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Legends of Giants Baseball by Mike Shannon, illustrated by Chris Felix, Scott Hannig, and Donnie Pollard (2016)

Giants

Legends of Giants Baseball
by Mike Shannon
illustrated by Chris Felix, Scott Hannig, and Donnie Pollard
Black Squirrel Books (an imprint of the Kent State University Press), 2016
104 pages

Name the top five Giants players—New York or San Francisco—in baseball history. Most can easily rattle off a handful of names: Christy Mathewson, Mel Ott, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, and of course Willie Mays. And while these Hall of Famers are profiled in Mike Shannon’s new book, Legends of Giants Baseball, the author is not content to stop there. Forty players are presented, ten each from 1883-1925, 1926-1950, 1951-1975, and 1976-2015. Baseball fans can dig deep with Tim Keefe, Sal Maglie, Jim Davenport, and even recent players such as Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner.

Of course, Barry Bonds is included as well, but Shannon does not gloss over the slugger’s sins. He writes, “It is truly a shame that his is not a simple story of baseball greatness but a cautionary tale of jealousy, arrogance, unbridled ambition, and dishonesty.” All can certainly agree that the numbers are astounding, but the path to his final career totals was fraught with controversy.

As with Shannon’s Cincinnati Reds Legends from last year, Legends of Giants Baseball is infinitely enhanced by the artistic talents of Chris Felix, Scott Hannig, and Donnie Pollard. My favorite portraits are Hannig’s depictions of Ott and Jack Clark, each done in a different style.

The names on any list of legends will change depending on the writer and the time the list was created, but the artwork on Legends of Giants Baseball makes this a must-have not only for Giants fans, but for all baseball fans.

Learn more about Black Squirrel Books (an imprint of the Kent State University Press).

Purchase Legends of Giants Baseball by Mike Shannon, illustrated by Chris Felix, Scott Hannig, and Donnie Pollard.

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How magical are “magic numbers”? (part 2)

In June, I examinded 300 wins and 3000 strikeouts. I intended to jump right into 500 home runs and 3000 hits after that, within a week maybe, but wouldn’t you know…I never did. So let’s knock that out and put this question to rest.

Twenty-five guys have hit 500 or more career home runs…a lot more than I thought.

1. Barry Bonds (762)
2. Hank Aaron (755)
3. Babe Ruth (714)
4. Willie Mays (660)
5. Ken Griffey (630)
6. Alex Rodriguez (626)
7. Sammy Sosa (609)
8. Jim Thome (596)
9. Frank Robinson (586)
10. Mark McGwire (583)
11. Harmon Killebrew (573)
12. Rafael Palmeiro (569)
13. Reggie Jackson (563)
14. Manny Ramirez (555)
15. Mike Schmidt (548)
16. Mickey Mantle (536)
17. Jimmie Foxx (534)
18. Willie McCovey (521)
Frank Thomas (521)
Ted Williams (521)
21. Ernie Banks (512)
Eddie Mathews (512)
23. Mel Ott (511)
24. Gary Sheffield (509)
25. Eddie Murray (504)

Of those, eight are not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame. Eleven were first-year inductees. That leaves us with six names to look at: Killebrew, Foxx, Mathews, Ott, McGwire, and Palmeiro. The problem with McGwire and Palmeiro is steroids, no doubt. Both would be ushered into Cooperstown on the red carpet had they come by their numbers clean. The way they have been handled by the voters will make future elections very interesting, with Bonds, A-Rod, Sosa and Sheffield on the horizon.

But what about the four old-timers, who never stuck a needle in their buttocks?

Foxx and Ott were on the ballot under a different set of rules than what are currently in place. Voters were not required to wait for a player to be retired five years, or to even wait until they were finished playing. Both Foxx and Ott received good support running up to their eventual induction, and would have been first-ballot inductees had the five-year waiting period been in effect.

Then you have Killebrew and Mathews. Mathews waited five years for the call, receiving only 32.3% of the vote in his first year on the ballot. He eventually climbed the list and was enshrined in 1978. Killebrew was on the ballot four years before getting his plaque. What makes this so crazy is that Killer led the league in home runs six times, and was at the time in the top 5 on the all-time list (he now sits at 11).

While it is somewhat insane that Mathews and Killebrew did not get first-ballot treatment, there are no pre-steroid players with 500 home runs outside the Hall of Fame.

Now on to 3000 hits…

1. Pete Rose (4256)
2. Ty Cobb (4189)
3. Hank Aaron (3771)
4. Stan Musial (3630)
5. Tris Speaker (3514)
6. Cap Anson (3435)
7. Honus Wagner (3420)
8. Carl Yastrzemski (3419)
9. Paul Molitor (3319)
10. Eddie Collins (3315)
11. Willie Mays (3283)
12. Eddie Murray (3255)
13. Nap Lajoie (3242)
14. Cal Ripken (3184)
15. George Brett (3154)
16. Paul Waner (3152)
17. Robin Yount (3142)
18. Tony Gwynn (3141)
19. Dave Winfield (3110)
20. Craig Biggio (3060)
21. Rickey Henderson (3055)
22. Rod Carew (3053)
23. Lou Brock (3023)
24. Derek Jeter (3020)
Rafael Palmeiro (3020)
26. Wade Boggs (3010)
27. Al Kaline (3007)
28. Roberto Clemente (3000)

Four of these guys (Speaker, Anson, Collins, Lajoie) were elected within the first few years of the Hall’s opening, and since there was such a backlog at the time, we’ll overlook the indiscretion of making them wait. The only two eligible on the outside are Charlie Hustle (who didn’t know when to fold ’em) and Raffy (Mr. Positive). Biggio should make it in next year, and Jeter in his first year of eligibility (whenever that may be).

That leaves only Paul Waner, who was on the ballot for seven years before being inducted. However, similar to Ott and Foxx, Waner had just retired when he began receiving votes. He climbed from 42.1% in 1948 to 83.3% in 1951, only seven years after announcing his departure from the playing field.

So back to the original question, how magical are the milestones of 500 home runs and 3000 hits? The only eligible players not inducted are gamblers and ‘roiders, and 3000 hits seems to be a first-ballot ticket so long as there is no controversy.

Steroids and the Hall of Fame

The use of performance enhancing drugs has thus far kept Mark McGwire out of the Hall of Fame. The general consensus is that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will also lose major support and probably miss the train to Cooperstown.

Now we have Alex Rodriguez, perhaps the biggest star of them all, the golden boy of all baseball writers. And baseball writers are the one who vote on the Hall of Fame. Will the steroids scandal hurt A-Rod?

Personally, I always thought he used. He was a teammate of Jose Canseco – and that alone puts one under the eye of suspicion. However, without the proof, he had my support (but not vote, since I don’t vote) for the Hall of Fame. The numbers are too big to ignore.

Now? He’s off my faux ballot. As well as Keith Hernandez’s imaginary ballot.

How about you?

Records are made to be broken

Yeah, I know it’s supposed to be “rules” and not “records,” but I’m not Bill Clinton. I believe in rules. Records, on the other hand, I love to see broken–as long as it is done legitimately. Roger Maris is still the single-season home run king, and Hank Aaron still tops the all-time list in my mind. Will these and other timeless records ever be broken for real?

The Career Home Run Record. Assume Alex Rodriguez keeps up his current pace of 44 home runs per season. Heck, let’s round it down to 40 just for fun. How long would it take him to surpass Aaron’s 755? About six seasons, that’s how long. He’s been around for fourteen years, but he started out pretty young (18!), so six more years isn’t out of the question. That would put him at 37 years young; Hank was 40 when he toppled Ruth’s 714. If you are among those who thinks Bonds’ mark should stick, then A-Rod would need to stick around just another year to pass him (assuming Bonds is done). What about the all-time professional mark of 868? You know, the one held by Sadaharu Oh of Japan. If A-Rod wants that record, he’ll have to stay healthy and consistent with 40+ homers for another 8.75 years.

The Career Hits Record. Pete Rose stands head and shoulders above everyone else in the field at 4256. No one else even comes close. But 33-year old Derek Jeter can try. Currently at 2356, Jeter would need an average of 200 hits over the next 9.5 years to pass Rose. Ichiro, who is just a tad older than Jeter, could pass Rose in just over 11.5 years if he continues his average of 230+ hits per season.

The Career RBI Record. Hank tops this list right now with 2297 knocked in, but A-Rod is again within striking distance considering his age. If he averages 125 RBI (just under his average) over the next 6.4 seasons, he’ll pass Aaron. Manny Ramirez could get there a little quicker though, if he keeps up his 130+ RBI average. It would take the Man Ram just over 5.3 years to pass the Hammer.

The Career Stolen Base Record. Rickey Henderson doesn’t have anything to worry about. Juan Pierre is the closest thing to a challenger, and he’s over 1000 behind Rickey. At an average of 50 steals per season, Juan would have to play until he turns 50 to catch Rickey.

In addition to the stolen bases record, there are a number of pitching records which will not be challenged for a long time, including strikeouts (Nolan Ryan has over 5700) and wins (Cy Young has over 500). Maybe someday there will be a real Sidd Finch to shatter all those records, but I doubt it happens in my lifetime.

Is the time right?

Back in the late 1980s, a business man and baseball fanatic got the fantastic idea to put Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Ferguson Jenkins, Clint Hurdle, and a host of other former major league baseball players back on the field in what was called the Senior Professional Baseball Association. After two years, though, the league folded.

I can’t help but wonder if such a venture would not be more successful today? With several former ballplayers still in excellent shape, it could turn out to be an interesting and competitive league. Think of it: Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson, and Barry Bonds in the outfield; Mike Piazza at first base; Barry Larkin at shortstop…these are big draws! Much bigger than Vida Blue was in the late 1980s.

Another problem that I saw with the league of nearly two decades ago was that all the games were played in Florida. They never traveled to baseball-starved cities. It could be a “barnstorming” league, traveling across the country and playing for communities that may have some minor league teams, but missed out on the big superstars in their primes.

What really got me to thinking about this was Mario’s recent sighting of Ozzie Canseco on a softball field. You can read about that here and see a video here.

For those who are not familiar with the SPBA, the minimum age for players was 35 (with the exception of catchers at 32). They had about eight teams I think, and while they did get a couple of future Hall of Famers to sign up, it was mostly filled with utility players and regional stars (like Clint Hurdle, Jim Morrison, and Joaquín Andújar).

However, I believe that the nostalgia of people of my generation (born in the 1970s) would propel a new league on to success if it were organized correctly with a good smattering of former stars. (What’s Wade Boggs up to nowadays? Dave Stewart? Hey, Ryne Sandberg, wanna play 2B?)

If such a league were formed, who would you like to see play? Obviously, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench are probably a little too old to go for it, but what about some of the players who started in the 1980s?

Is it possible?

Steroids vs. cocaine

Baseball is going through a crisis right now. Some of the brightest stars in the game over the past two decades have been implicated in the steroid scandal. The names of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens are irrevocably associated with performance enhancing substances, some illegal under the law of the land.

It brings to mind the cocaine scandal of the 1980s. Several players were called before a Pittsburgh grand jury to provide testimony regarding their relationship with the drug. Some of the brightest stars of that time–Vida Blue, Dave Parker, Keith Hernandez, and Tim Raines–went on the stand and testified under oath to what extent they were involved with the drug.

Some say Parker’s chances for the Hall of Fame were harmed by his drug abuse. The former Pirates slugger received 24.5% of the vote in 1998, his second year on the ballot, but that is the highest level of support he has ever received. This year he came in at 15.1%, twenty votes more than he received last year, but still far short of the 75% needed for election.

The subject of the cocaine scandal has come up lately as Tim Raines appeared on the ballot for the first time. The former Expos star, who is fifth on the all-time stolen base list, received 24.3% of the vote in his first year, which is not a terrible showing. However, not many have risen from that level to induction by the BBWAA vote.

There are two main differences between the steroid scandal today and the cocaine scandal of 1985:

1) Steroids “help performance rather than hamper it, corrupting the legitimacy of results and records” (“Remembering the pain of the Pittsburgh Drug Trials”).

2) The players involved are immensely bigger stars and more likely Hall of Fame candidates. Who would you rather have on your team, Vida Blue or Roger Clemens? Keith Hernandez or Mark McGwire? Dave Parker or Barry Bonds? If you look at numbers alone, disregard what illicit activities they may have been involved in, the steroid users will get the nod nine times out of ten.

To read more on the Pittsburgh drug trials, check out the link above and the Wikipedia entry.

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