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Baseball 2000
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Cooperstown Confidential
by Bruce Markusen
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May 17,2000

Closing a Sad Chapter in New York

Prior to his latest series of transgressions, the New York Mets had wanted to give Rickey Henderson every chance to redeem himself. They had hoped that he might embark on a hot streak and build up the trade value that he had managed to eradicate through an early season of lackadaisical play. The Mets were prepared to give Henderson that chance, but two more weekend incidents convinced the Mets that it was finally time to cut their losses... In Friday night’s game against the Marlins, Henderson rifled a shot deep toward left field. Assuming that the ball would clear the left field wall, Henderson went into one of baseball’s recently developed bad habits__the premature home-run trot. By the time the ball was retrieved and thrown to the infield, Henderson could advance no farther than first base, even though he should have easily reached second with a double. After the game, Henderson refused to apologize for his lack of hustle. In fact, he told reporters that he would do it again! In other words, he was sending the message that a showy home-run trot had become more important than advancing as many bases as possible... The next day, Henderson confronted a reporter for the New York Post who had dared to criticize him for his baserunning faux pas the previous night. In the course of their exchange, Henderson made an indirect threat toward the reporter. When general manager Steve Phillips learned about the latest incident, he felt that the time had come to end what had become an embarrassing and distracting circus. Phillips gave Henderson his release that day, ending his brief but stormy tenure with the team... The sad thing about the Henderson saga is that the Mets and their fans, who were basically innocent bystanders all along, come out on the short end. The Mets will have to play the balance of Hendu’s $2 million salary this season, while the fans are deprived of watching an extraordinary leadoff least when he wants to be. As for Henderson, he receives full pay without any suspension or fine, and will have at least some freedom in picking his new team. Sometimes, there is no justice...

What will the Mets do for a leadoff man in the aftermath of the Henderson release? Bobby Valentine will probably try to mix and match players in the top spot, based on the identity of the opposing pitcher. Look for Joe McEwing, Jay Payton, Jon Nunnally, and perhaps even Benny Agbayani to split time in the leadoff slot. If Nunnally can improve his ability to put the ball in play, he might provide the best long-term solution to the problem..

Baseball Loses Two

We sometimes don’t do sufficient justice to former players who have passed away. Oh, most Hall of Famers and stars from the recent past receive their due, but too many others seem to slip through the cracks of the sports pages. For example, we didn’t even become aware of the death of one of the game’s most intriguing characters until reading the most recent edition of Baseball America. There we learned of this former player’s death...several weeks after he had actually passed away. He was Stanley "Frenchy" Bordagaray, a singles-hitting third baseman-outfielder with a slew of teams in the 1930s and forties. Although Bordagaray was just a fair player, he made up for his middling talents with a personality that sometimes bordered on the outrageous. In the mid-1930s, he once showed up at Brooklyn’s spring training camp wearing a mustache so oversized and out of proportion to his face that it made him look like a villain in an old-time movie. Yet, Bordagaray didn’t seem to realize that almost all major league teams forbade their players from wearing mustaches. (In fact, Wally Schang of the Philadelphia Athletics had been the last player to sport a mustache, way back in 1914. The absence of facial hair wouldn’t end until 1972, when Reggie Jackson showed up in Oakland’s camp with a mustache. Charlie Finley initially expressed his outrage, but then grew to like Reggie’s new look and encouraged all of his players to do the same. Thus was born "Mustache Day"). Given the rules and customs of the day, the Dodgers ordered Bordagaray to shave. Frenchy removed his facial hair and proceeded to fall into a batting slump. He immediately blamed the slump on the absence of the mustache... Bordagaray also produced one of the most memorable quotes in baseball history. After being fined $500 for spitting at an umpire (Roberto Alomar was far from being the first), Bordagaray protested that the punishment was excessive. "Maybe I did wrong," Frenchy acknowledged in an interview with a reporter, "but the penalty was a little more than I expectorated." Imagine the response if Alomar had said something like that after his salivary confrontation with John Hirschbeck... Bordagaray played for two of the most famous managers in history: Casey Stengel and Joe McCarthy. He once told McCarthy that Stengel would have won many more pennants with "Marse Joe’s" personnel than McCarthy actually did. McCarthy didn’t appreciate the negative comparison and soon traded Bordagaray back to the Dodgers... Not surprisingly, Bordagaray had become a great source of information to oral historians over the years, passing along stories from his major league days in the era that preceded World War II. The one-of-a-kind Bordagaray passed away on April 13 at the age of 90. It’s hard to imagine anyone living a fuller life than Frenchy did during those nine decades...

Another notable who died recently was former major league hurler Brooks Lawrence, who passed away on April 27 at the age of 75. Although Lawrence won only 69 games in 10 seasons, he forged a career as one of organized baseball’s first African-American pitchers, at a time when integration hadn’t enveloped pitching the way it did infielders and outfielders in the aftermath of Jackie Robinson’s 1947 arrival... At six feet and 205 pounds, Lawrence was known as "The Bull." Although his size certainly made an impression on scouts, Lawrence spent eight seasons toiling in the minors before finally making the big leagues with St. Louis. In 1956, Lawrence enjoyed his best season, just a few months after being traded from the Cardinals to the Reds. He won his first 13 games with Cincinnati, earning a spot on the National League’s All-Star team. Although he faded in the second half, he did manage to complete the year with a career-best record of 19-10, helping the Reds to a solid third-place finish in the pennant race... In 1972, Lawrence became one of the few black executives in the game when he joined the front office of the Reds. He worked in promotions and group sales, while also serving as a part-time pitching instructor for hurlers in Cincinnati’s farm system. The Reds eventually named Lawrence to their Hall of Fame...

Where Are The Bats In The Bronx?

In an era where there seems to be too much of an emphasis on offense, at least one contender is searching for more hitting. And they’ve been searching for awhile now. The season-long offensive problems of the Yankees should really have come as no surprise. The Yankees may have been one power hitter short prior to the suspension of Darryl Strawberry, and general manager Brian Cashman has yet to do anything to fill that void since the start of spring training. The Yankees’ shortcomings have been compounded by the unexpected slumps of Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter, who have battled injuries and a sudden lack of discipline at the plate... During the off-season, the Yankees hoped that several young players would be able to step in and contribute to the offense, but injuries have struck prized prospects D’Angelo Jimenez and Nick Johnson, and Alfonso Soriano has been slow to adjust to Triple-A pitching... At some point, the Yankees will need to go outside of the organization to address their offensive woes. Assuming that they still don’t want to trade a prospect like Soriano, the Yankees might be well-advised to trade from their surplus of standout relievers. The Yankees could deal Jason Grimsley, who has been one of the game’s best middle men this season and whose value will never get higher. Given the lack of quality middle relievers in both leagues, Grimsley and his hard-sinking fastball should be able to fetch a decent left-handed hitter who could platoon with Shane Spencer at DH. Even without Grimsley, the Yankees still have Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton available to pitch in middle relief. Plus, they may be able to move Ramiro Mendoza back to the bullpen later in the season when either Ed Yarnall or Adrian Hernandez is ready for a promotion to the Bronx...

Reds and Red Sox Redux

In our second look back at the fortunes of the Reds and Red Sox in 1975, both teams continued to struggle through late May. On May 22, the Reds’ record stood at a mediocre 21-20, five and a half games back of the Dodgers in the National League West. Cincinnati’s poor play in the early season convinced Sparky Anderson that he needed to make a major change with his starting lineup. On May 3, Anderson moved Pete Rose from left field to third base, benching the unproductive trio of John Vukovich, Darrel Chaney and Doug Flynn (who had combined to hit below .150), and inserted Dan Driessen and George Foster into the starting lineup. (At the time of the Rose switch, right fielder Ken Griffey was hurt, so Anderson put Foster in right and Driessen in left. Later on, Foster became the everyday left fielder.) Although the move eventually helped the Reds’ offense, it left Cincinnati with poorer outfield play, to the point that Anderson considered moving Rose back to left field... By May 22, the Red Sox had fared only slightly better than the Reds. With a record of 18-16, the Sox found themselves a game and a half behind the upstart Brewers in the American League East... The bullpen posed a particular problem for the Red Sox, blowing two straight games to the defending champion Oakland A’s... Carlton Fisk remained on the disabled list with a broken arm he had suffered in the spring. In his absence, Boston turned to longtime backup catcher Bob "Monty" Montgomery as the No. 1 receiver. Montgomery was the last major league player to bat without a hard helmet, instead preferring a soft cap with a liner... Carl Yastrzemski’s early-season troubles concerned the Red Sox. With his batting average hovering around .220 and only two home runs through his first 32 games, some observers began whispering that Yaz had reached over-the-hill status... Fortunately for the Sox, Bernie Carbo’s surprising play compensated for Yaz’ slump. On May 20, Carbo boasted a team-leading .355 average and six home runs. Carbo’s hot streak served as a harbinger of what would come in October: two pinch-hit home runs, including that memorable game-tying, three-run shot in Game Six against Rawly Eastwick...

Walk Away, You Walk-Offs

First we had "walk-off home runs." Then "walk-off walks." And of course, "walk-off balks," courtesy of John Rocker. Well, enough already. Has anyone at ESPN heard of the term "game-ending?" But apparently it’s not good enough to be clear and straight-forward when we can be cute and clever, now is it? Yeesh.

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