Among the 2014 Cooperstown inductees will be three managers and a writer. Who better to evaluate the new members than ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian? He joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre: They’re all fairly recently retired. Is each a worthy immortal?TK: No doubt about that, Bill. When you look at the all-time wins list for managers, Connie Mack, John McGraw, and then these three guys. They are close to all three being on the Mount Rushmore of managers in baseball history. That’s how good they have been, and to do it as long as they did is just remarkable. To win over 2,000 games as a manager, or close to it, is amazing.
And the one thing that they all shared was right to the end, they still liked to deal with the players, and that’s a big deal now, Bill, because a lot of our older managers get to a certain point where they just throw up their hands and say, “I do not deal with these guys very well anymore.”
Normally this award only goes to hardened newspaper guys who have covered the game forever. We’ve gotten away from that a little bit. I think it’s a good idea, and Roger Angell, obviously, is one of the greatest baseball writers of all time, and a worthy candidate to go into the Hall of Fame.
BL: Tim, as long as I’ve got you on the line, tell me what you think about the rule change Major League Baseball announced this week: no more collisions at home plate.
TK: We’re trying, like football, to protect some of our players. And I, frankly, a year ago, was not in favor of this on any level. And over the last year or two a lot of people have come around on this, including [Baltimore Orioles manager] Buck Showalter, who’s one of the old-school managers, and one of the guys I go to when I’m confused and I need a question answered, and he essentially said it’s time that we do this. And he’s told his catcher Matt Wieters, “I don’t want you to block the plate anymore. You’re way too important to get taken out for the season to protect one run in one game.”
And the guy who I think who won this over is Cardinals manager Mike Matheny who had to retire because he had a concussion – a series of concussions. He told me late in his career, playing with a concussion, a pitch thrown by the pitcher hit him right in the chest protector. A fastball—he completely missed it. He can catch those in his sleep. And then a year after he retired – a year after he retired – he would drive to the grocery store and have to call his wife and say, “Where am I? Why did I come here?” That’s how bad off he was. And he made a stirring speech to those other managers and the other people on the committee that it’s time to protect the catcher, and that’s what baseball is trying to do now.
TK: Yeah, and I think it’s great. Baseball has been so slow to make changes over the years. I think it’s a great ideas as long as we do this properly. The idea is they’re not going to let somebody come around third base with the intent of, “I’m going to knock that catcher over no matter where he’s standing. The catcher cannot block the plate, and if he is blocking the plate, there’s gonna be a collision but somebody’s going to get suspended for that, and if so, people are going to be hesitant to do that.