Archive: January 10th, 2008

David Wright Honored with Thurman Munson Award

It’s not the NL MVP, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s much more impactful.

While Jimmy Rollins ran away with the honors for best player in the National League, David Wright will have to settle for being honored with one of five “Thurmans” to be handed out at the 28th annual Thurman Munson Awards on February 5th at the Marriott Martquis in Times Square. Wright, Melky Cabrera, Craig Biggio, NY Knick Jamal Crawford and Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi all will be recognized for their excellence in competition and philanthropic work within the community.

The dinner remembers the late, great Yankee catcher Thurman Munson who died tragically in a 1979 plane crash. Thurman’s widow Diana Munson has been involved in the dinner since its inception 28 years ago, and has raised over $8 million for the Association for the Help of Retarded Children (AHRC), a not-for-profit organization with many programs that enable people with developmental disabilities to lead richer, more productive lives. AHRC New York City is one of the largest organizations of its kind, serving 11,000 children and adults who have mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries and other developmental disabilities.

So, from the perspective that this honor means Wright is helping others, and that the award dinner will raise money for people in need, it means more than the MVP — at least in my book. Congrats to David and the other honorees.

On a personal note, Thurman Munson was my favorite baseball player growing up (yes, I did watch the Yankees back then, mainly because the Mets were on TV only once every two weeks), and he was the reason I put on the catcher’s gear as a little leaguer. Some 30 years later, I’m still squatting behind the plate for semi-pro teams, and continue to think about “Thurm” as the model for what a catcher — and ballplayer — should be. For those who missed out on seeing him play, Munson was a throwback — the type of guy who gave everything he had on the field for nine full innings. He was a fiery, inspirational leader who hustled all over the place, often playing in pain, and always going all-out on every single play. He also handled the bat well, a rarity who could put the ball over the fence and also go the other way on a hit-and-run — but was best known for his performance “in the clutch”. His career postseason average was .357, including the 1976 World Series when he hit .529 in a losing cause. Behind the dish, he was equally talented, an outstanding handler of pitchers and premier field general. Though his arm wasn’t as strong as contemporary Johnny Bench’s, it was above average and enhanced by the quickest release of all-time. Legend has it that he was clocked with a “pop time” of 1.6 seconds — during a game. If you don’t know anything about “pop time”, that’s the time it takes for the ball to get from the catcher’s glove to second base when attempting to throw out a runner — and trust me, 1.6 is pretty damn fast (MLB average is 2.0-2.2, and the best times Pudge Rodriguez ever recorded were around 1.8). He was an absolute treat to watch; it is a shame he died young and wasn’t able to touch more people with his work on and off the field.

How beloved and respected was Thurman Munson? Consider this: he was the first captain of the New York Yankees since Lou Gehrig. After he died — and to this day — the space where his locker was in the Yankee clubhouse remains empty as a tribute (the original can be seen in Cooperstown at the HOF). His number 15 was retired by the Yankees, and there is a Munson plaque in Monument Park beyond the Yankee Stadium outfield fence.

Yes, Munson was a Yankee, but I think Mets fans — and all fans — can appreciate who he was. It’s nice to see his legacy continue, and I find it fitting that David Wright will be honored in Munson’s name. In fact, I think if Thurm were around to watch baseball today, Wright would be one of his favorites.

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Hall of Fame Mets

Quick: can you name the ten former Mets in Baseball’s Hall of Fame?

Don’t be upset if you can’t … the only HOF member who played the bulk of his career in orange and blue is Tom Seaver. The rest include Richie Ashburn, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Nolan Ryan, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn, and Casey Stengel. (It still baffles me, BTW, that Murray’s in while Jim Rice and Andre Dawson continue to wait — but that’s for another day.)

With the recent induction of Goose Gossage — who I feel is incredibly deserving (but why did it take so long???) — my wife asked, “who on the current Mets roster might someday be in the Hall of Fame?”

A good question, don’t you think? So following are my profiles of those who are closest to consideration — and I intentionally did not include Jose Reyes, David Wright, nor any other player with less than five years of service. Rather, I focused on the players who have compiled fairly lengthy and impressive careers and who are closest to retirement and HOF eligibility.

Pedro Martinez

There is no question that Pedro was either the best, or one of the best three, pitchers in all MLB from 1997 to 2003. He was the elite, the most dominant, and most feared starter in all of baseball — Randy Johnson included. Unfortunately, his fragility has kept him from being a “compliler” — someone who compiles positive stats over a long period of time (Bert Blyleven and Hoyt Wilhelm are examples of compilers). Still, I think if he retired today, he’d be almost guaranteed to be inducted. His career 209-93 record (a .692 winning percentage) is fantastic, and third-best all time — right behind Spud Chandler and ahead of Whitey Ford and Lefty Grove. In additon, by the time Pedro is eligible, the 200-win mark for pitchers in his era will be akin to the current 300-win standard. If his new shoulder can give him 3-5 more effective seasons, my bet is that he’s a first-ballot inductee.

Billy Wagner

Before you think I’m crazy, remember that Wags has been one of the most dominant closers in the NL since 1999. Because we have been watching him on a daily basis, his flaws and blown games are more magnified — in reality there are very few one-inning closers in history with his ability to shut the door on opposing teams. In fact, I believe he has the fewest blown saves of any active reliever with at least 300 saves (55 total blown, for an 87% success rate). He has a career 2.40 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 720 career games — that’s pretty damn good. He’ll likely have to add at least 50-75 more saves to his 358 career total to be brought into the conversation, and that’s not out of the question. Consider this: Trevor Hoffmann is more or less considered a shoo-in, and he has 524 saves with 63 blown, for an 89% success rate, with a 2.73 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.

Mariano Rivera, by the way, has 453 saves, 59 blown saves (88%), 2.35 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 787 games in his career — and pitching for the Yankees had many more save opportunities than any closer. Wagner is not that far away from Rivera’s effectiveness — and Rivera is considered almost hands-down to be the greatest modern closer of all-time.

Carlos Delgado

Delgado could turn out to be a Jim Rice — a guy who is a borderline Hall of Famer. Part of the problem was that he spent most of his career in the obscurity also known as Toronto, and, like Rice, did not have the opportunity to shine in a World Series (yet). The fact that he put up very impressive numbers in what will be known as the “steroid era” could be to his benefit — providing that he continues to be found to be squeaky clean. As of now, his career totals are comparable to some HOFers, but not quite big enough for the era. His 431 career homers, 1374 RBI, and .280 average are nothing to sneeze at, and put him on track toward Reggie Jackson and Willie McCovey territory. For sure, if he played in the 1970s and 1980s, Delgado would be a no-brainer. But in the time of gross expansion, watered-down pitching, and generous PED use, his numbers are only “good” and not “great”. Still, there was the period from 1998 to 2003 when he was considered one of the most feared hitters in all of MLB — which is why I like to compare him to Rice, who was similarly dominant. Two things depend on Delgado’s consideration for the Hall: first, his ability to put up decent numbers through his late 30s (and compile career stats), and second, the view of the voters, who may weigh his supposedly “clean” achievements against scoundrels such as Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds.

Moises Alou

No, Alou will not be inducted into the Hall of Fame — unless he pulls a Julio Franco and plays till he’s 50. However, it should be mentioned that if not for the myriad injuries that robbed him of so many games over his 16 big league seasons, he likely would be in the conversation. My guess is that he’d be approaching 3000 hits and 400 homers if not for the time lost — numbers that virtually guarantee a place in Cooperstown. Too bad, because when he’s healthy he’s proven to be one of the most dangerous hitters in the game — as well as one of the best all-around players.

Carlos Beltran

This one is too early to tell. He certainly has the tools to be a Hall of Famer, but he’ll need to put up a few more seasons like 2006 to garner attention. Going against him is the fact he’s already 30 years old, and likely past his physical prime. However, he has already accumulated over 1400 hits, 875 RBI, and 250 SBs — not to mention outstanding defense in centerfield. Going against him is his age, his lack of consistency year to year, zero World Series appearances, and no MVP awards. Unless he comes up with some mammoth years, he may fall into that “just short” category of Bobby Bonds, Gil Hodges, and Dale Murphy.

Sidenote: Mets Hall of Fame

The Mets’ Hall of Fame consists of only 21 members, with the last inductee being Tommie Agee way back in 2002. I’m not sure why no one has been honored since, as there are at least a few candidates that are worthy. Lee Mazzilli, for example, could be considered, as could Jon Matlack and John Franco. In fact, I’d be in favor of inducting Darryl Strawberry, in the hopes it might help wake up Dwight Gooden and perhaps motivate him to turn his life around. Of course, it’s probably silly to think that a gesture toward Straw would invoke anything from Doc, but who knows — Darryl’s been something of an inspiration since cleaning himself up.