Posts Tagged ‘Hank Aaron’


In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on September 1, 2011 at 7:48 pm

The headline in the Washington Post zinged me: “It will take $160 million to re-sign Ryan Zimmerman.”

That much for a guy who led his team to five fifth-place finishes and a fourth-place finish the last six years? A guy whose team has never had a winning record? A guy whose team averaged finishing 31½ games out of first place the last three seasons?

$160 million is fantasy land.

The economy leans toward another recession. Fourteen million are out of work. Banks aren’t lending. Home mortgages are underwater. New-home construction is stagnant. Stock portfolios are plummeting. How do you “sell” a contract like this to the austerity-minded general public?

Zimmerman’s not going to blast 50 homers or drive in 140 runs. And the Nats aren’t headed for postseason play, averaging 99 losses the last three years.

Didn’t Carl Crawford sign for $140M last year and proceed to post pedestrian numbers the first half of the season? Prince Fielder may seek more money but he’s headed for an NL MVP award and his team will be in the postseason. By the way, the Nationals are seven games under .500 and a blip from falling into the NL East cellar.

The same Post columnist called Zimmerman a “first-ballot Hall of Famer,” then a “sure-fire Hall of Famer” and finally, a “superstar.”

Zimmerman was first compared to George Brett – who played 21 years for the Royals and led Kansas City to nine postseasons, including a pair of World Series. Zimmerman is nowhere near matching Brett’s legacy, having played 14 less seasons and is 9 postseasons shy of Brett.

But there’s more. She then compared Zimmerman to Albert Pujols.

We’ve seen what happens when teams don’t lock up their Zimmermans early,” she wrote. “The Nats want to avoid an Albert Pujols-type situation because if Zimmerman hits the market, all bets are off.”

They are?

For the record, Pujols has 439 HR and 1,308 RBI in 10 seasons, two of them ending in a World Series. He has nearly 300 more walks than strikeouts. His batting average is .328, about 50 points higher than Zimmerman’s. Pujols, like Zimmerman, missed time this year due to injury, but his 31 HRs currently ties him for the NL lead.

The Nats’ third baseman has played just seven years and hit 126 HRs, an average of 18 a year. His strikeouts nearly double his walks (599 to 326). OK, he played 20 games his rookie season and has played in just 75 this year. But still, he’s a light year away from being ticketed to Cooperstown or compared to any player enshrined there.

Loyalty, dependability and following the rules doesn’t qualify one for the Hall. Too many sportswriters today feel the need to label a good player a great, which is an insult to those who’ve been enshrined in the Hall. She said Zimmerman is a “marquee player who will pay dividends.” She’s right but he’s not yet deserving of a bronze bust. He’s got, oh about 10 more very productive years before that connection can realistically be made.

This spring, New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon said his third baseman, David Wright was not a superstar. And he was spot on. Good, sure. Loyal, yes. Productive, yup. But let’s not use the “S” word for this Hampton Roads native, either. David’s on his way to yet another 225-plus strikeout season while his long balls and clutch hitting vanish in cavernous Citi Field.

In the modern era, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Eddie Murray, Al Kaline, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Carl Yastrzemski were superstars. Each amassed huge numbers. And all but Hank and Ernie led their teams to the World Series.

Some may be sentimental to Zimmerman, which I understand. The Nats overpaid for Jayson erth last year and may offer inflated dollars to Fielder in the months ahead. Werth’s a good, not a great player. Fielder just may be “great” (his 102 RBI lead the NL) but will the pressure of a blockbuster contract cause his numbers to decline?

The same goes for Zimmerman. He’s worthy of a long-term deal but it shouldn’t be a record-setter for a third baseman. Just look at his numbers and you’ll see why.


In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on July 19, 2011 at 7:09 pm

The game has changed,” Keith Hernandez said on a recent New York Mets’ broadcast.

This after the Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez took about an hour to return to the dugout after grounding out. He was steps away from his dugout when Met pitcher Chris Capuano pitched to the next batter.

After a commercial break, Hernandez was still peeved. “Look at this, he’s practicing his swing in the dugout. Save that for after the game. The Marlins’ first baseman is throwing grounders to the infield. Every Marlin is on the field and Ramirez is still in the dugout.”

Broadcast partner Gary Cohen offered, “I guess you have to pick your battles,” as an SNY camera fixed on Marlin manager Jack McKeon, who stood at the dugout railing, staring through black-rimmed bifocals. So much for the moxie the managerial switch was supposed to provide the last place team in the NL East.

An inning later, when Marlin reliever Edward Mujica took the mound, Hernandez ripped off another beauty, “I see he’s up from his nap,” referring to a game last week when FOX cameras caught the pitcher sleeping in the bullpen. The next night, Mujica hung a sign around his neck which said, “Keep the camera off me when I’m in the bullpen.” Cohen lamely added, “Well, at least he made the situation humorous.”

Humorous? Like Hernandez said, the game has changed. Millionaires doing what they love and they can’t stay awake on the job? Taking their time to the point they personally delay the game. And nobody – not even an umpire – says anything?

Baseball proclaims to be fan-friendly with ball-tosses into the stands, swimming pools in the outfield, Hard Rock Cafe patio bars that look onto the field, box seats that are practically in play, kids running the bases as frequently as Jose Reyes, teenagers singing the National Anthem and children officially starting games, screaming “Play Ball” over the stadium loudspeakers.

But a lot is missing.

Twenty-three years ago, World Series viewers – especially Dodgers fans – were treated to sheer drama when a nearly lame Kirk Gibson limped to the plate and then jacked a home run off one of the game’s best — Dennis Eckersley. However, this week Carlos Beltran couldn’t grab a bat and help his team rally due to “flu-like” symptoms. He sat there in uniform while his Triple-A teammates whiffed at air in losing to the futile Marlins. Grab a Kleenex and get in the batter’s box. Think the sniffles ever kept Cal Ripken on the bench?

A day after the All-Star game, co-hosts at the ESPYs embarrassed themselves wearing fake beards while interviewing Giants’ closer Brian Wilson during a silly interview. On and on it went as the female host struggled to read her notes while pulling away the cape of a prop. Wilson is good but he’s no Dennis Eckersley. Or Rollie Fingers. Or Lee Smith. Or Trevor Hoffman.

Since it was All-Star Week, why couldn’t the ESPYs invite Hank Aaron or Willie Mays to reflect on their 50-something All-Star appearances? After all, the event needs juice with so many “stars” begging out to steal a vacation in the Caribbean.

At least Aaron and Mays would honor the game without a stunt. But why interview Hall of Famers when you can fool around on the set and bring attention to yourselves? Next broadcast, look for a segment on tattoos or earrings.

Which brings me to Justin Timberlake. During the All-Star game, Mark Grace was so excited, he forgot whom he was interviewing. Timberlake has as much to do with baseball as does Albert Einstein. Yet, we had to listen to this Gen-Xer wax on about the national pastime, gushing over Joe Buck’s “calling of the game.” Buck is good and he should be, growing up in a baseball family. But we didn’t need a reminder from a brake dancer.

Who knows, maybe MLB is trying to grab the young viewer. But what about older viewers? Or those who just wanted to watch a baseball game?

Think of how Mickey Mantle ran the bases on bad knees. Or how Jim Abbot had to flip his glove from a limb to an arm with a hand just to play defense. Or Ripken and Lou Gehrig, who played through muscle pulls, sickness and headaches because they loved the game. Or Sandy Koufax, who probably pitched through intense pain trying to extend his career. Or Carlton Fisk, who squatted for three hours every game at age 46 because he respected the sport.

Ah, respect. That’s what’s missing.




In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on May 16, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Home mortgage foreclosures are at an all-time high. Ditto for credit card defaults. The national unemployment rate of 9.6% isn’t so bad considering it was almost 20% in Nevada and 15% in northeast Ohio. In California and Connecticut, state workers were required to take unpaid furloughs. Parishoners at one Northern Virginia church number five a day, asking for financial aid in this recession.

What about the auto worker in Michigan who is “riffed” at 55? Where does he take his riveting skills at that age? People have seen their investment portfolios dwindle to the point they don’t open the envelopes anymore. Others have flat-out lost their jobs. Some get so frustrated with the job market, they take something they’re far-less qualified for. Or settle for something part-time, So much for a college degree. Or an advanced degree. Or years of experience.

Hello Major League Baseball. Are you listening?

Still, game patrons are expected to wait in line to park a car for $30. Or $50 in New York. Or belly up to pay $90 for a mezzanine-level seat. Or $8 for a hot dog, $5 for Cracker Jack or $9 for a warm beer. Or $100 for a team-replica jersey.

The national pasttime? Puh-lese. Try taking your family of five to the ball park. That figures to a mini-vacation, financially. Do clubs forget that most games are televised for free?

Know why it’s so expensive? Look at the salaries paid to players without the credentials of a Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Ernie Banks. Guys you’ve never heard of draw $5-6-7M a year. Guaranteed! So much for incentive. Just where’s the motivation to perform when that check is direct-deposited at the bank, win or lose, home run or strikeout.

Consider these contract busts that the “ordinary Joe” is paying for.

Jayson Werth of the Nationals is hitting .231 after 38 games. This, after signing a 7-year deal for $126M. The Nats are barely ahead of the Mets, who reside in the cellar of the NL East.

Carl Crawford of the Red Sox is hitting .208 with 1 HR and 10 RBI in 154 at bats. Plus, he’s fanned 28 times in 38 games. All this after signing a 7-year deal for $142M. Boston is 17-20 and in third place in the AL East.

Jason Bay of the Mets is hitting .216 with 2 HR and 6 RBI in 74 at bats. He’s in the second of a 4-year, $64M contract. Last season, he amassed 6 HR and 47 RBI while hitting .259, before having his season end prematurely due to a concussion. A year before he signed, Bay clubbed 36 HR and drove in 119 runs for Boston. Can someone say “Green Monster?”

John Lackey, signed by Boston last year to a 5-year, $82.5M, is a blazing 2-5 with an 8.01 ERA. That projects to 8 wins for $16-plus million this year, or $2M per victory on the Lackey front.

Derek Jeter, hit .270 last year, his worst performance since his rookie year. Months later, he wanted a 5-year, $105M contract. So much for Yankee pride. The Yankees balked and settled for 3 years at $51M. So far, Jeter’s hitting .260 with a whopping five extra-base hits in 150 at bats. That figures to 20 extra base hits for the season.

The Red Sox will battle the Yanks for a wild card spot but the Mets and Nationals are going nowhere except the golf course come October.

So why would Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo fork over so much money for one player who probably won’t get the Nats out of last place?

Don’t ask fans – they won’t know whether they continue to attend games or not.