Beware “graded value” baseball cards on Ebay

There are a few hucksters on Ebay, whom I don’t care to give free advertising by mentioning by name, who hawk “graded” cards on Ebay and claim them to be especially valuable. One even puts supposed appraised values in his listings in parenthesis, then invites you to visit his page for an explanation of “graded” value, where he cites an example of a run-of-the-mill 1970s star card, normally worth $60, being worth $2,500¬†once graded.

The thing is, that’s an edge case. It’s important to understand those edge cases to avoid a ripoff.

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I’m glad Ryne Sandberg is getting a chance

I grew up admiring Ryne Sandberg. He was a hard-hitting, smooth-fielding second baseman, and while his hitting statistics look a little wimpy compared to the steroids era, in the 1980s the sight of him in the on-deck circle struck fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers. He went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and I’m glad to have had the chance to watch him play. I watched him a lot, because all the Cubs games were on WGN, which was available nationally.

Now Sandberg is the new manager of the Phillies. As a Kansas City Royals fan–bear with me–I have a special perspective on this.

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Traditional baseball uniform numbers

We were watching How Do You Know? on DVD this weekend, and I had to point out something that wasn’t realistic. The main characters were pitchers for the Washington Nationals, and a pitcher warming up was wearing number 8. Pitchers don’t wear number 8, I said.

Why?

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And now, a few words about the first-place Kansas City Royals

I don’t think I’ve been able to write those words since 2003, so I’d better use them when I can.

This team has been making me eat my words almost non-stop since 1986. Aside from briefly recapturing the magic in the summer of ’03, the only highlights I can think of revolve around the twilight of George Brett’s career. Kids born the year Brett retired are eligible to get their learner’s permits this year.No, I don’t expect the Royals to win it all this year. But this year is encouraging on a lot of levels.

One, they’re stealing bases successfully. They’ve run into a lot of outs in recent years, and the way you win when you don’t have a lineup full of big boppers like New York or Detroit is to run a lot, whether it’s taking the extra base on hits, or outright stealing the base. And when you draw a lot of throws, you encourage errors. Today’s game was an example: They stole five bases off weak-armed Jorge Posada, all but forcing the Yankees to replace him with Jose Molina. Molina takes the running game away, but can the Yankees afford to go without Posada’s bat? The Yankees didn’t have to worry about that last year.

Two, the pitching is holding up. Last year, pitching was the Royals’ bright spot. The bullpen was lights-out and Gil Meche and Brian Bannister emerged as quality starting pitchers. Bullpen standouts Zack Greinke and David Riske are gone (Greinke to the rotation; Riske to the Brewers), but so far the bullpen has been spectacular, and the starting pitching excellent. Perhaps even more importantly, the pitching’s good enough that they don’t have to rush their young arms and they can let them develop as needed. The Royals have a history of destroying young pitchers, and maybe that can change starting this year.

Three, every game has been close. The Royals of Buddy Bell and Tony Pena and Tony Loser, er, Muser didn’t win close games, and they didn’t have a lot of close games either. They’re hanging in there every game, holding tight leads, battling back at times, and generally playing sound baseball. At times in recent years I haven’t been able to watch, because it didn’t look like the teams had any heart. This year I haven’t been able to watch any games yet, but they make me want to.

Four, this team’s best is yet to come. Nobody knows yet exactly what kind of player Mark Teahen will be, but he has the potential to be anything from a leadoff hitter to a Ryne Sandberg to a George Brett. The Royals would prefer one of the latter two because they need some power, but even if he turns into a leadoff hitter, that’s OK. Alex Gordon is an exciting young player who can play spectacular third base defense, steal bases, and hit 420-foot home runs. He’s going to be the best all-around player the Royals have developed since Carlos Beltran. Billy Butler doesn’t know what to do with a glove in his hand and he runs like a catcher, but he can hit for average and power. The Royals really need a couple more bats to be competitive, but they have some in the minors (Mike Moustakas is going to be the best of them). The Royals haven’t had a trio like these three since Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye and Mike Sweeney. This trio is younger, will have better bats in front and behind them, and most importantly, now the Royals are in position to be able to afford to keep them.

Five, new manager Trey Hillman doesn’t look like a moron. He says the right things. So far his team is doing all of the things he stresses except take a lot of walks (and it’s still early). I tried to be optimistic about Buddy Bell because a team of nine players like Buddy Bell was stands to be a good team, and much better than a team of nine Tony Penas, while either of those is far better than a team of nine Tony Musers–I think a team of nine of me beats nine Tony Musers. But none of these managers had any clue about tactics. I don’t think the Royals have had a good tactical manager since Dick Howser, and he died in 1986. But so far, Hillman seems to have good tactics.

Six, so far the Royals have a winning record against teams everyone expected to be better than them. Minnesota is still a good young team with a lot of talent, Detroit was expected to run away with the division, and the Yankees are the Yankees–their four regular infielders make more than the Royals’ entire payroll.

I’m happy. I’ll be happier if this group gels like the Royals of the late ’70s did. In reality, 1985 was just the swan song of those great ’70s teams that never quite went all the way, and they’ve never had a core like that since. Injuries kept Bo Jackson and Danny Tartabull and Kevin Seitzer from reaching their potential, and the Royals couldn’t afford to keep Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye, and Mike Sweeney together. Imagine if they could have.

But it looks like it’s possible that David DeJesus, Mark Teahen, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and later Mike Moustakas will let us forget about all that. And that will be fun to watch develop.

So I’m willing to be patient. And I’ll enjoy the winning while it lasts.

My baseball heroes

Joe Posnanski just did an entry on his childhood baseball idols, and lots of people chimed in about their unlikely heroes. So I got to thinking about mine. When it comes to likely heroes, of course George Brett and Ryne Sandberg were on my list, but that makes me no different from about 10 million other people. Bo Jackson is more of an underdog because his career was so short, but he’s a pretty obvious choice too. There’s an old joke in Kansas City that nobody can name a current Royals player except for George Brett. I mean Bo Jackson. I mean Bret Saberhagen.

If you followed the Royals through the 1990s, it’s funny. I’m sure the overwhelming majority of people who come across this page will have to take my word for it.

Anyway, here’s my list.3. Calvin Schiraldi.

I have no connection to Boston except for a little bit of personal baggage that isn’t Boston’s fault, but in October 1986 I was a Red Sox fan. Why? They were playing the New York Mets in the World Series, and if the Mets were playing the Cuban Nationals, I’d probably root for the Cubans. The only time I root for the Mets is when they play the Yankees.

In 1986, Boston’s closer was a young fireballer named Calvin Schiraldi. Schiraldi pitched well early in the series, but not so well later on. In the fateful Game 6, an exhausted Schiraldi was the pitcher who gave up a single to Ray Knight, setting up the infamous Mookie Wilson ground ball between Bill Buckner’s legs that forced Game 7 and cost Boston the World Series. Schiraldi didn’t throw that pitch; he watched helplessly from the dugout while Bob Stanley tried to pitch out of the jam.

I still remember the images of Schiraldi sitting in the dugout afterward, his face buried in a towel.

Schiraldi took the ball again in Game 7 and took the loss in that game too.

For me, Schiraldi came to symbolize the guy who takes the ball when his team needs him, whether he has his best stuff or not, and no matter how tired he is.

I had the chance to meet him a couple of years later, but I had no idea what to say to him. I wish we’d talked baseball a little, but I don’t know what I would say if I had the opportunity again tomorrow either.

2. Ron Hassey.

I think I told this story before. Ron Hassey was a left-handed hitting catcher who worked well with pitchers and had some pop in his bat. In 1984, the Indians packaged Hassey up along with relief pitcher George Frazier and starting pitcher Rick Sutcliffe for outfielders Mel Hall and Joe Carter. Yes, Joe Carter as in the hero of the 1993 World Series.

Rick and I are related, but it’s not like he looks me up when he’s in St. Louis or anything. I’ve met him twice. Once the day after his 200th major-league win, and once at his grandmother’s funeral. (His grandmother was my great aunt.) But I digress.

The Cubs didn’t really know what to do with Ron Hassey. Jody Davis was the Cubs’ catcher, and he made the All-Star team every year as Gary Carter’s backup and he was a fan favorite. One night that summer, Hassey got a rare start at first base, which wasn’t his usual position. I don’t exactly remember how it happened, but Hassey hurt himself on a play at first base. It was either his leg or his knee. Writhing in pain, he hit the ground, but he had the ball. He had the presence of mind to literally roll over to first base and tag the bag to get the out.

I’m not sure that the team doctor approved, but I always thought that was the way baseball was supposed to be played. Play hurt and play hard.

So, for all those times I played softball trying to disguise a sore hamstring so the opposing team wouldn’t get the wrong idea… I guess you could day I got the idea from Ron Hassey.

At the end of the year, the Cubs packaged him up in a deal with the Yankees for a couple of forgotten names, Brian Dayett and Ray Fontenot. Trades involving Hassey then became something of an annual offseason tradition for the Yankees for a few years, kind of like firing Billy Martin. Eventually the Oakland Athletics got their hands on him, and he became Dennis Eckersley’s personal catcher.

1. Lyman Bostock.

There’s a lot I can say about Lyman Bostock, but I’ll start with this: Lyman Bostock is the greatest baseball player of all time that you’ve never heard of. He only played two complete seasons, but he was a contender for the batting title both years. He was kind of like Tony Gwynn, only with better speed and range.

But his final season is the reason he’s on my list. He signed with a new team and stunk up the place his first month, so he went to the owner and tried to return his salary. He refused, so Bostock announced he’d give the money to charity instead. He received thousands of requests, and personally went through all of them to see who really needed the money the most.

These days, when a free agent signs a fat contract and promptly tanks, he laughs all the way to the bank.

There’s a good reason why Bostock isn’t in the Hall of Fame, and it’s the same reason you’ve never heard of him. Toward the end of the 1978 season, he was visiting his uncle in Gary, Indiana. Bostock’s uncle pulled up to a stoplight with his goddaughter in the front seat of his car and Bostock in the back. The goddaughter’s estranged husband walked up to the car and fired a shotgun blast into the car. The shot hit Bostock in the head and he died two hours later.

I never actually saw Bostock play, seeing as he died when I was 3, but he posthumously became one of my heroes. He wasn’t just the kind of guy a father can point to and tell his son, "Play baseball like him." He was the kind of guy a father should point to and tell his son, "Live your life like him."

Taking one for the team

The press is divided: Alfonso Soriano is Terrell Owens. Alfonso Soriano isn’t Terrell Owens. No matter. There is one thing that matters.

Alfonso Soriano is an employee of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club and is under contract until the end of next year. Alfonso Soriano wants to play second base. His employer wants him to play left field.

If you aren’t a professional athlete, the case is clear: You do what your employer tells you. Period. Why is it different if you make $10 million a year?The argument against the move goes like this: Once a player reaches a certain level of accomplishment, there’s an unwritten rule that you don’t ask him to change positions. The argument is that Soriano has reached that level of accomplishment.

It’s true that Soriano is a very accomplished hitter. In five full seasons, he’s hit 30 homers and stolen 30 bases three times. Only Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonds have done it more times. It’s rare for someone to do it once. In his second full season in the majors, he fell one home run short of 40/40, which is something only men have done: Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez. Looking at that list, it’s hard to do without steroids. For that matter, it’s hard to do with steroids.

But those are Soriano’s offensive accomplishments. On the field, he’s anything but an accomplished gloveman. His career fielding percentage at second base is .971. Soriano is no Ryne Sandberg. Since the Nationals have a capable gloveman at second base in Jose Vidro, they want to hide Soriano’s glove in left field to get his bat into the lineup.

Soriano’s objection is that next year is his free agent year, and there’s a better market for second basemen with 30-homer power than there is for left fielders with 30-homer power.

So let’s get this straight: He wants the Nationals to play him at second base this year so another team will potentially pay him more money next year.

I’m not surprised the Nationals aren’t sympathetic.

Besides, there’s a predecent for moving back to second base if another team wants him there. Craig Biggio moved from catcher to second base when the Astros needed a second baseman. A decade later, he moved to center field so the Astros could sign Jeff Kent, a power hitter who can’t play any other position well. A few months later, Biggio moved from center field to left so his team could trade for Carlos Beltran, arguably the best center fielder in the game. The next season, Biggio moved back to second base.

Nomar Garciaparra signed with the Dodgers as a first baseman despite never having played the position in his life. But the Dodgers already had two shortstops so Garciaparra signed as a first baseman. He wanted to be in LA, and the Dodgers wanted his bat. Problem solved. In theory at least.

So if any team is interested in Soriano’s oven mitt-like glovework at second base–and there are a few teams who have the money to pay him, and no better options at the position–nothing stops them from asking Soriano to move back there. And there’s little question that there’ll be teams interested in Soriano as a designated hitter too.

There would have been, anyway. Certainly there’s still a market for Soriano, since anybody can use someone who can hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases. But you want someone who’s interested in winning ballgames, not just in collecting a paycheck.

Some years ago, the New York Yankees were looking for a left fielder with a lot of power. They set their sights on Jim Edmonds, who was the center fielder for the Anaheim Angels at the time. There was some question whether Edmonds would be willing to play left field, since most people considered him a better center fielder than the Yankees’ Bernie Williams.

Edmonds said he’d rather play center. But he said what was most important to him was winning a World Series. "I’ll play third base for them if that’s what it takes to win a Series," he said.

Well, the Yankees and Angels couldn’t work out a deal, and Edmonds ended up playing center field in St. Louis instead. But that’s the attitude you want to see.

Some people argue that the Nationals should have discussed all this with Soriano before they traded for him. The Texas Rangers wouldn’t allow the Nationals to talk to him. For good reason–the Rangers wanted to move him to the outfield, and he wouldn’t move. The Yankees had wanted to move him to the outfield too, and his refusal to move was part of the reason the Yankees traded him to Texas. The only worse-kept secret in baseball was Barry Bonds and his steroids.

So the Nationals made a bad trade. Shame on them.

But shame on Soriano even more.

I want to believe Palmeiro

It’s all over the news. Rafael Palmeiro, the Baltimore Orioles star who just joined the elite 500 home run/3,000 hit club, tested positive for steroid use and has been suspended.

Palmeiro, of course, was outspoken on the issue when he testified before Congress earlier this year while Mark McGwire was being evasive.I remember when Palmeiro first came up with the Chicago Cubs. I was a Cubs fan back then, and since all Cubs games were televised, it was easy to follow them. I could watch their daytime games after I got home from school.

The Cubs brought him up prematurely, in 1986, because their team was ravaged by injuries. In those days he was an outfielder. He played left field, filling in for injured veterans, batted .247, and left Cubs fans wondering what the future might hold.

He came back in 1987. He only played about half the season. I can’t remember now if that was because the Cubs called him up at midseason, or if he was injured, or something else. But Palmeiro played 84 games that year, hitting 14 home runs in 221 at bats, and some of us thought we had a future power hitter on our hands.

He only hit 8 home runs in 1988, his first full season in the majors. People point back now to that as evidence that he was obviously juicing. Having seen him swat 14 in limited duty the year before, I always figured pitchers had adjusted to him. He hit .307, but he didn’t have much power. We figured the power would come.

Following the season, the Cubs made one of the worst trades of the 1980s, packaging Palmeiro and left-handed pitcher Jamie Moyer (still hurling for the Mariners today) in a deal with the Texas Rangers for notorious flameout closer Mitch Williams, Paul Hilgus (a pitcher whose career never got off the ground), and Curt Wilkerson (a career utility infielder).

The Rangers noted Palmeiro’s lackluster defense in the outfield and moved him to first base–the Cubs had experimented with him there, but really wanted to keep the position open for Mark Grace, who was just a year or so behind Palmeiro–and Palmeiro turned into a productive, sweet-swinging hitter for the Rangers. He hit 14 homers that year. The next year he hit 26, then 22. About the time Jose Canseco says Palmeiro started using steroids, he became good for 35-40 homers a year.

I always figured he had matured as a hitter. That’s what I always wanted to believe, and it’s still what I want to believe.

To me, Palmeiro became the one who got away. Even after I wasn’t a Cubs fan anymore, and even during that phase when I liked the Cubs less than the Mets, I guess Palmeiro’s success just proved to me that I was smarter than the Cubs’ front office. (So was my dog, but that’s beside the point.) I kept rooting for the guy.

I guess it helped that he was likeable. Besides being a steady ballplayer who was willing to do whatever he needed to do–eventually he honed his lackluster defense into something of Gold Glove caliber–he got involved in the community, and he was always willing to sign an autograph.

So when Jose Canseco first claimed Rafael Palmeiro injected steroids, I didn’t believe him. Drugs didn’t make him improve his defense, so in my mind, his home run surge must have been due to more work in the weight room and/or the batting cage. Besides, when you extrapolate 1987 over a full season, you get more than 35 home runs.

Canseco might as well have been claiming to have introduced steroids to Fred Rogers, as far as I was concerned.

But now, the test… Can a drug test lie?

So I don’t know what to think of Palmeiro now.

A lot are saying he won’t go to the Hall of Fame now. There’s no room in the Hall for cheaters, they say. Well, that’s not true. Gaylord Perry got to the Hall of Fame by throwing greaseballs. Don Sutton’s nickname was Black and Decker. Both are in the Hall of Fame. Neither would be if they’d followed the rules. And yes, Perry once got caught.

So we can forget about Palmeiro making it on the first ballot. That’s probably for the best. It took Ryne Sandberg three ballots to get in. Maybe Palmeiro will need five or six. I don’t think this will ultimately keep him out of there.

I’m not sure if that’s right or if it’s wrong.

I guess the steroids thing explains one thing about Palmeiro. At around age 36 or 37, Palmeiro started doing commercials for Viagra. I wondered why someone his age would have any need for the stuff. Well, maybe now we know.

Kids, keep that in mind before you shoot up.

When will we learn to ignore Pete Rose?

I’d really rather not acknowledge that Pete Rose is in the news again. I love baseball, and Pete Rose did a lot to hurt it, and talking about him doesn’t do much to help it.
I’d much rather talk about how the Royals just signed Juan Gonzalez and he’s a huge upgrade over anything the Royals have ever had in the lineup to protect Mike Sweeney. With Beltran, Sween and Gonzo in the lineup, this looks like it’s going to be a good year.

For that matter, I’d rather talk about Tug McGraw, one of the great characters of the game and probably the first of the great colorful relief pitchers, who died this week of brain cancer, much too young at 59.

But Rose’s half-hearted confession will appear tomorrow, so nobody’s going to be talking about any of that. It doesn’t change anything. Some people would argue that Rose’s never betting against the Cincinnati Reds somehow excuses his gambling, and his betting on his own team, while the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. It does not.

Contrary to what one might think, a good manager does not set out to win every game. You can’t. You have to pick your battles. You might rest your star players when you’re playing a team like the Detroit Tigers because chances are you could beat that team with your 92-year-old grandparents in the lineup. Or you might play your star players against Detroit, in order to ensure victory, and rest your stars when playing a strong team you’re not likely to beat, such as the New York Yankees or Seattle Mariners.

The reason is pretty simple. The season is 162 games long, and not everybody is Cal Ripken Jr. Play everybody every day, and your team will break down. Witness the Oakland Athletics of the early 1980s. Fiery manager Billy Martin came in, and in 1981, it looked like he’d succeeded in turning that young team into another dynasty. He had young, energetic players, and he played them hard. In fact, he played them too hard. Within a year, all of his talented young pitchers had sore arms and while most of them stayed in the majors for a few more years, none of them ever lived up to their initial promise. For that matter, outside of Rickey Henderson, none of the 1981 Athletics’ everyday players had particularly and distinguished careers either.

It’s in the best interests of a Pete Rose who’s not betting on baseball to manage his team wisely by resting his star players when they look tired, pulling his starting pitcher after he’s thrown about 110 pitches, and using opportune times to give his inexperienced young players some playing time. Betting on your own team changes the equation. Suddenly meaningless games become must-win games. You leave your 20-game winner in the game longer because winning that bet becomes more important to you than the risk of hurting his arm. You take other unnecessary risks.

Rose tries to justify his actions by saying he never bet from inside the clubhouse. Well whoop-dee-do. I’m sure he never beat his wife or cheated on her in church either. That doesn’t make those action OK either. When asked why Rose bet on baseball, he said it was because he thought he wouldn’t get caught. There’s a long list of illegal things that I could do and not get caught, but that doesn’t make any of them right either.

It’s like a little kid, caught in the act of bullying, forced to tell the other kid he’s sorry. So he lets off the words, insincerely, and does the minimum, and spends the rest of his time trying to justify his wrongdoing.

Now Rose says he’s confessed and he wants reinstatement, and induction into the Hall of Fame.

Some people argue that Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame because he hit the ball between the opposing fielders 4,256 times. Fine. Let’s look at what constitutes a Hall of Famer.

Hall of Fame rules state that induction is dependent upon “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

One at a time: Record. Rose has more hits than anybody else, partially by virtue of having more at-bats. But his statistics, while not as great as his fans remember, are better than some people who are in the Hall of Fame.

Ability. His playing ability is probably adequate. But Rose was a one-dimensional player. He wasn’t a particularly good fielder, he hit for very little power, and he was at best an average baserunner. Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, and Ryne Sandberg, three players on this year’s ballot who are unlikely to make it in, all had far more ability than Rose. Pete Rose was Wade Boggs with a character disorder.

Integrity. Besides betting on baseball, Rose served prison time for cheating on his taxes. He beat his wife and cheated on her. Pete Rose isn’t the kind of guy you want hanging around your daughter, if you catch my drift, nor is he the kind of guy you want your son to model his life after. Pete Rose ain’t no Roberto Clemente.

There are lots of unsavory characters in the Hall of Fame, yes. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and even Joe DiMaggio all have skeletons in their closets. But last I checked, none of them ever stooped as low as Rose, and they also had Rose beat in the other categories.

Sportsmanship. In the 12th inning of the 1970 All Star Game, Pete Rose plowed over American League catcher Ray Fosse, dislocating his shoulder and destroying his career. It was a game that didn’t even count. Fosse, who had drawn comparisons to Johnny Bench, was never the same.

Character. See integrity.

Contributions. To Rose’s credit, he moved around a bit on the field to make room for other players. The Reds had a young power-hiting outfielder named George Foster sitting on the bench. Rose was playing the outfield. The Reds’ weakest position was third base. At the request of his manager, Rose learned how to play third base, which opened the door for Foster to get into the lineup, giving additional protection for Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. In 1980, Rose signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, who had a Hall of Famer named Mike Schmidt playing third, so Rose moved across the diamond to first. Philadelphia was a better team with Rose than without.

Late in his career, this changed. An aging Rose became a part-time player in Montreal. When Cincinnati traded for him and made him player-manager, Rose made himself a regular again, at the expense of playing time for younger players like Nick Esasky and Eddie Milner, and Hall of Famer Tony Perez. Esasky, who usually would have played first base, instead played left field, where he wasn’t as good defensively. Milner was a better defensive player, had good speed, and was at least as good at getting on base at that point as Rose. The Reds had a better lineup with Esasky at first base and Milner in left field, possibly in a platoon situation. People were more likely to buy a ticket to see Rose play than Eddie Milner, but the Reds were a better team with Rose on the bench.

Milner was never much more than a fourth outfielder. Esasky fared better, putting together a couple of really good years after the Reds traded him to Boston, before an injury ended his career.

Playing ability tends to get judged higher than all the rest, so I’ll grudgingly admit that if Rose were eligible, he’d probably get elected.

So what’s one to do?

Here’s my Solomon-like solution. Rose has been banned for life. What’s banned for life mean? He’s banned until he dies. So reinstate him after he dies. Then the Veteran’s Committee can evaluate him on his merits.

But there’s no precedent for reinstating a player banned for life.

Fine. Make one.

Shoeless Joe Jackson by his own admission took money to throw the 1919 World Series. He was one of the eight Black Sox who so accused. There’s also some indication that Jackson, unlike some of his teammates, played to win anyway, because he put up good numbers in the series, although his detractors point out that in the games the White Sox lost, Jackson never drove in any runs. Of course, it’s harder to drive in runs when there aren’t people on base.

Jackson may not have known what it was he was agreeing to do. Jackson was uneducated, and, by some accounts, not terribly bright. Even dumber than Pete Rose.

After the series, Shoeless Joe, like six other players who took money from gamblers and like one player who knew what was going on but didn’t participate, was banned from baseball for life. Thus the owner of the third-highest lifetime batting average in history, and the youngest player ever to hit .400, was denied his otherwise certain entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Joe Jackson has been dead for 52 years. Baseball still has never seen fit to put him into the Hall of Fame. Baseball has never seen fit to clear the name of Buck Weaver, the teammate who found out about the conspiracy but didn’t report it.

So reinstate Jackson and Weaver. For that matter, reinstate the other six guys as well. Let the Veterans Committee evaluate them for Hall of Fame entry. Then, when Rose dies, they can do the same for him.

Meanwhile, the best thing to do is just ignore the jerk.

Pete Rose, that is.

Leave Mike Piazza Alone

Rumor has it baseball’s most eligible bachelor is gay.
Mike Piazza says he’s not.

That should be the end of it.

Now, if some player came out and said he was gay, he wouldn’t be the first gay baseball player. He probably wouldn’t be the most prominent either. I’ve been told from a reliable source that a baseball superstar who retired in the 1980s and is now in the Hall of Fame is gay. The same source cited another player, not of the same caliber but who played during the same time period, as gay. He’s dropped hints in interviews, but never come out and said he is.

Don’t bother asking me who these players are. I have no reason to out them. I also don’t have three sources, which is the semi-unwritten rule that separates gossip from fact.

We’ve come a long, long way since 1984, when a magazine published an article titled “Reggie Jackson speaks out about his sex life,” and Mike Royko pointed out the absurdity. He’d never thought about Reggie Jackson’s sex life, so he went around asking other people if they’d ever thought of it. One guy asked if he wore his uniform and fielder’s mitt. A woman said no, then asked if he wanted to ask her about Ryne Sandberg. And Royko eventually came to the conclusion that Reggie Jackson’s personal life was Reggie Jackson’s business, and if anyone else cared, well, that was just pathetic.

Brendan Lemon, editor of Out magazine, sparked Piazza rumor by claiming last summer that he was having an affair with a pro baseball player who played on the east coast. He knew when he wrote it that people would think of Piazza, because everyone thinks anyone with his looks and his money ought to be married by now, and if he’s not, it must be because he’s gay.

Has it ever occurred to anybody that maybe Piazza just doesn’t want to be married?

Rumors about my sexuality have followed me my entire life. Well, since puberty. It came to a head in seventh grade. The playground talk that year was at least as bad as anything on South Park and frankly, it bordered on sexual harassment. I was in a combined 7th and 8th grade class, and there was one 8th grader who was as bad as the rest of ’em all put together, but collectively, to these guys, a girl was a collection of pleasure-bearing receptacles. That’s it. Well, that and a pretty decoration to be seen around, hopefully.

I didn’t participate in that. Yeah, I thought about sex as much as the next guy… probably. But someone, somewhere along the way, taught me to keep those thoughts to myself. But since I didn’t hit on or at least gawk at every reasonably attractive female carbon-based being that walked upright and was capable of verbal communication, I didn’t talk about what I wanted to do to them in bed, and since I didn’t boast of having a huge collection of Playboy and Penthouse and Hustler magazines at home, there was only one logical conclusion: Dave’s gay.

(And you thought I was going to say I was the nicest guy in my class. You’re so silly.)

One day the talk turned to one of the prettiest girls in the class. She was a year older than me, blonde, and the object of that biggest loudmouth’s every desire. Actually I think he would have died happy if she’d ever said more than two words to him. Rumor was that she had a thing for me. I’ve never really given any thought to the idea of whether she did or not. Looking back now, maybe she started the rumor just to make the jerk mad, because he hated me more than Roger Clemens hates Mike Piazza. Who knows. But I didn’t give any thought to it. I wasn’t interested. Why? Lots of reasons.

“You’re missing out on a chance of a lifetime,” one of the 8th graders said.

“A chance of a lifetime would be to buy IBM,” I said. (Scout’s honor. That was how I thought in those days. It didn’t make me popular.)

No, I didn’t see it as a chance of a lifetime. And yeah, she was really cute, but not really my type. I had a thing about girls who were taller than me. I got over it, about 10 years later. And she was blonde. I’ve always preferred dark hair and a past. So her hair was the wrong color and she wasn’t old enough to have a past. But even if she’d been the 5’1″ brunette of my dreams, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to date her, because I wasn’t about to date anyone from that town. I knew I was moving that summer, and I didn’t want to miss her.

If those former classmates get together on Friday nights and drink beer and talk about old times, they probably still think I’m gay.

In high school I was supposedly gay. The truth was, I hadn’t figured out how to talk to girls yet. By the time I was 17, I had started to figure out that you’re not supposed to talk to girls, you’re supposed to listen to them. So I dated a little as a senior. But mostly I was interested in getting out of there with as many accolades as I could so I could get into the college I wanted. One of my coworkers told me I could have girls then, or I could go to college and then get a real job and get rich and then have one of the girls really worth having. And he told me he respected my priorities.

Within a couple of months he was in prison but I took what he said to heart anyway. It sounded good. Just because he did all the wrong things didn’t mean he didn’t know what the right things were.

In college I forgot about that whole listen-to-girls thing, and the result was I had a whole lot more success getting my ramblings published than I had getting dates. There were girls I was interested in. Usually the feeling wasn’t mutual. There were girls who were interested in me. It wasn’t until after I’d graduated that I figured out what they were trying to tell me. Not that it mattered. I don’t think I would have known how to respond anyway. I knew a lot more about writing than I knew about starting relationships with girls.

I know at least once someone questioned whether I was gay during that timeframe, but that was a guy who thought The X-Files was a true story, so I didn’t let that bother me.

I’ve had a couple of post-college relationships. It’s been a while since the last of those. I don’t always understand women. I do understand guys. I understand them really well. I understand them so well that I know one thing for certain: I’ll never live with another guy for any extended length of time, unless that guy happens to be my son.

I live alone right now. A longtime friend who I don’t see very often anymore came to visit back in January, and he observed that I was content with that, but he questioned whether I was happy. He was right on both counts. But I’m picky about women. I don’t want another relationship like either of the last two. So I’m deliberately being a lot more picky this time around. And if the rumors want to fly, let them fly. I doubt they will.

So, what’s this have to do with Mike Piazza?

Well, there are a few differences between Mike Piazza and me. Mike Piazza hits a baseball a lot better than I do. I’m nowhere near as big of a crybaby about my annual salary as Mike Piazza was earlier in his career. But the biggest difference between Mike Piazza and me, as far as today’s headlines are concerned, is that gay activists don’t really have anything to gain by having me wear their badge. Yeah, I can write a little, but there are lots of gay guys who know how to write. Mike Piazza has money and notoriety and prestige.

But having walked one of the same roads Piazza walks, I have to offer up another, far less chic possibility or series of possibilities.

Maybe Mike Piazza knows a lot more about hitting a baseball than he knows about maintaining lasting, serious relationships with women.

Maybe Mike Piazza doesn’t want the distraction of a lasting, serious relationship with a woman while he’s trying to concentrate on hitting baseballs and winning a World Series and getting into the Hall of Fame. Like him or hate him, you have to admit Piazza has a lot of drive. And–gasp–some guys’ drive for success is stronger than their sex drive.

Or maybe Mike Piazza’s just being picky. All too many people marry the first person they suspect will say yes. And often, the result of that is that at some point after saying “I do,” they have to take those words back and get lawyers involved and it gets really messy. It affects every aspect of your life and turns you upside down. It would happen a whole lot less frequently if people would just be more picky.

I’ll tell you something else. None of what I’ve written about me was anybody’s business until I decided to write about it.

Likewise, none of what goes on in Mike Piazza’s relationships is anybody’s business until he decides to talk about it. And there’s every possibility that he never will.

12/09/2000

I can’t let this stupid move by the Cubs go. And I thought the Royals could do some stupid things. But the Royals never let George Brett walk away. The Greatest Ever flirted with following Whitey Herzog over to the Cardinals in the early 1980s, so the Royals locked him up with a long-term contract and the promise of a front-office position after he retired. The result: Brett had some great years and some not-so-great years, but no matter how he was hitting and how his team was playing, people flocked to Royals Stadium just to see him.

Mark Grace is the closest thing baseball has to a George Brett today. He hits left handed and has a sweet swing. And he’s been playing first base for the Cubs since the Harding administration. OK, since 1988. And he was near and dear to every true Cub fan’s heart.

I remember when I first saw him play. Leon Durham had pretty much played himself out of a job as the Cubs’ first baseman. My dad and I thought Rafael Palmeiro was the Cubs’ first baseman of the future. Then I saw Mark Grace play in a spring training game. Wow! He had gold glove written all over him. If the ball was in the same time zone as him, he grabbed it. And at the plate, he reminded me a little of Brett. Solid contact hitter, good for lots of doubles and the occasional homer.

Within two years, Grace was a clubhouse leader. In the 1990s, he led the majors in hits and doubles. Without a doubt, he was the Mr. Cub of the 90s. He had offers to go elsewhere. But he wanted to be one of The Rare Ones. He wanted to be like Brooks Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski and George Brett, who spent the entirety of their long careers with one team, and spend his whole career with the Cubs. He wanted that more than a World Series ring (good thing, because the Cubs won’t be headed there any time soon). A class act. Loyalty was more important than glory.

But now there’s another young left-handed-hitting first baseman coming up, and he’ll play for less money, and Grace had an injury-plagued season, so now he’s Leon Durham. Only instead of being banished to Cincy, he’s banished to Arizona.

Getting rid of Grace makes good business sense. He’s expensive. He doesn’t hit for as much power as you’d like from a corner infielder. He may never hit .330 again–if you can’t get 40 homers from your first baseman, it’s nice to get 200 hits. The fans will miss Grace, but they’ll come out to see the Cubs regardless of who’s on the field. They could replace Mark Grace with Leon Durham and Sammy Sosa with Keith Moreland and the fans would still come. Cubs fans are like that. And management knows it.

You can replace Grace’s bat, and you can live without his glove. But you can’t replace the man. That was true of a lot of the men the Cubs have let go over the years: Bill Buckner. Andre Dawson. Rick Sutcliffe. Greg Maddux. Joe Girardi. Rafael Palmeiro. And now, Mark Grace. These are the kind of men whose presence makes the other eight guys on the field play better. The Cubs never understood that. Never will.

And that, I submit, is the reason the Cubs are perennial losers. They manage to keep the occasional outstanding individual in a Cub uniform (Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg), but for the most part they treat players as commodities, and with a few rare exceptions, field a team of forgettable players day in and day out.

The Cubs didn’t deserve Mark Grace. The real tragedy is it took Mark Grace 13 years to figure that out. Good luck in Arizona, Mark. Go get that World Series ring you were willing to deny yourself. Then head back to Wrigley Field and ask your old boss Andy MacPhail if he wants to touch it.

Thanks for all of the birthday well-wishes. Lunch was good. Dinner was good. The homemade peanut brittle from my aunt was even better. She always sends me peanut brittle for my birthday, it’s always great, and it always lasts me about three days. At about 10 p.m. I was carrying on about how I had about 45 minutes of youth left. I was born around 10:45, you see, and a long time ago I set 26 as the age when you become old. So, speak up sonny, I can’t hear you. But don’t torque me off; I’m apt to hit you with me cane.

And thanks to Al… for the greeting, for the page, and for the hits. I had a spike yesterday. Eighth wonder of the Wintel world I seriously doubt (both because I’m not that good, and because neither half of Wintel would claim me: I do a lot of Microsoft-baiting and probably even more Intel-baiting, mostly because I just can’t stand Andy Grove), but I appreciate the sentiment.