The Common Man covered Bert Blyleven, Dave Van Horne and Roland Hemond here yesterday in part one of our Hall of Fame weekend coverage, so it falls to me to tell you what other random people or things the other three inductees/honorees of the weekend are kind of like:
Bill Conlin is like Steve Carlton.
I was born in 1979, a few months after Steve Carlton’s 34th birthday. I didn’t become anything like “aware” of big-league baseball until about 1986. Nonetheless, though, I do have a vivid personal memory of seeing Steve Carlton pitch.
Eight year old me followed every pitch — or at least the ones for which I was allowed to be awake and out of school — of my Twins’ 1987, eventual World Championship season. Those Twins were desperate for competent #4 or #5 starting pitchers, and an eleventh-hour deal with the Indians that July 31 sent the 42 year old, 328-game winner to Minnesota in exchange for a player to be named later. Lefty got seven starts with the Twins that season, and they even brought him in out of the ‘pen twice.
As was already abundantly clear before they traded for him, Carlton had nothing left. In 43 innings, he walked 23 against only 20 strikeouts, served up seven gopher balls, and went 1-5 with a 6.70 ERA. They left him off the postseason roster, of course, but then brought him back in 1988 for some reason, and he ended his career by giving up 19 runs in under 10 innings. I knew (even back then, I think) that Carlton was a really great pitcher once, but that fact just didn’t mesh with my image of him at all.
Bill Conlin has been in journalism for about fifty years. For over 20 of those years (approximately 1965-1986, near as I can figure) he was a beat writer for the Phillies, at a time when, at least for the best of them, a beat writer’s job was to tell a good story more than to summarize game action. And from all indications, he was great at it. We have Carlton’s career stats to prove how great he once was; all we have for Conlin (unless you have a great newspaper archive service) are stories like this, digging up some of his better clippings.
For thousands of people like me, though — anyone my age or younger, certainly, and virtually anyone outside of the greater Philadelphia area — our only contact with Conlin has come over the last several years, in one of his controversial columns making the rounds on the internet or as a member of the crotchety-old-guys panel on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters.
And that work doesn’t leave an impression that’s any greater than my impression of Carlton. Conlin went on to become an ornery, angry, wildly inconsistent columnist, an incredibly fertile source of material for the Fire Joe Morgan crew and their hundreds of would-be copycats. He unfunnily mocked statistical concepts he didn’t understand. He once kind of suggested he wished Hitler were around to kill all the bloggers. Another time, he made an apparently racist joke on TV. When he wasn’t offending modern sensibilities, he was offending common sense with his completely inane baseball columns, like the time he argued for re-raising the mound height because it was all a conspiracy to make the AL better than the NL in the first place.
I put all this in past tense out of respect on his special weekend, but of course, Conlin is still active, and still terrible. I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt, though, especially this weekend, and assume that the Conlin who was honored yesterday was a very different, and much better, writer than the one that has been introduced to us and/or been brought about by the Internet Age. I try to avoid letting my own first-hand observations of Steve Carlton color my perception of the Hall of Famer’s career, and I’m going to do the same with the Spink Award winner.
Pat Gillick is like William the Conqueror.
William I of England was particularly nasty in war. In the “Harrying of the North,” which resulted in bringing the previously independent northern England regions under his control in 1069-1070, his conquering troops burned entire villages, and destroyed sources of food so that the unlucky ones who survived the initial massacre were doomed to die of starvation. The region took decades, perhaps centuries, to recover from the damage William wrought on it.*
Pat Gillick is, by all accounts of which I’m aware, a really nice guy, not even a little bit cruel, and has certainly never burned a village or slaughtered a herd of livestock. But his path through the major leagues has looked a little bit like William’s through the North: Gillick has conquered the cities of Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle, and Philadelphia, seeing the teams he has engineered or advised win fourteen division titles and three World Championships. The teams he’s left, however, have behaved as though he salted the earth on his way out the door; none of the Blue Jays, Orioles or Mariners has made a postseason appearance since Gillick made his exit (he’s still working for the Phillies as an adviser, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see a departure that coincides with the aging Phillies’ potentially-looming downturn).
* This is, of course, a paraphrasing of the Wikipedia version of the story. You don’t come here for actual world history, after all. I hope.
Roberto Alomar is like Sports Night.
I’ve only done eleven of these, yet I feel like I’ve probably already compared something else in baseball to Sports Night, the Aaron Sorkin-created half-hour comedy that ran sporadically from 1998 to 2000. I just love it that much. It was a fantastic show, brilliantly written and shot and acted. Every moment that didn’t make you laugh kind of made you want to cry. Just terrific all the way through.
But it had no audience. We’re not talking about Arrested Development or Firefly or (I’m increasingly fearful) Community here, great shows that just couldn’t get the viewership to stay afloat despite having legions of rabid fans. Those shows all have something to unify people around them — some people, just not enough people. Sports Night did not; it was a show about a sports show (but not, they repeatedly reminded you, about sports) that was too progressive and cerebral to appeal to the average sports fan, full of odd characters with esoteric inside-television sorts of problems. It’s a bit surprising that it got on network TV in the first place.
Roberto Alomar was a great player and a slam-dunk Hall of Famer (I wrote quite a lot about that yesterday, here). He could do it all, and was amazingly exciting to watch. But, like Sports Night, he just didn’t really have a toehold among fans. He was a Padre for three years, then a Blue Jay for five, an Oriole for three, in Cleveland for three, and then ended as a hot fetid mess with the Mets, White Sox, D-Backs, and White Sox again. Bert Blyleven, who also moved around a ton, is intrinsically tied to the Twins, both by the length of his career there and his post-career work; Alomar doesn’t have that. The closest he has is certainly Toronto, and while there must be many Blue Jays (as well as O’s and Cleveland) fans that cherish their memories of him, he just doesn’t have the same ties anywhere (as Dustin got at here). That plus the spitting incident makes Alomar what the unfortunately named Mark McGuire basically calls the least-beloved Hall of Famer ever, much the same way that Sports Night is the least widely-beloved great TV show ever.