Of MLB awards (and a hissy fit), the graceful Bill Sharman, and “43” as Selig’s successor
It’s time to catch up on stray issues and questions while waiting for baseball’s Hot Stove Season to warm up. With the de-fanged Yankees suddenly pussy-footing the scene they once so dominated, it may never quite come to a boil this year. You need a desperate team with a nutty owner to drive the process and all the usual suspects appear to be wising up.
Nonetheless, we have a few bases to touch.
Baubles, Bangles & MVPs: The writers, in their wisdom, did the job well this year in the annual sweepstakes dispensing the usual hardware. Not only were all the picks correct they were properly nuanced. There’s been little controversy, except in the feverish imagination of the Red Sox owner.
The Cy Young awards were no-brainers. You may best remember Clayton Kershaw for being drubbed by the Cardinals in the semi-finals. Worn down, he was serving lollipops that night. But otherwise the stylish LA lefty was near flawless as his 1.83 ERA attests. Finishing second but deservedly no-higher was Cards’ stopper Adam Wainwright who, you may have noticed in the World Series, is no Bob Gibson. In the AL, it was even less a contest. At 21-3 with 240 Ks, Detroit’s Max Scherzer had a season unmatched since Pedro Martinez was in his prime. Noteworthy was the fact that a pair of Japanese phenoms – Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma – were runners-up.
Rookie of the Year is the category that most often gets botched. You may recall a certain Angel Berroa getting the nod over Hideki Matsui a decade ago, only to promptly disappear. It can be tricky. In the long run, Jose Iglesias may well surpass Wil Myers, this year’s AL pick, but both have a chance to excel, although my pick would have been the stylish shortstop the Red Sox so unwisely gave the Tigers. In the NL, it’s pleasing the voters resisted the bogus hype trumpeting LA’s Yasiel Puig, choosing instead the Marlins brilliant Cuban ex-pat, Jose Fernandez, who seems to have the stuff to be another Martinez.
In the MVP balloting, Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera were easy choices. There’s all-round brilliance in McCutchen’s act and he has a knack for the big moment. In the AL, nerdy get-a-lifers of the new wave metrics movement in baseball statistics are once again belly-aching because Cabrera got the nod over their pet, the Angels’ Mike Trout. It’s ridiculous. Cabrera had the edge in every offensive category except WAR (wins above replacement), a stat that only the metrics-boys understand, let alone value. It’s all quite silly.
Riding high: Having scooped up a World Series and a prized newspaper in a matter of weeks, Town Team Owner John Henry can be excused for feeling his oats. Moreover, his kinship with sportswriters has always been sketchy, so you can bet the ranch, Bunky, he wasn’t joking when he reacted to the selection of Terry Francona as manager of the year by snipping to a gaggle of ink-stained wretches, “You writers are a strange breed.” He wasn’t kidding, kids. It’s how he truly feels.
But he wasn’t right. Francona deserved the award over Henry’s own boy, John Farrell, and the owner’s little snit over that was both unnecessary and in poor taste. Take a look at the pitching staff Francona had at his disposal while winning only five fewer games on a team with half the payroll and even less the public support in a division that was in the end even more competitive.
Prizes like Manager of the Year – determined, like all the others, by a panel of sports writers – are based on regular-season performance and voted before the post-season. Otherwise the winner every year would be the guy who wins the World Series. In the 2013 regular season, Farrell did a terrific job, but Francona’s performance was even better for the odds he bucked were greater. This Mr. Henry should be able to respect even if his partisanship on the matter is reasonable.
About grudges, etc., enough already. The wider issue for the BoSox owner, both beneath and beyond his disdain for the jock-media, is his determination to minimize Francona, which after the sweet success of 2013 begins to look even more trivial. It’s easy to see that what most grates him about the snubbing of Farrell is the concomitant exalting of Francona.
This entire ownership group’s contempt for their ex-skipper still burns bright while making little sense. They can’t forgive him even if there’s nothing to forgive. They refuse to admit they fired him although that, too, is patently ridiculous. They can’t concede that whatever complaint they think they have with his performance at the end of his regime ought be vastly outweighed by all the good he did the rest of the time he was here. They are entirely unreasonable!
These guys play tough. Don’t cross them. They do hardball. Rather than forget, they prefer to get even. It’s unworthy of them.
Bill Sharman: He passed on during the height of the World Series hype, so it was little noted, and his brilliant run with the Celtics ended a half century ago so it’s not well remembered. All of which is unfortunate. Bill Sharman deserves better here in this town where he had his best days.
Was there ever a more stylish backcourt combo than that formed by the Celtics when Bill Sharman paired with Bob Cousy and they played with what could only be described as utter élan during the early years of their fabled dynasty? Terms like smooth and smart don’t begin to capture the elegance they brought to the task. There was about them something quite lyrical.
Sharman’s sharp-shooting, especially his velvet touch from the foul line, was all the rave in his day, but he was equally brilliant on defense, maybe as dogged a defender as ever played in the back court. He was a complete player. In one of his rare, not so pretty moments, Red Auerbach rather callously cut him loose when he began to slow down. It was odd and never fully explained, nor did Sharman forget it. He would get some small measure of revenge with the Lakers.
But he was above all a Celtic, one of the originals, as classy as they come and fully worthy of being linked historically with the maestro himself, Brother Cousy. They were the finest of times.
For Commissioner: With Bud Selig promising to step down as baseball czar in a year and with his many fervent admirers (your host very much included) keeping their fingers crossed that he keeps said promise, the rumor mill is abuzz with suggestions of heirs, apparent or otherwise.
Among the foremost of those being mentioned: Frank Robinson (too old); Joe Torre (too unqualified); current right-hand man Rob Manfred (too much a Selig clone); marketing whiz Tim Brosnan (too unknown); and Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski (probably the best choice and therefore rather certain not to get it).
But the smartest suggestion I’ve yet heard is George Bush. That would be George the younger, the son who, of course, before he became governor of Texas, then president of the US was the esteemed president of the Texas Rangers – that would be the baseball Rangers – and who in his brief time in the game earned considerable respect for both his savvy and style. At least one story I’ve seen asserts he’d be mighty interested, being a total fan.
Whatever your political persuasion or opinion of his presidency, you have to like the idea. Eight years in the White House ought to be sufficient preparation for the rigors of the task. It might even be a needed boost to the game’s prestige, which has waned of late. He gets my vote, he’ll doubtless be glad to hear.