I’m often asked the same question: Were the guys “back then” better than they are today? I’ll try to answer that.
Take away the fame and fortune. Take away the television show and the hit records. What remains is a family that was very much like the Nelson’s on the 1950’s. My dad was of similar age to Ozzie, the rather quiet patriarch. My mom didn’t dress like Harriet, but she was always kind and supportive, just like Mrs. Nelson. My older brother seemed to be the same age as David -and had little to do with his younger brother. That would be me. Ricky was older than me, but I somehow related to his life. In our own way, we were the Nelson’s. Without the hair, looks, fame and fortune.
When I was strong enough and big enough, I mowed lawns and shoveled snow to earn money. I spent it all on baseball cards, “Sport” magazine and “The Sporting News.” I “flipped” baseball cards day and night. But I never put a baseball card in my bicycle wheels.
The focal point of my young life as baseball. I went to my first games with my parents on a Sunday afternoon when I was eight years old. I shut my eyes and vision it today. Cleveland Stadium was packed. There were more people there than I had ever seen in my life. It was a doubleheader. Indians vs. the Orioles. I’ll never forget the impact on my senses. The smell of cigars. The unbelievably green grass. The size and noise of the place was overwhelming. It was enormous. I had an orange drink in a carton that looked like a funnel. I tried peanuts for the first time in my life. Unfortunately, I loved them. The hot dogs had brown mustard on them and were wrapped in the thinest paper I had ever seen. And they were fantastic. They were made by Warsaw. I remember that. No longer in business. They were so good, I ate two.
Were the players better? They were different. There were only eight teams in each league. That’s a huge difference. Roster spots were treasured. There were six Minor League classifications. It began with Class D. Players were promoted to C, B, A, AA, and then AAA. Of course, the great players skipped levels.
Were the players better then? Some were bigger than life itself. Ted Kluszewski had arms like Popeye in his short-sleeved shirts. He could probably tear the seams apart on a baseball when he hit the sweet spot. Frank Howard was so big I thought the bat looked like a toothpick in his hands. Were they better? They were really good. But guys today are really good. Things are just different now.
Were the players better? I was a huge Cleveland Indians fan. I was so excited in 1954 I could hardly breathe. My Indians were in the World Series against the Giants. And then it happened. Dusty Rhodes and Willie Mays. Two names from my past. Dusty Rhodes hit .667 in the three games he played (there were only four) and Willie Mays made the best catch I’ve ever seen in my life. You’ve seen it. The catch and the throw. It was amazing. He was amazing. Clearly, Willie Mays is the best player I ever saw.
My memories of the teams of the 50’s include a vision of second baseman Nellie Fox with a huge chew of tobacco in his jaw bunting for a single. I still have the only baseball glove I ever owned. A Nellie Fox model. It’s still in great shape and game ready.
I remember waiting outside Cleveland Stadium on Sunday afternoons to get autographs. Guys like Elston Howard and Andy Carey of the Yankees and even Ted Williams stopped to sign for me. I was 12 years old and I had a Sunday/Holiday pass to the Indians. I rode the Rapid Transit to the games by myself and followed the players as they walked back to their Public Square hotel.
Were they better then? I saw Mickey Mantle hobble on bad wheels but destroy my Indians hitting from both sides of the plate. I saw the big four of Mike Garcia, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Bob Feller dominate teams. Don’t dig in on Early Wynn. You’ll find yourself on the ground. Kind of like Bob Gibson. No warnings to the benches. No warnings to the pitcher. Are you kidding me? They were pitching inside the hitter’s baseball caps. No helmets then. And nobody complained. But they had such great control they could throw a ball into a tin cup if it was placed on home plate. Were they better? They had command and control, that’s for sure. Billy Pearce, Warren Spahn, Johnny Sain, Allie Reynolds, Whtey Ford, Juan Marichal. Every staff had two or three aces. Some, even more. And an ace was an ace.
I got to see Chico Carrasquel and Luis Aparacio, two amazing Venezuelan shortstops that probably set the standard for the off the chart defensive wizards we see today. And I got to watch the Yankees Scooter Rizzuto, one of the spark plugs of the ever-winning Yankees. I hated the Yankees. Hated them! I don’t anymore. In my old age I have learned to admire what they’ve accomplished. The past. It was just prologue. I tip my cap to them and what the franchise has done.
I got to take my little transistor radio to school during each World Series every year and hit it, so I thought, as I listened to Gillette razor commercials during the games. It was usually the Yankees and the Dodgers. Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella , Gil Hodges. Billy Martin and Hank Bauer. Micky, Whitey and the Moose. And Yogi. Were they better then? Wow, they were awfully good. But along with my friends, were were watching through young and very impressionable eyes.
Were they better then? I had six years to recover from the World Series loss to the Giants when on April 17, 1960 total disaster struck. My world ended. The Indians traded my beloved Rocky Colavito to the Detroit Tigers for good hitting Harvey Kuenn. I was devastated. There was only one Rocky Colavito. A big, strong hitter with charisma. On June 6, 1959 he hit four home runs in a game. Of course, I didn’t know what charisma was then. But I know it now. That’s what he had. Charisma. And a loud bat. I promise you, I never knocked the Rock. Even when he struck out four times a game.
I got to watch Larry Doby, Jim Hegan and Al Rosen. My heroes. I got to listen to Jimmy Dudley on the radio calling games. I was fortunate to see Al Kaline play for the Tigers. And i actually saw the great Roberto Clemente play baseball. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. I got to see Harmon Killebrew and Jim Lemon. Willie McCovey and Stan Musial. Wow, could they murder a baseball.
Were they better then? Some were. There were fewer players. They each got more attention. They changed teams far less often. Fans were able to bond more quickly and for longer periods with their favorites. They weren’t all so big and strong. They had their vices then, too. They had their contract issues then, too. They had their clubhouse conflicts then, too. People are people. They were then and they are now.
Were they better then? There are players today with equal ability and charisma. Every era has its guys. We’re getting to see Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Altuve, Andrew McCutchen, Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Felix Hernandez, Jose’ Abreu, Chris Sale,, Adam Wainwright, Paul Goldschmidt and on and on. Soon we will marvel at Kris Bryant, Byron Buxton, and Kevin Correa. We’ve started to see the world of Javier Baez, Oscar Taveras and Gregory Polanco. They’ll be joined by countless other future stars currently waiting in the development wings.
Were they better then? It’s all in the eye of the beholder. I am grateful for today’s new, bright, shining stars. The game is healthy. It’s thriving. It’s creating memories for eight year olds who are living in homes just like I did with the Nelson’s. Only now they are like those on “Modern Family” or “The Middle.” Has anything changed? Not really.
As always, thank you for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.
That’s it. I’m done.
I have aging kidneys. No, in true disclosure I have to admit I have old kidneys. I watch lots of live baseball every year; from spring, to summer, to fall. That’s lots of trips to the bathroom. And, of course, I love to eat. So that’s getting up for food late in games as well. But there are times when my kidneys have to be put in a holding pattern. There are times I just have to let my stomach grumble. Those times are when these guys come to the plate. I am glued to my seat. I don’t want to miss an at-bat.
Keep in mind, I have countless other guys that I love to watch. Guys like Paul Goldschmidt and Sal Perez. Guys like Michael Brantley, Hunter Pence and Christian Yelich, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber. My guys are special to me. I talk about them on the radio and in the podcast because they’re special players-their my guys.
But the guys I list below-well, I can’t miss an at-bat, a pitch or a defensive play. They have an electricity about them that makes me marvel at their talent. I can’t take my eyes off them. So here they are, in no particular order of importance or talent.
Andrew McCutchen- Every time I watch him in person he does something special. He barrels the bat and hits the ball over the wall or he motors from first to third in a flash. Or he makes a fantastic play in the field. But his at-bats are special. He has a knack for hitting a baseball to the right place at the right time. And he isn’t bothered by pressure.
Jose Altuve-Just to watch him play is a treat. Small in physicality but huge in heart and talent, Altuve is the engine that can spark any team. He just makes contact at the plate at-bat after at-bat, gets base hits and steals bases. He’s electric. Uniform? Dirty.
David Ortiz-I just think something special will happen every time he gets into the box. I don’t want to miss it. The shift has hurt him, but the long bombs still beat the shift. He hits in the clutch and I’ve seen him carry his team-like in the 2013 World Series. The ball makes that “special sound” coming off his bat. He’s huge.
Mike Trout- Is there anything this guy can’t do? I love to watch him hit a ball to the gap and take off running. I saw him very early in his career and I’ve seen the progress. He’s special because he hits for average and power, runs and plays amazing defense. His eye-hand coordination and his instincts are off the charts. I hope he can stay healthy.
Pablo Sandoval- He blows me away every at-bat with his lack of plate discipline and the fact that he can hit a ball in the dirt or over his head. He’s a tremendous hitter. I want him to get in better shape, but he can do it all now. He’s a much better fielder and runner than people think. He has power and hits line drive darts. He’s the Panda.
Yasiel Puig-Say what you will about his antics, Puig is some kind of special player. He can hit a ball over the wall, hit the ball to the gaps or swing and miss while screwing himself into the ground. I don’t want to miss a moment. His arm is huge. His speed is real and he plays bigger than life. He’s reckless and fearless. He’s one of a kind now.
Gregory Polanco- My newest “can’t take my eyes off you” guy. Long legs, long arms. Loping strides. Gap hits. Sweet swing (although a little long). I see a star in the making. He’s a tremendous player to watch. He’s still learning. I hope he keeps the hustle. The at-bats from the 2 hole let him show off his speed. He made my list very quickly.
Billy Hamilton- Woosh-there he goes. He’s a blur out of the batter’s box. He’s a blur on the bases. Watching him hit a triple is poetry. I’ve seen two. And seeing him close on a ball in center field is something special. He’s made himself into a fine outfielder. The speed is beyond special. Seeing him bunt for a hit is a thrill for me. Love to watch him.
Dee Gordon- I’ve seen him steal second base on the throw back to the pitcher from the catcher. He gives 100% every at-bat. He wants to contribute to his team. And he does it with his legs. He gets some dink and dunk hits, but they’re still hits. He’s getting better at every phase of the game. He’s found a home as an All Star second baseman.
Bryce Harper- I know he’s scuffled. I know he’s been hurt. But watch him play. Watch him run into the fence. Or swing from his shoes. This guy is just in the beginning stages of what I think will be a great career. He can hit for average and for power. The way he does it is what is so neat. I don’t want to miss an at-bat because something special is going to happen. He’s never boring. Never average.
—–a couple pitchers—–
There are pitchers I can’t keep my eyes off, too. I want to see every pitch. Sure, I love to watch Kershaw and Ryu. Anibal Sanchez and Wainwright. But these two guys have me mesmerized each and every pitch.
Aroldis Chapman- I enjoy watching the 100 mph to 104 mph fastball. But I like watching the slider after the fastballs even more. See ya. The guy has an amazing arm. It’s much more electric in person than on television. The anticipation is tremendous.
Yu Darvish- Everything moves. Every pitch. He can get a hitter with a fastball or any pitch ever invented. He doesn’t look tired on the mound. He doesn’t look like he’s in trouble, even if he’s in trouble. He has ice water in his veins. And I never know what I’m going to see. That’s why I don’t like to miss it.
There are three infielders that make me sit up in my seat and marvel at their talent. I don’t quite know how they do it play after play. I know there are many, many more infielders with fantastic talent, but these guys make it look so easy. The ball just disappears in their gloves. And they throw bullets to first base-even off balance.
Didi Gregorius-One of the most athletic players in the game today. He floats to the ball. He has a cannon for an arm. His footwork and soft hands are lightning quick.
Alcides Escobar- I saw him when he played his very first game in the Fall League. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Skinny and raw, he flashed range that I hadn’t seen since Omar Vizquel in his prime. He has a great arm with tremendous instincts. Super.
Andrelton Simmons- Another magician at shortstop. He makes impossible plays and he has to be seen to be appreciated. I will never take him for granted. I’m jus thankful I’ve gotten to see him play shortstop. It really is poetry in motion.
—–On The Cusp—–
Here are guys that I may not be able to take my eyes off real, real soon:
Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor, Oscar Taveras, Jose’ Abreu, George Springer and Masahiro Tanaka.
My old kidneys don’t have to wait while these guys are at the plate anymore. But-I admit that I find it very, very hard to get out of my seat when they come to the plate:
Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, Miguel Cabrera.
That’s my list. Those are guys I can’t keep my eyes off. I’m sure you have your guys that are “electric” to you. I hold auditions all the time for new players to emerge and a I encourage a few existing players to add a few volts of juice to their game.
Thanks for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @Bernie Pleskoff. As always, your support is greatly appreciated.
That’s it. I’m done.
I’m exhausted. After yesterday’s non-stop non-waiver trade deadline ended I was kind of dizzy. I’ve been around for lots and lots of trade deadlines, but this one was amazing.
So many times the anticipation of the final hours far exceeds the reality. It often reminds me of the years when my neighbor set off firecrackers on the 4th of July—lots of excitement before the event and then…duds! Not yesterday. There was sizzle and very little fizzle. Unless your club sat on the sidelines and watched. Is there anything worse? “Hey, didn’t we get invited to the party?” I’ve been there…waiting and waiting for your team to make a trade and then… nothing.
Here are some of my thoughts about the deals that went down. I will skip much of the obvious and try to put my own spin on things:
David Price to the Tigers-I think the Tigers brass felt the heat of ownership in the past month or so. Mr. Ilitch was born in 1929. He’s one of the great owners in sports. He wants to win. Now. Dave Dombrowski is one of the fine general managers in the game. He wants to help deliver that winner. After his attempt to shore up a leaky bullpen with the acquisition of Joakim Soria he won the David Price sweepstakes. Frankly, the price wasn’t that steep. Keep your eye on shortstop Willy Adames. He may be the key to what the Rays were all about. For me, he’s more than a “throw in.” Only 18, he has gap power and patience at the plate beyond his years. From the Dominican, Adames can also play third base. The Tigers rotation is now even more lethal–they swapped Drew Smyly for David Price. Smyly will likely come up big for the Rays in the future, as he’s still ironing out some kinks. The Mariners came away with a nice bat and a fine glove in Austin Jackson-giving up a nice bat in infielder Nick Franklin. Nice deal for everyone. But I think the Rays “settled” at the end and may have been offered even more earlier in the entire process, prior to being under the gun late in the day. We’ll never know. But they probably got more yesterday than had they waited until the off season.
Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox and Jon Lester and Jon Gomes to the Athletics- I’m not ready to declare the Athletics the World Champions. I admire the intestinal fortitude of Billy Beane. However, what if they lay an egg? No more Cespedes to break up a game and Lester can fly the coop as a “free” agent. I think Cespedes is a game changing bat. I don’t think you’ll trip over that type of player walking around your garden. They’re as rare as vegetables on my dinner plate. Think of the damage he can do in Fenway. I’m sure the Red Sox are thinking of that and sleeping peacefully. Lester’s usually good. But I’ve seen Lester bad. Cespedes can be bad three times a week and be good three times a week and really, really help the Red Sox. If Lester is bad once a week for the Athletics—watch out. Lester has gone more to the curveball as opposed to the cutter. That’s good. His new park is huge and very pitcher friendly. That’s good. Lots of good. But remember—one bad start or two in the next two months and it’ll really hurt.
John Lackey and lefty Corey Littrell to the Cardinals for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig-This one is a bit risky for the Red Sox. Who is Allen Craig? Is he the old Allen Craig or the newer model? Can he use the Green Monstah to his advantage? If yes, he and Cespedes will help in the middle of the order, no doubt about it. But who pitches for the Red Sox? They’ll figure it out. Lackey could be the guy that puts the Cardinals back in the postseason. He’s a winner. He’s a tough cookie who pitches and doesn’t just throw. He’s perfect to pair with Adam Wainwright and the rest of the rotation. Great trade for St. Louis and maybe for Boston, but I’m less inclined to like their end of this one. Kelly has been sporadic, but he’s still got upside and he could make this deal really work for Boston.
Martin Prado to the Yankees for catcher Peter O’Brien. I saw O’Brien at the Futures Game. This guy has powwwwwer. And quick hands through the ball. He has to learn the mechanics of catching and the Dbacks are sending Bill Plummer to work with him. But Prado wasn’t helping in Arizona. They Yankees are picking up his tab. It’s a great move for Arizona. I’ve heard New York will be playing Prado in right field. I think he’s adequate at third base-I’ve never seen him in right. I’ve seen him in left. He’s adequate at third base. I do think Prado will take some balls into the right field seats at Yankee Stadium as his swing is geared that way—and slower than it’s been in the past. It turns out the Dbacks traded Justin Upton and Chris Johnson for Peter O’Brien, Randall Delgado and Nick Ahmed.
Gerardo Parra to the Brewers for Mitch Haniger and lefty pitcher Anthony Banda- I think Parra will help the Crew because they have few left-handed hitters. He has lost a step or two of speed, has declined at the plate and isn’t the same player he was. But he will help the Brewers as a solid outfielder. Haniger has some power. I can’t wait to see him hit in Chase Field. I really liked him in the Fall League. He’ll surprise some people. Banda is supposedly a projectable lefty mid-rotation starter. I haven’t scouted him. I think the Dbacks will be very happy with this deal, but I don’t think the trade puts the Brewers over the top in the Central. But it may help.
Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals for Zach Walters. I really like Walters. He has some pop in his bat (switch hitter) and can play shortstop and second base. He’s a good fielder and is almost Major League ready. Cabrera is in his walk year. His game has declined for two consecutive years. I think he’ll be playing 2B in Washington. That’s good, because his range had slipped in Cleveland. He’s a streaky hitter. The Nats have to hope he finds his stroke. If not, it isn’t pretty to watch. Cabrera’ slip is showing.
Red Sox trade Andrew Miller to the Orioles for Eduardo Rodriguez- Well, one of the future starters for the Red Sox could very well be Rodriguez. He has an outstanding arm but hasn’t put the command and control together yet. He’s a lefty and he was probably the best lefty in the Orioles system. I think he could give up some bombs off the Monstah, but he’ll be fine. Miller has begun to find command and control and was probably the biggest prize of the available left-handed relievers. He will really help the Orioles. I like the deal for both clubs. But I think the O’s still need to go get a starter.
Tommy Milone goes to Minnesota for Sam Fuld- The Athletics bring back Fuld in a deal that will set up a future platoon with Jonny Gomes in left field. Fuld will play center until Craig Gentry returns from injury. I love Fuld. He gets his uniform dirty and his on-base percentage is always off the charts (.370) for a man of such slight build at 5-foot-10, 175-pounds. He’s a winner. Milone wanted out of Oakland and got his wish. The Twins get a legitimate lefty starter, and one that can be there a long time.
Padres trade Chris Denorfia to Seattle for switch-hitting OF Abraham Almonte and RHP Stephen Kohischeen- I’m a huge Denorfia fan. He’s a superb 4th outfielder. He can hit, hit with some pop and play solid defense. If needed, he can fill in for a long period of time as opposed to just being a guy off the bench. The Mariners upgraded with both Austin Jackson and Denorfia. I don’t know what more Almonte brings than Denorfia. More speed and youth probably. Almonte can fly. Kohischeen is a righty reliever. I haven’t seen him.
Stephen Drew goes to the Yankees for…Kelly Johnson-Are you kidding me? That was a steal for the Yankees, I believe. Drew was beyond rusty for Boston. I think he adds to the Yanks infield depth with a bat that will play well in Yankee Stadium. But be aware that he isn’t a pull hitter. I’ve seen him hit tons of fly balls to the left/center warning track. That may frustrate some fans if he still does that. I do think he’s an upgrade over Kelly Johnson. Can he play 2B? Can he play 3B? Derek Jeter plays shortstop, right?
Drew’s value will be greater next year if he stays with the Yankees.
Emilio Bonifacio and lefty James Russell go to the Braves for catcher Victor Caratini? Remember the name Victor Caratini. He’s a line-drive switch-hitter with a background as a 3B-catcher. He has some pop in his bat. He’s a work in progress behind the plate. But if he can hit, as many think he will, the Cubs may have a future catcher for two players that didn’t have long-term roles with the big league team.
Jarred Cosart, Enrique Hernandez and Austin Wates go to Miami for OF Jake Marisnick, 3B Colin Moran and RHP Francis Martes-Didn’t the Astros just trade for Cosart recently, or am I dreaming? He was coming along very nicely as a member of their rotation. What am I missing here? Hernandez is a plus player as well. What am I missing here? Or did I say that already? Marisnick has shown me a slow bat every time I’ve seen him play. And that’s a lot. Moran was a first round draft pick, but I didn’t see much from him last fall, at all. I think the Astros will have to be patient with him. Especially with any potential power he may have. Patient? I love this deal for the Marlins. They just keep adding good pitching in every deal they make.
Remember-teams can still make deals, but waivers have to be acquired on the player. I look for some expensive players like Alex Rios to change teams. So, if your team was on the sidelines yesterday and this past month, they may awaken and want to rearrange some deck chairs. Just hope they aren’t like my neighbor and start shooting off some duds.
Some of the deadline deals may come out as flat as my three day old soda pop sitting on the kitchen counter without a lid. There is no guarantee in a trade. But this year, more Major League players were moved. Fewer prospects were included in the blockbusters. That was exciting. There are teams that are shouting we want to win NOW. We love that-as long as it’s our team doing the shouting.
Thanks for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Your support is always appreciated.
That’s it. I’m done.