The election of Bruce Sutter to the Hall of Fame was interesting on many fronts.
First, there was the issue of an unusually weak overall ballot of newly eligible players. No one among them deserved election.
Then there was the issue of several eligible players who have long been on the ballot, most notably Sutter, Goose Gossage, Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven, Tommy John and Andre Dawson. All of these men had failed to receive sufficient support over many years despite impressive credentials. How impressive was only part of the debate. Antipathy toward the voting press (Rice), less than impressive won-loss percentages (Blyleven and Johns), a career batting average one point shy of the mythical .280 cut-off (Dawson), and general bias towards closers and the Yankees (Gossage) all figured in the voting.
Finally, there was the prospect of not electing anyone. The baseball gods let alone Commissioner’s office, shuddered at that prospect! A summer without an induction ceremony? No way! By comparison, the prospects of election for Rice, Blyleven et al next season are deemed considerably less because of the presence of first-time eligible Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn and Mark MacGwire, the first two of whom are locks to enter.
Sutter’s election was deserved. Gossage’s failure was undeserved. One need only look at the premium placed on current closers who were eligible for free agency this off-season and the angst created at the prospect of losing one to a rival to realize how crucial the role has become.
Since we are speaking about the Billy Wagner’s of the baseball world, it is also worth noting that unlike Sutter and Gossage, Wagner-types pitch one inning if that these days and balk at the prospect of coming into a game unless there is a clear save situation. Contrast that with Gosssage, for instance, who regularly pitched twice as many innings per season as Wagner and was certainly as effective.