An Ode to Cooperstown

It’s been awhile since I’ve taken time to write, primarily because it’s been tough to watch baseball lately. The Red Sox are a dumpster-fire with a depleted lineup and thin pitching staff and there are only so many ways you can say that this season is not living up to the expectations (understatement of the year). While the Red Sox were finding new and innovative ways to be embarrassed, it was the perfect time to visit the center of the baseball universe: Cooperstown, NY. It had been a number of years since I had the privilege of visiting the hallowed halls of the museum and surrounding area and this year seemed like the perfect opportunity to be in town for my first ever induction weekend. With all the hype and anticipation I was prepared to be disappointed, but was in fact blown away with the entire weekend of events and the passion with which the sleepy, quaint town in upstate New York embraces their baseball history and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors.

Lake Otsego – Photo by Brian Phair

For those who don’t know, Cooperstown is set on the southern shore of Lake Otsego and has a quintessential New England town main street lined with little shops and restaurants. At 25 Main Street, in the heart of downtown, sits the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum which is located around the corner from where most believe baseball was invented. The 3-story building is jam packed with artifacts and tchotchkes from every era of baseball and everywhere you look, you’ll find a new piece of information with a different artifact. For Red Sox fans, there are tons of artifacts represented, everything from Bill Mueller’s bat when he hit 2 grand slams in a game in 2003 to the cleats Curt Schilling wore in the bloody sock game in 2004 to a bat used by Christian Vazquez in the 2018 World Series (the first bat made by the Cooperstown Bat Company to be used on the highest stage) to the original contract Babe Ruth signed with Boston in 1917, just to name a few. Whether you are knowledgeable in baseball history or just a casual fan, there is something for everyone throughout the winding floors of the museum.

Curt Schilling’s cleats from the bloody sock game in 2004 – Photo by Brian Phair

The buzz around town during induction weekend was incredible. The streets were lined with fans wearing jerseys, t-shirts and hats representing almost every single MLB franchise. Former players and hall of famers were signing autographs up and down Main Street (for a price) at the various sports memorabilia shops. As we walked onto Main Street for the first time on Saturday morning, one of the first people we saw was Pete Rose. While obviously not a Hall of Famer thanks to some, let’s just say poor decisions, Rose was taking advantage of the massive crowds to give out autographs and take pictures with fans. Throughout the weekend, former players and Hall of Famers were out and about taking in the atmosphere. There were obviously a ton of Red Sox fans in town to see David Ortiz get inducted into the Hall of Fame and as one might expect, the Dominican community came out in force.

While the weekend as a whole was amazing, the parade of Hall of Famers on Saturday evening was by far the highlight. Watching around 50 Hall of Fame players get paraded down Main Street in the back of pickup trucks was a sight to see. Everyone from 84-year old Juan Marichal to 51-year old Jim Thome had the chance to wave to the tens of thousands of fans waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite players. Some of the players got off the trucks and signed autographs for fans, even on a hot an humid night. Cal Ripken Jr. was a signing superstar, going up and down the rows of fans signing while sweat was dripping off his head and face. Standing across the street from the Hall of Fame where the parade ended gave us the opportunity to chat and engage with Hall of Famers in an experience I will not soon forget. Being a few feet from Ken Griffey Jr, Trevor Hoffman, Pedro Martinez, Cal Ripken Jr, Jim Thome, and others was incredibly special and an experience you just can’t get anywhere else. Watching some of the greatest players of all time take moments to chat and engage with young fans reminded me how unique the sport of baseball is and how taking a step back to appreciate the beauty of the game is important.

Cal Ripken Jr. in the parade of Hall of Famers 2022 – Photo by Brian Phair

The induction ceremony on Sunday was an extraordinary experience filled with cheers for the inductees and boos for Commissioner Rob Manfred. Despite brutal heat and humidity and a threat of torrential thunderstorms, a crowd of 35,000 people were there to witness the induction of 7 new Hall of Famers: Bud Fowler, Minnie Minoso, Buck O’Neil, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, and David Ortiz. While the main reason I travelled to Cooperstown was see Big Papi’s induction, I learned more about the other 6 inductees throughout the weekend and I felt a sense of pride to be there supporting their induction as well. It was a deserving class of men who all had significant impacts of the game of baseball in every era of the game (1800s-today) and for most of them, this honor was a long time coming. A great example of the long wait was Gil Hodges, who had a really strong MLB career and played in 7 championships, winning 2, but is most known for being the manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets championship team. Until recently, managerial accomplishments didn’t factor into a person’s induction into the Hall of Fame and that was a barrier to his entry despite the achievement being worthy of recognition. Now, Hodges has taken his rightful place in Cooperstown.

Another great example is Jim Kaat. A pitcher who appeared in 25 different MLB seasons, Kaat always felt he was a good player, but not to the level of Hall of Fame. His steady and extremely long career ended in 1983, but he was never given proper recognition because there was always an emphasis on the numbers, not the longevity (although his numbers should be enough for him to be inducted). The 3-time all-star won 16 consecutive gold gloves as a pitcher and started 625 games (17th most all time). His 25 seasons in the game were the most ever by a pitcher when he retired, now 3rd behind Nolan Ryan (27) and Tommy John (26). After his playing career was over, Kaat coached and stayed connected to the game, becoming a broadcaster in the late 1990s and still continuing that work today. Kaat was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame through the Golden Era Committee, which looks at players who were not elected in their 15 years of eligibility and has a 16-person voting panel. Many around the game believe this honor is long overdue for someone so influential on the game of baseball. *Some might know Kaat for his recent hot-water when he called Nestor Cortes Jr “Nestor the Molester” on a broadcast in June 2022. He apologized and it was settled, but he received some unwanted headlines leading up to his induction.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with the way the Hall of Fame handled the induction weekend (with the exception of needing more porta-potties at the ceremony). With the threat of weather in the forecast, they sped up the ceremony (despite it still being very long) and handled the crowds well. Regardless of whether you want to join in with the large crowds and pomp-and-circumstance of an induction weekend or just visit the sleepy town on another summer or fall weekend to see the Hall of Fame when it’s much quieter, you’ll be happy you made the trek. Despite the long ride from the Boston area, I’ll be planning my next trip to Cooperstown very soon.

David Ortiz during his Hall of Fame induction speech – Photo by Brian Phair

Love for the Universal DH

When the MLB officially announced the universal DH would go into effect this season (if there is one), it was confirmation of the inevitable. It’s a win/win for owners and players in a time when it seems like they can’t agree on much. Since the announcement however, there has been significant pushback from certain segments of fans about the decision. One person even took up residence on the streets outside Dodgers Stadium with a sign reading “Death to the DH” to protest the change. While that’s clearly one person looking for attention, I’ve seen more and more fans disagreeing with the decision and I just can’t understand any legitimate reason why a universal DH isn’t good for the sport of baseball.

Regardless of whether you are a fan of low-scoring games or HR-filled contests, the universal DH is a much better product than having pitchers hit. For most pitchers, they are faced with the situation of needing to sacrifice over a runner or swing away (or not swing) and hope they don’t get hurt. In 2021, there were 4,829 plate appearances featuring a player who was pitching that day across both leagues and those plate appearances resulted in just 462 hits and a .110 average. The vast majority of those at-bats were non-competitive, which is terrible baseball to watch. The outcome of the at-bat was pre-determined based on who is or is not on base. If you compare the pitchers at-bats to the DH spot, players in the DH spot in the lineup produced a .239 average in 2021. The numbers show a significant increase in legitimate and competitive at-bats when there is a DH in the lineup. Additionally, you add a power-element for those who like lots of runs with a DH vs a pitcher. Pitchers produced a HR every 284 plate appearances in 2021, while players in the DH spot produced a HR every 24 at-bats last season.

There is certainly a lore around pitchers hitting and it seems like we see videos of a pitcher getting a big hit or RBI regularly, but that’s a rare occurrence. I’ve read a bunch of people making the argument that we won’t ever get to see a player like Bartolo Colon hit again with the universal DH and while that’s 100% true, it’s also extremely misguided. Everyone remembers Colon’s big HR in 2016 at the age of 42 and the excitement around that hit lingered for years. Well, in Colon’s career 326 plate appearances during his 21 seasons in the league, he hit .084 with 1 HR and 11 RBIs. Is that 1 hit worth hundreds of non-competitive, terrible at-bats that were unwatchable? The overall product would have been, and will be going forward, more enjoyable to watch. With the universal DH, pitchers in the National League won’t have an automatic out in every single lineup (never fear, there will still be plenty of easy hitters in many lineups) and we will finally be able to accurately compare pitchers in both leagues without needing the caveat that one was in the AL vs the NL.

As it relates to the players, the universal DH is a great thing for the sport. The DH allows an additional position player to get in the lineup every single night and it affords older players who have lost a step defensively a place on a roster and playing time. It creates more opportunities for players like Red Sox DH/LF J.D. Martinez, who would have been confined to the AL when is contract is up, but now can explore options in both leagues. The expansion in the NL now allows a team the option to take a player who is a defensive liability and remove them from the field while keeping their bat in the lineup. It opens up opportunities in both leagues for future stars like 1st ballot Hall of Famer David Ortiz, who was tremendously talented in the batters box, but was just average or below defensively. 

My least favorite argument against the universal DH is that it’s not “real baseball” or “not the baseball I grew up with.” First off, if you are saying either if those lines you’re probably right in the baseball average demographic, 50+ years old. Second, every single sport grows and evolves over time to attract a broader audience and fit the current environment. Just as basketball added a 3pt line and hockey reduced the size of goalie pads, baseball needs to adapt. I would argue that baseball is significantly further behind than other sports in terms of bringing in younger viewers, which in the long term is detrimental to the league. Adding a more competitive batter in the lineup every night is at least a push in the right direction (albeit a very small one).

With the MLB struggling with viewership and in the middle of a public, ugly CBA negotiation, the addition of a universal DH is at least one positive step forward. Finally we can put to bed the days of fundamentally different strategies depending on your league. I, for one, am extremely excited about this change and anyone who wants to see baseball not only survive, but thrive, should be as well. Now, let’s hope for a 2022 baseball season.

First Ballot Hall of Famer, David “Big Papi” Ortiz

There were some anxious moments leading up to the phone call that David “Big Papi” Ortiz had been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The video posted by the Red Sox shows Pedro Martinez behind the nervous, straight-faced Ortiz as he received the call from Baseball Writers Association of America Secretary/Treasurer Jack O’Connell. “The baseball writers have elected you to the Hall of Fame…” The eruption of emotion from Ortiz was something Red Sox fans have grown to love and expect. In that one moment, you could feel the relief and joy jump at you through the screen. Just the 59th player to be elected into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, David Ortiz will be forever enshrined in Cooperstown on July 24th.

Most of what I’ve read and seen about David’s potential election to the Hall of Fame the past few weeks has been about two topics: his position as DH and his potential link to steroids. If you’re here for that content, you’ll be disappointed. I’m not going to get into a pissing contest with all the trolls and headline-grabbers who just like the sound of their own voice (the irony that I’m writing my opinion on my own blog is not lost on me). I’m also not going to argue the absurdity of who votes and how they vote for the Hall of Fame, because that’s a MUCH longer conversation I’ll save for another day. If you want that content, there are dozens upon dozens of better places for you to find it. I’m going to focus on what I know best: my favorite David Ortiz moments.

In no particular order, my favorite Big Papi moments:

2004 Back-to-Back Walk-offs – ALCS Game 4, 5

2013 ALCS Grand Slam – Bullpen Cop

Boston Strong – “This is our fucking city!”

Papi Holding a Random Baby During the National Anthem

Angry Papi

#500

Final Fenway Farewell

David Ortiz Has a Sticky Crotch

Back before David Ortiz was one of the greatest hitters in Red Sox history, he was a clubhouse prankster in Minnesota. Towards the end of his tenure with the Twins, Ortiz was part of some pretty fantastic pranks involving Corey Koskie, including an epic peanut butter incident. Let’s hear the story from their teammate Torii Hunter, as published in the Player’s Tribune.

“David was really messing with all of us a lot early in that 2002 season, always talking and joking and pranking. But Koskie thought it was time for payback. So in the middle of a game, he went back into the clubhouse to David’s locker and lined his underwear with peanut butter. After the game, we were all sitting in the clubhouse, and David came out of the showers, went to his locker and started getting dressed. He was talking to us — he was always talking — as he was getting dressed, so when he slid his tightie-whities on, he didn’t even realize that there was a lot of peanut butter in there. We were all just sitting there, waiting for it to hit him …

Then he put his pants on. Nothing.

Then his shirt. Then his shoes. Then his coat. Still nothing.

He started walking away, and we were like, OK, does he have peanut butter in there? Or is he just used to having stuff between his legs?

Right when he gets to the door, about 10 yards away from us, he freezes, turns and looks back …
“Yoooooou motherfuckers!” … In that signature Papi voice.

He went off. He was screaming, cursing at us, and we were literally rolling on the clubhouse floor while he got undressed and got back in the shower to clean the peanut butter out of his butt. We were like, “What took you so long to notice?! Are you used to that?!””

In honor of his retirement, the Twins gifted Ortiz with a jar of peanut butter before Friday’s series opener to commemorate that incident. Maybe the oddest inside-joke retirement gift of all time.

Is David Ortiz a Hall of Famer?

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David Ortiz is arguably the best DH of all time and one of the greatest Red Sox players of all time. At age 40 he has decided to retire at the end of the 2016 season, but is certainly not looking like an aging star. Through 46 games, he is hitting .335 with 14 HRs, 47 RBIs, 23 doubles and a triple. He is on track for an incredible final season, one for the ages. Looking at his accomplishments thus far in 2016 and projecting out to the end of the season, I wanted to see statistically where Ortiz ranks among the great players of all time. For those who are curious, I projected Ortiz to play in 140 games, about his career average for games per season and a realistic number given that the Red Sox will be resting him routinely to maintain his health the entire year. Given that, here is where I think Ortiz will rank in various categories when he retires (assuming he still retires) at the end of the 2016 season.

All-Time Rankings – Projected
Hits
104th – 2,483

Home Runs
17th – 546

RBIs
21st – 1,784

Doubles
8th – 654

Runs Scored
89th – 1,419

Total Bases 30th – 4,815 The numbers Ortiz has put up in his career are incredibly impressive. When you factor in his impact on the DH position in baseball and his great postseason success (.295 with 17 HRs and 60 RBIs), it would make sense that he would join the other 217 MLB players in the Hall of Fame. The only thing potentially holding him back is his failed drug test in 2003 that led to steroid suspicions that continue to this day. Over the past several years and for many more to come, voters will have to struggle with the fact that many of the great players during this era of baseball used steroids, are directly connected to steroids, or are indirectly linked to steroids. Do you keep anyone who is even remotely linked to steroids out of the Hall? That would leave many of this generation’s greatest stars and talents out of the institution solely designed to honor the game’s greatest stars. Although I can’t predict the future, I have a strong feeling the Hall of Fame voters will have adjusted their thinking by the time Ortiz is eligible in 2021 and we will see that classic Big Papi smile in bronze for eternity.