a player must achieve 75% of the vote to become a member of the Hall of Fame.

This is going to be the ongoing debate for years to come – what will the Hall of Fame do with the Steroid Era?

My opinion – it hurts, but it happened. People need to realize there are multiple layers to this story: the users in the game, the League, the Players Union. Everyone shares a responsibility in what is going on in the sport and we simply can’t ignore this time period of the MLB’s history. This era happened, and we must wear it like a boxer wears a black eye after a fight. To tell the history of baseball you cannot omit this storied time period because it was nearly universal, and the full story must be archived in the museum of baseball – Cooperstown.

Isn’t this the nation that loves comeback stories, going from wrong to right, and embraces forgiveness? Isn’t this the story of baseball today? Can we forgive those who did wrong against the game and themselves?

Baseball is the game that has transitioned with this country. It had Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and others serve in world wars, a drug era in the 80’s, gambling issues, court hearings, and now a steroid/PED scandal haunting all who care about the sport they know and love.

And, it seems, this great game of baseball is about to make another transition.  Some will embrace it, and others will be disappointed in the new direction. I don’t know if it will be done today, but I believe the best of the steroid era players will get elected someday – even the accused.

We are all left sitting, waiting, watching for the decision to be final. During these times, where no one knows what is about to come, we all seem as frightened as we are excited about the Hall of Fame’s future.

I know this – I do not have a vote, and I wouldn’t welcome the headache. I love this game and wish it the best, but how do we truly define what the best is for its future?

At 2 PM EST today, January 9th, 2013, the BBWAA decides what is best.

I do know this: I stand for the game of baseball, but the clearness of what is fair or foul has become harder to recognize.

What say you, the sports fan, the baseball fanatic, the opinionated? Who deserves to get in?

Why or why not include those mentioned or unmentioned from the Mitchell Report movement?

Cast your vote in the Comments – let people know how you would vote – because a man’s word still counts for something and we all want to know!

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By: Vance McCullough

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Miles from Glory

Vance McCullough —  Saturday, January 5, 2013 — 1 Comment

Why Les Miles is beloved, but needs to watch the clock!

The Hat, Les Miles, LSU’s head coach got some deserved love for his personality. As Tyler Raborn referred to in an earlier post – there is some part of us all that loves Les. Who doesn’t love this man’s enthusiasm for the game of college football? But, we are all flawed in some way, and Les has been known to let time slip by him at the most crucial of moments.

Miles’ record as the headman at LSU is an impressive 75-18, with 2 SEC Championships and a BCS National Title. I am not here to say the man can’t coach because he’s won 9 or more games every season he’s been at LSU.

Knowing the personality of Les Miles, he’s got to be a Rolling Stones fan. You know he cranks up “Doom and Gloom,” and when he puts on “Start Me Up” his speakers go to all the way up to 11, but he’s also familiar with the ballad “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

We are here to put aside the playfulness of a heralded SEC coach and focus on the late game lapses – the time Les wishes he had back.

The Good

This one has a good ending – but is it still considered crazy even if it works?

Flynnstant Success

Matt Flynn to Demetrius Byrd down 23-24 with :09 left (8:06 on the video)

Les Miles tine grandees bolas. This man has no fear in Tiger Stadium. The Flynn to Byrd for the win was the call, and they executed.

The Bad

The Dooley Doozie

The day the number 13 was lucky. The day UT screwed up worse than LSU.

13 Volunteers on the field equaled an additional LSU play and victory in Tiger Stadium in 2010.

Chick Fil A Bowl Blunder

LSU takes a 24-13 lead into the fourth quarter and lets this one get away from them. Two possessions in the 4th quarter, 2nd down and 2 to go and consecutive pass plays, and you run the ball only once in the 4th? A video is not necessary – the previous sentence said it all.

The Ugly

Ole Missed Opportunity

This one hurts. It was a rivalry game with a mismanaged ending by Miles. It is as the Youtuber named the vid “Les Miles Epic Fail.”

Les had another good year, another 10 wins, but ended the year on a tough loss. The coach will regroup, get ready for next season, and his top song going into the 2013 season will be another Stones classic, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction!”

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By: Vance McCullough

Feels Like ’51

Vance McCullough —  Thursday, January 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

FeelsLike51Art

When fans think of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays- they think of the Hall of Fame, the greatest names in Cooperstown, the manor of Major League Baseball. Ruth, Aaron, Robinson, Mantle, Mays – these are the names that are revered as the top baseball players the world has ever seen.

In the summer of 1951, Mantle and Mays took their first steps on a major league ball field. That year is forever written in history as the season that two of the greatest outfielders ever to play the game got their start.

Fast forward sixty some-odd years to 2012, and we have two outfielders who are already drawing comparisons to the stoic surnames of Mantle and Mays – 2012, the summer of American League Rookie of the Year Mike Trout and National League Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper.

April 17, 1951- At the ripe young age of 19, Mickey Mantle takes his first steps on the field at Yankee Stadium. The Commerce Comet got a hit in his first at bat, going 1-4 on the day, with an RBI. It was the Hall of Famers first step towards greatness, though it wasn’t a seamless season for the promising young outfielder.

While Mantle had a decent debut, he was later demoted in the midst of his rookie year. Mickey couldn’t get a hit and started doubting he was major league material. He was sent down to the Kansas City minor league club and still wasn’t hitting. He phoned his father expressing his concerns, and Elvin Mantle showed up at his hotel room the night of son’s frantic phone call.  Without hesitation, Elvin packed up Mickey’s stuff and was ready to take him home. After a heated father-son discussion, Elvin called the young Yankee a “coward,” and Mickey credits those words as the spark he needed to get back on track. The Mick took his father’s challenge to heart and proceeded to hit pitches all the way back to the Bronx.

While Mickey was warming to the majors, Willie Mays made his debut at the age of 20, on May 25, 1951. The Say Hey Kid went 0-5 in his debut and continued his hitless streak to an 0-12 mark- he totaled only one hit in his first 25 at-bats.

Mays was waning on confidence after his stagnant start. Willie went to his New York Giants skipper, Leo Durocher, begging him to take him out of the lineup, but Durocher knew what he had in his 5-tool rook. Mays’ first hit (though he didn’t collect his second for quite some time) was a memorable one – homering off Atlanta Hall-of-Fame lefty, Warren Spahn. Mays, with the confidence of his manager, stayed with it all season long and put together an award-winning year. This rookie’s resolve resulted in the first of many of Mays’ awards- 1951’s National League Rookie of the Year.

People probably see a little bit of Willie and Mickey in Mike Trout, the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year… but Trout’s debut was in the 2011 season, so how was Trout the 2012 award winner?

According to the MLB Rule Book: “a player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats; (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list).”

Trout got his cup of coffee in 2011, serving a short stint as one of the Angels in the outfield. He had 123 at-bats, a .220 batting average, 27 hits, and 30 strikeouts. He was up with the Halos from July 8th to the 29th, demoted, and called back at the close of the season, August 19th to September 28th. With only 40-days of MLB service, and 123 at-bats, Mike Trouts’ eligibility for rookie status wasn’t jeopardized, and thus 2012 would birth baseball’s AL Rookie of the Year.

Opening Day 2012 was Wednesday, March 28, 2012, and absent were both Michael Nelson Trout and Bryce Aron Max Harper. But, both players were not far out from digging into major league dirt, as they made their first appearances on the evening of Saturday, April 28th.

Like Mays, Mike Trout’s official rookie season didn’t start out as a hit. Trout was 0-9 before doubling off of Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn during his first home game of 2012. That double came on the 30th of March, and Trout didn’t have a monthly on-base percentage (“OBP”) lower than .366 for the remainder of the season. This Jersey boy was major league ready and finished with a storybook season. Trout was voted AL Rookie of the Year, finished second in the AL MVP voting, won a Silver Slugger, and was voted an AL All-Star.

Bryce Harper paved his own path to The Bigs and it was one filled with as much admiration as scrutiny. He was deemed the LeBron of baseball by Tom Verducci and featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school athlete in 2009. He left high school early after passing his GED test and spent a season with The College of Southern Nevada (a junior college in Henderson, NV) where he was drafted first overall by the Washington Nationals in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He is a player who is talented beyond his years and who was impatiently waiting to explode onto the scene of pro baseball. Harper’s maturity and talent have been the prospect’s strongest suites, and the 2012 season was where it was on full display.

Harper was a surprise call up on that Saturday night in April while the Nats were on a West Coast road trip. Harper walked out of the tunnel at Dodger Stadium and was slatted to start in right field and bat seventh. In his first at bat he grounded out to pitcher Chad Billingsley. In the fifth inning he flied out to left field. But then, in the seventh, on a 3-2 count – Harper lined a double into center field for his first major league hit.

Harper later slumped in the dog days of summer, but from mid-August to the season’s close was hitting well over .330 on a Nationals team ranked atop the NL Eastern Division. This 19-year-old phenom was as good as advertised, as he was recognized for his achievements by winning NL Rookie of the Year and being voted an All-Star by the fans.

With only one season behind them, we will not be able to judge if Harper and Trout will be Hall of Famers, hit over 500 or 600 home runs, achieve multiple MVP honors, hit for the triple crown, or go down as two of the best to every play ball. But, they came in together – just as Mickey and Willie – and they’ve already got a leg up on the ’51 dynamic duo. They both won rookie of the year, while Mantle lost, ironically, to his teammate Gil McDougald!

That being said- Mantle and Mays will never be duplicated or approached in what they meant to the game.

Yet, we do know this, these four players are something special to the sport, and we need to enjoy the Harper and Trout years to come.

Mantle was a man’s man as much as he was a ladies man. He played through a rare bone disease, osteomyelitis, and rose to the occasion time and time again as the World Series record holder in total: walks, extra base hits, home runs, RBI, runs, strikeouts, and total bases.

Mays took the torch in the era of civil rights and ran with it. He played partially in 1952, and missed the 1953 season because he was fighting for his country in the Korean War. Many argue he is the best to ever take the field with over 3,000 hits, 660 home runs, a lifetime batting average of .302, and defensively recording the most putouts by any outfielder ever, with 7,095- can one really argue against it?

I am thrilled that Harper and Trout are the here and now of Major League Baseball. If they play 18-seasons like The Mick or 22-seasons like The Say Hey Kid, it will be a treat for baseball fans to watch their careers unfold. I wish them both health and prosperity, but most of all, I hope that everyone has taken notice of the historical talent that has taken the field in 2012 – just as it did in 1951.

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By: Vance McCullough