In Which I Become Disproportionately Upset At Your Standard And Otherwise Innocuous Offseason “Let’s Fix the Hall of Fame” Piece Written By a Journalist I Greatly Admire
Neyer is formerly of ESPN.com, he’s a former protege’ of Bill James, and he’s an author of numerous fantastic books such as The Neyer/James Guide to Pitching (written with Bill James), Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups, Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders, and more.
Yesterday, Rob posted a simple space-filler piece ostensibly about Alexander Joy Cartwright, but more to the point, about the Hall of Fame and its seemingly arbitrary choices in its role as purveyor of baseball’s history to sometimes protect the truth, and other times to embrace the legends, verity be damned.
I’m glad I just got around to reading Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, because just last week I was in Honolulu, where Alexander Cartwright is buried downtown. I took a photo of his burial monument, which you can see at the top of this page. What you can’t see are the baseballs that … I don’t know. Is “fans” the proper word here? Does Alexander Joy Cartwright have fans? Anyway, someone’s left baseballs at the foot of his monument. And a few feet away, there’s another monument that’s specifically about baseball; like [Cartwright's plaque] in Cooperstown, it’s largely fictional.
First of all, let me just say that if you’re on this blog and you haven’t read Baseball in the Garden of Eden by Major League Baseball’s Official Historian John Thorn, then you are doing yourself a tremendous disservice. It’s an amazing book, written by one of my honest-to-God heroes. I want to be John Thorn when I grow up.
But I digress.
Neyer’s post touched a nerve with me, clearly, as I immediately felt the need to respond:
After a good night’s sleep, I stand by everything I said in that post, except the last line. That was unfair, it was my emotions getting the better of me, and I sincerely apologize if it was hurtful.
But the fact is, Alexander Cartwright does have fans. In Hawai’i, Cartwright was a prominent citizen from 1849 through his death in 1892. He was one of the first Fire Chiefs on the island of Oahu, appointed by King Kamehameha. He brought baseball with him to the island – that’s not a myth – and it’s because of Cartwright that the islands of Hawai’i, 5000 miles from Cooperstown, New York, have a baseball history nearly as long or longer than 48 other states in the union.
Due to our Hawai’i ties, I admit to feeling a sort of familial loyalty to Cartwright, and to feeling a need to defend him and his legacy.
Rob’s response to me had a defensive tone, too. I understand that, as I was unkind and maybe a bit abrasive in my first comment.
To which I replied:
I once spent an evening researching George Brett and his claim that Mario Mendoza’s spectacular fielding in a series in Seattle kept him from hitting .400 in 1980. Brett has told this story on many occasions, because he is often linked with Mendoza as many (erroneously) believe that Brett coined the term ”Mendoza Line.”
…Brett tells that story as a way to give back some dignity to Mario Mendoza, who wasn’t a very good hitter but who earned the nickname “Manos de Sena” (which translates to “Hands of Silk”) with his work at shortstop. The story isn’t true, but it gives something to Mendoza, his family, and the world. Debunking that myth doesn’t give anything to anybody. In fact, it takes something away.
I understand that not everyone will share my opinion on this matter. I’d be willing to bet, in fact, that today’s generation of baseball aficionados – SABR members, especially – taken as a group is probably more driven by a pursuit of accuracy and truth than any other subset of baseball fans. That’s the reason Neyer’s Big Book of Legends exists. It’s the reason we have instant replay, it’s the reason we have data on every inch of every ball thrown 60 feet, 6 inches from a Major League pitcher’s mound in 2014.
But to me baseball is magical and that’s the truth that matters to me more than any other.
I’ll let Neyer have the last word on the subject, because his point is valid and probably represents a more common opinion than does mine. What can I say? I’m just a guy who writes a blog dedicated to imaginary baseball games.
What do you guys think?
My daughter, Ruby, is seven years old. She lost a tooth yesterday and before bed last night she asked me:
“Truth or dare?”
“Truth,” I said.
“When I lose a tooth and put it under my pillow for the tooth fairy, is it really you and mommy who come at night and give me money?”
I knew this day would come eventually, but it’s still a shock every time I’m jolted back to the reality that my kid isn’t a baby anymore. She’s a person and her little mind & soul is on its own personal exploration of life, the universe, and everything.
I answered her with the truth. I explained that when I was a kid the tooth fairy brought me money. When my mom was a kid the tooth fairy brought her money. It’s always been that way. But when kids start to get a little older parents let their kids know the secret: the “Tooth Fairy” is really a game we all play because it’s fun, but yes, you’re right, it really is the parents who put the money under the pillow. I think she was really surprised, but she took it well. She still put her tooth under her pillow before bed.
But then I blew it and I forgot to put money under her pillow before I went to bed.
This morning this sticky note was on the fireplace:
I don’t know what this has to do with tabletop-sports, I just thought you guys might like this story. I’ve been smiling about it all morning.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE CONTEST WINNER SEAN MacNAIR who correctly identified Rudy Pemberton’s 1996 season for the Boston Red Sox.
Thank you also to everyone who responded with the correct answer to yesterday’s trivia contest! There were a lot more responses than I anticipated, which was a great surprise.
For his correct response, Sean has won a set of 8 Strat-O-Matic Baseball teams from the National League of 1988.
Rudy Pemberton was a September, 1996 callup by the Boston Red Sox from AAA Pawtuckett. It was his second stint in the show, as he had hit .300 on the button in 30 at bats for the Tigers in September a year before. As a 26 year old with 1518 AAA at bats under his belt – and a slash line of .315/.335/.502 at that level – Pemberton had nothing left to prove in the minors.
What he proceeded to do that September was beyond anyone’s expectations, however. Pemberton hit safely in 11 of 13 games, compiling 21 hits in 41 at bats for a batting average of .512.
In the book You Never Forget Your First: Ballplayers Recall Their Big League Debuts, by Josh Lewin Trot Nixon recounts the details of his major league debut on September 21, 1996. It was a great game, a 12-11 barnburner with the Yankees, won on a base hit by – who else? – Derek Jeter. Pemberton played right field in that game, going two-for-three with a double and an RBI.
That date has significance for me, personally. It was my twenty-first birthday. My friends took me out to the bars to at midnight the night before to celebrate, but I don’t remember anything beyond our first stop. I woke up the morning of the 21st sick, tired, vaguely embarrassed, weird, new and excited. I had entered a new club, where alcohol was available everywhere. I felt invincible. On September 21, 1996 I was Superman.
From Trot Nixon’s anecdote in the book:
On September 21, 1996, Rudy Pemberton and I were both wearing the same costume.
Unfortunately for Pemberton, his experience as Superman was fleeting. He was the Sox’s opening day right fielder in 1997, but hit just .238 in 27 games before losing his job to Troy O’Leary. Rudy never played in the big leagues again, despite managing a career .296 batting average and .829 OPS in 5955 minor league plate appearances. He finally retired from professional ball after the 2005 season, despite hitting .337/.433/.511/.944 over two stops in Mexico.
My experience as Superman was fleeting, too. It wasn’t long before it was apparent that alcohol was my kryptonite. Like Pemberton, I hung around for a long time trying to recover the glorious feeling I had back in my first September, but it never would be the same. Eventually I realized that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable.
I have a soft spot in my heart for guys like Rudy Pemberton. I know what it’s like to enjoy a glorious time in my life and to chase that feeling for years afterward. Maybe we all do. Maybe we’ve all had a September like Pemberton’s. Maybe we’ll each know the feeling of someday having to fold up and put away the uniform, too.
Until then, there’s always next year.
From page 269 of The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
(pub. 2001), the best September callups in baseball history:
Can you identify the player and season that produced the statistics below? [click on the line to see a bigger version of the stats]
TO WIN THIS CONTEST YOU MUST DO ALL OF THE FOLLOWING: