Minnesota Twins great Kirby Puckett exemplifies everything the Baseball Hall of Fame is supposed to be about, but it's still a little sad that he had to get there so soon.
Puckett, who will be inducted today along with Dave Winfield, Bill Mazeroski and Negro League star Hilton Smith, should have been joining Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn on their feel-good farewell tour this year.
If not for the glaucoma that blinded him in one eye, there would have been no debate about Puckett's eventual arrival in Cooperstown.
There shouldn't have been, anyway. He averaged 200 hits in his first 10 seasons, for goodness sake. He hit .318 and won two world titles and did it all with a sweetness and grace that would make you proud if your kid grew up just like him.
He's right where he belongs today, but it would have been nice to see his career run its normal course. He would have reached 3,000 hits about the same time as Ripken, who got No. 3,000 at Puckett's home ballpark. Puck also would have finished with about 1,500 runs scored and 1,500 RBIs.
That would have made him a slam-dunk, 95 percent-of-the-vote inductee (he was named on 82 percent of the ballots cast by voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America).
But the vote total doesn't really matter. Kirby Puckett is a Hall of Famer today, and all is right with the baseball world.
Hall of Fame agent
When Puckett is inducted into the Hall of Fame today, he'll be the third client of Baltimore attorney/player representative/win-win negotiating expert Ron Shapiro.
Shapiro also has represented Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer during their playing careers and soon will add Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken to his list of Hall of Famers. It's doubtful there's another agent out there with more guys either in Cooperstown or on the doorstep.
Big Unit: big price
The acquisition of Albie Lopez may help the Arizona Diamondbacks get to the World Series this year. But pitching ace Randy Johnson thinks the young pitcher the club gave up in the deal may turn out to be a keeper.
Left-hander Nick Bierbrodt is 23 years old, owns a 93-mph fastball, and reminds the Big Unit of a young pitcher who was traded by the Montreal Expos to the Seattle Mariners for established left-hander Mark Langston in 1989.
"Montreal was trying to win a championship, so they traded me to Seattle. We're trying to win a championship, so we traded Nick to Tampa Bay," Johnson said.
"I was shipped to a team where I could pitch every day, and Nick was shipped to a team where he could pitch every day. Who would have known how it turned out for me?"
Johnson took a liking to Bierbrodt and spent some time mentoring him after the young pitcher was called up to the majors in June. The deal made perfect sense for the Diamondbacks - Johnson doesn't dispute that. He clearly is rooting, however, for his new former teammate.
"I think he's a very promising pitcher," Johnson said. "I think he can be a 15-, 18-game winner. Two to four years down the road, he can be an all-star. He has the potential to be a 20-game winner.
"He has that much talent. He needs to be out there every fifth day to learn how to pitch. Maybe I'm wrong. But he's willing to work, and that means a lot, too. Watch. See how he does the rest of the year."
The Orioles rank only 14th in baseball in total payroll, based on confidential Player Relations Committee numbers recently obtained by the Denver Post. The projected total 2001 payroll for the downsized O's is $76,040,311, nearly $60 million below that of the first-place Yankees ($133,636,917).
If the numbers seem slightly inflated compared to what has been reported in the past, it is because the PRC calculates payroll differently than the individual teams. The total figure represents the average annual guaranteed salary of each player on the roster, so a player with a five-year, $50 million contract would be credited with $10 million in salary even if the contract were back-loaded.
The Orioles, for instance, are being assessed $13 million a year for injured star Albert Belle, even though his contract called for significant deferred money and his salary is now being offset by insurance. Remove Belle's money from the equation, and the O's would rank 19th, just behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Not to let the Orioles off the hook for their soft performance this year - seven teams in contention for postseason play rank lower on the payroll ladder.
Next Dodgers GM
No matter how the Los Angeles Dodgers fare the rest of the season, it appears likely that former White Sox assistant general manager Dan Evans will be named general manager of the club this winter.
Evans, considered one of the industry's rising young front office stars when he was in Chicago, left the White Sox when he was passed over for the GM position in favor of Kenny Williams. He worked briefly with the Cubs before hiring on as assistant/consultant to interim Dodgers GM Dave Wallace.
So, who do you think Evans ranks as one of his greatest influences?