Sprucing Up the Museum

Credit: BaseballHall.org

On Sunday night, it was announced that the Today’s Game Era ballot had been voted on and they would be inducting Lee Smith and Harold Baines into the Baseball Hall of Fame this upcoming summer in Cooperstown, New York.

The 16-member committee for this ballot consisted of Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Tony La Russa, Greg Maddux, Joe Morgan, John Schuerholz, Ozzie Smith and Joe Torre; major-league executives Al Avila, Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail and Jerry Reinsdorf; and veteran media members/historians Steve Hirdt, Tim Kurkjian and Claire Smith. 

Smith getting inducted was no surprise, as he had reached as high as 50.6% on the BBWAA ballot and was a borderline candidate for years, mattering on where you stood on the induction of relievers into the hall. But Baines was another story.

Credit: MLB.com

Baines never received more than 6.1% of support on the BBWAA ballot and is probably the definition of a player with a good career that hung around long enough to compile some good numbers. Good, but not great. 

So how did Baines get in? Well, it probably helped that he had a former teammate (Alomar), a former manager (LaRussa) and a former owner (Reinsdorf) on his side. Also, Baines was always known as a good guy and a good teammate. For those within the game, that carries quite a bit of weight.

But for many of us, being a “great guy” doesn’t always qualify you for being a Hall of Famer. Cooperstown is the best of the best, and the numbers say that Baines isn’t one of the elite. But what if the hall honored those players who might not have been “the best of the best”, but were good for the game? What if there was a separate wing for those that were admired and loved outside of their accomplishments on the field? What if they included the true “characters” of the game? Maybe an award for the “nice guys” of the game?

Credit: Associated Press / Chris Cummins

This subject was actually broached to me last year by a friend and it was amusing because I had thought of the idea years ago. What initially sparked adding a separate wing for me was Buck O’Neil. Lets be honest: Kansas City loved Buck. He was not only a symbol of Kansas City baseball, for his ties to the Monarchs and his attendance at Royals games, but he was the benchmark of what is great about baseball in general.

Buck was friendly, cordial, and loved talking baseball with anyone  who wanted to. For him it wasn’t as much about giving back to the game as sharing something he loved with others. Who doesn’t remember Buck’s appearance in the Ken Burn’s documentary “Baseball”?:

In fact, despite not being inducted at Cooperstown, Buck did give a speech at the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony back in 2006 to honor the pioneers in the Negro Leagues:

Buck O’Neil might not have been one of the greatest players in history, but he was the definition of what was great about the game. It was unfortunate that while O’Neil helped honor the greats involved with the Negro Leagues, he himself had been overlooked for induction despite all he did for baseball.

Buck would pass away in late 2006 and in 2008 the Baseball Hall of Fame would honor his legacy with the creation of the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. A statue was dedicated to the museum and every three years a new winner is announced. This is a great honor and one worthy of a man of O’Neil’s stature and character.

Now the Hall of Fame has done its due diligence when it comes to honoring those that are just as big a part of the game as the players. The Veterans Committe, which has lineage all the way back to 1939, would put together a subcommittee to consider candidates that not only involved players, but managers, umpires and executives as well. 

The hall has also handed out the Ford C. Frick award annually to honor a broadcaster for their contributions to the game. So there is no stone left unturned, starting in 1962 they would also honor a baseball writer annually, also known as the J.G. Taylor Spink award.   

But it would be nice if the hall could go a step further. The Baseball Hall of Fame is a museum and it would be fitting to include some of the more charitable and “class acts” that made the game better.

There would have to be a few guidelines to follow for this to happen. For one, the inductees for this achievement should be in a separate wing from the elite players who get inducted. There would have to be a definite difference between the two so fans are aware of this separate honor.

Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame

Also, to show this is a different award it would probably be smart not to give them the same plaques as the greats of the game. Maybe instead of a plaque, present videos on each player and why they are worthy of this honor. Since this would be a different wing, it should have a different feel to it.

So who exactly should be honored for this award? The criteria would obviously be quite a bit different, as statistics wouldn’t matter as much as the footprint you leave on the game. In my vision of this honor, it would be about everything that is great for baseball. The eligible should be those that are great ambassadors, those that were genuine big-hearted and charitable that didn’t cause any issues and even the players who made the game more fun.

In my eyes, this honor would be about players like Andrew McCutchen, who has spent years giving back with his charitable work and when he was in Pittsburgh, giving back to the community. It would also be for someone like former Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney, who has put together baseball camps for kids and has always been one of the great guys in the game. 

Credit: Sports Illustrated

It would also include some of the players who made the game so much fun to watch. Take Bartolo Colon for example. Colon has played into his mid-40’s and has a child-like demeanor when he is out on the field that makes it easy to cheer for. The same could be said about former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych. “The Bird” had a short career with a number of highs and lows, but was one of the most entertaining players in baseball history.

These players make the game better and while they won’t go down as one of the “all-time greats” in baseball history, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be honored. Some of the greats weren’t good human beings, like Ty Cobb and former Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, who both have been elected to baseball’s hallowed halls. Since this is a museum, you sometimes have to take the bad with the good, which is why it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to include more of the benevolent people involved within the game.

From every story or conversation that has been thrown out this week, Harold Baines appears to be one of the great guys that helped build a solid foundation for baseball. Maybe if a separate wing is put into the hall for guys like him, there won’t be a need to slide someone in where they might not fit. This way we could talk about why they deserve an honor instead of why they don’t.  

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The Ballad of Johnny Giavotella

We’ve all had that feeling before. The feeling of knowing if we were just given a chance, if we were just given an opportunity that we would seize it and make the most of it. It’s not any different in professional sports, as players who were not expected to contribute show their team just what they are made of. As long as you produce, you are allowed to show your mettle. But if you “drop the ball” so to speak, then you aren’t given the same opportunities. Then there are times where it just seems like the organization you work for don’t have your back and aren’t supporting your climb up the ladder. I’m sure many of these thoughts have crossed the mind of Kansas City Royals Second baseman Johnny Giavotella. When Chris Getz went down with an injury last month, it seemed Gio(as he is nicknamed) was finally going to get a shot at the Second Base job for the Royals. But do the Royals want him to have the job?

Giavotella played college ball at the University of New Orleans and was drafted by the Royals in the second round of the 2008 amateur draft. Giavotella quickly climbed through the minor leagues, hitting at every level he has played at. By 2011 he was perched at Omaha, Kansas City’s AAA team, ready to make the next move to the Major Leagues. Gio was tearing up AAA pitching last summer when the Royals called him up in the beginning part of August. Gio started his big league career, getting two hits and an RBI against the Detroit Tigers. It seemed that it was just the beginning of a long stay in KC for Johnny. Little did he (or we) know what was in store for him.

At the end of the season, Giavotella went in for surgery on his hip, which had bothered him during the end of the season. Giavotella had only hit .247 in his two months in the bigs, but he showed enough glimpses of why he could or should be a Major League ballplayer. It seemed that going into spring training, the second base job was his to lose and with him fully healthy, he seemed primed for the new season. Or at least that was the prevalent thinking until the Royals signed free agent infielder Yuniesky Betancourt to be their “backup infielder”, even though he had never been a backup during his entire major league career. Royals fans everywhere wondered just what the team was thinking, and just who Yuni would be taking playing time away from. Basically, we didn’t believe he was just going to be a backup. We got our answer pretty quickly, as early in spring training manager Ned Yost said that Betancourt was in the hunt for the second base job. Most of us saw that coming, but it still seemed like Gio was the favorite. Then Chris Getz changed his batting stance, and learned to hit the ball to the outfield. Yep, next thing we know Getzie is in the mix at second. All of a sudden what seemed like a sure thing was anything but. A few weeks before spring training wrapped up, Giavotella was sent to AAA, as the team said he needed to work on his fielding. It’s not a secret that Johnny isn’t the best with the glove at second. He wasn’t going to have anyone confuse him with Robbie Alomar with the glove, but in one breath saying he was being sent down to work on defense, while in the same breath give playing time to Betancourt at second, who has the range of a rock, it was very obvious that Gio had fallen out of favor.

So there we were, with one second baseman having very little extra base power and another with no range, and the second bagger with the most upside playing ball in AAA, which he had shown the year before he already dominated. At this point, the best scenario was either an injury or for Giavotella to catch fire at the plate and force the Royals to recall him. The injury part helped his escalation, as Gio was called up on May 9th, as Betancourt ended up on DL. The only problem was Chris Getz had been hitting at a good clip, so Johnny was stuck with the occasional start or the even less occasional pinch hit. The partial playing time did him no favors, as he hit at a meekly .217 clip in only 73 plate appearances before being sent back down on June 12th. Seeing how little playing time Gio got during his month with the team, it was very apparent now: Kansas City did not see Giavotella as part of their future.

One of the things that I really like about Giavotella is how hard of a worker he is. He went back down to Omaha, worked on his defense like the Royals asked, and in a short matter of time, his bat went extremely hot. At one point in July, Giavotella ran off a 20 game hitting streak for the Storm Chasers, but it still wasn’t enough to get a call up to Kansas City. On August 17, the Royals hand was forced, literally, as Chris Getz went down with a thumb injury and the team recalled Gio to the big league club. With his recall, and Betancourt released a few weeks before, the second base job was his now for the rest of the season, a chance to show the team what he could do.

Over the last month, Johnny Giavotella hasn’t put together a big hot streak, or played so good to make sure the team is forced to stand up and take notice. What has happened is Gio has put up a solid .277 average since his recall and 5 extra base hits but the really impressive stat is an OPS of .703. Giavotella has shown a knack to take a walk and really work the count, which many of the Royals could take note of. He has also improved his defense to the point that he is solid, and looks a lot more fluid, smooth and comfortable at second base than at any point in his career. Last week, Royals manager Ned Yost made mention that next year, the team needs to keep in mind that a few of their players have become injury prone and that the team needs to have players ready accordingly. If Giavotella hasn’t worked his way into a battle for the second base job for next year, the fact that Getz has consistently gotten injured over the past two seasons should be enough to keep him around. At this point, Gio still has two weeks to convince management that he can be a regular for this team in 2013. But do the Royals even want him around?

I ask this question because it just doesn’t seem like Royals management wants him to succeed. I know, that sounds ridiculous. Why would any team not want a young player with upside to succeed for their team? I’ve been asking that question since they sent Giavotella down in spring training. But it really seems like it is an inconvenience for the Royals to develop him in the big leagues. It struck me back in May or June that what separates Gio from guys like Moustakas or Hosmer is where they were drafted. Moose and Hos were first round draft picks; Giavotella was a second round pick. Look at how much time the team has spent over the years working with guys like Luke Hochevar, who has never been consistent yet the Royals seem willing to keep giving him chances. Hosmer struggled for most of this season, yet he never got sent back down to AAA. Moose was hitting around.200 most of last year, yet the Royals never thought about sending him back to the minors. My point isn’t that those players should have been sent down. No, my point is that if they picture you as part of their future, you will get more chances. If you are a high draft pick, the Royals will give you more than enough chance to earn your spot. But if you aren’t in their plans…well, just look at Kila Ka’ahiue. Kila tore up the minors in 2008, hitting 37 homeruns at two levels of the minor leagues. Yet he couldn’t even sniff the bigs. No, the Royals went out, acquired Mike Jacobs to play first base, and he did nothing but stink up the place. Even that didn’t matter, as Kila was still not given a chance with the Royals, as he was left in AAA. He didn’t get a real chance till late in the season 2010, and a month in 2011. I firmly believe that Kila was not in their plans, so they weren’t going to give him that opportunity. I think Giavotella is in that same boat. The team has Christian Colon down in the minors, probably another year away, and the Royals consider him their second baseman of the future. Colon is a great defender who hasn’t ever really hit in the minors up until this season, but the key part is he was drafted in the first round back in 2010. This isn’t to talk down Colon as much as show that the team has already written Giavotella off, because their future is getting closer. That doesn’t seem like a sound business choice, to look past certain players because they weren’t part of your original plan. But it appears this is what the Royals are doing.

So what will happen from here? There is still a good chance Johnny will go to spring training with the Royals, and hopefully contend for a job. If not, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to bump up his value, so the team could at the least trade him for something of value. I personally like Giavotella, and would love to see him succeed in Kansas City. But I don’t know if he’ll ever be given a real fair shake. I still think he can be a productive major league player, especially since he has nothing else to prove in the minors. Time will only tell, but it’s hard to see the Royals continue to make the same mistake over and over. As a small market team, Kansas City needs to take advantage of every opportunity given to them. You can’t throw something away just because it wasn’t part of your plan. Sometimes life makes you take a different path than you originally planned on taking. That would be the time to just go with it.

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