Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Hall Beckons...For Some

A friend of mine once remarked, speaking of an industry other than baseball, that there were so many awards given out these days there must be one for everyone. He was exaggerating slightly, but his point was well taken: there are a lot of awards bestowed by a lot of organizations and institutions, especially, it seems, in baseball. MVP; Cy Young; Comeback Player of the Year; Player of the Year; Manager of the Year; Rolaids Reliever of the Year; Silver Sluggers; Rookie of the Year; Sporting News Player of the Year; etc..

At a minimum, these awards carry with them a guaranteed listing in perpetuity of the recipients in the annals of baseball and, for some, a nice financial bonus depending on their contracts. The granddaddy of them all, of course, is election to the Hall of Fame, which confers immortality. Is it any wonder, therefore, that election to the Hall inevitably engenders the greatest debate regarding the candidates’ worthiness?

Less than a week remains before we learn the names of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees. In the time leading up to the announcement, we have once again witnessed the annual rites associated with baseball’s greatest honor, namely what are the criteria for entry and who among the candidates is worthy.

The question of criteria was never firmly established beyond the following eligibility rules:

Eligible Candidates — Candidates to be eligible must meet the following requirements:

  1. A baseball player must have been active as a player in the Major Leagues at some time during a period beginning twenty (20) years before and ending five (5) years prior to election.
  2. Player must have played in each of ten (10) Major League championship seasons, some part of which must have been within the period described in 3 (A).
  3. Player shall have ceased to be an active player in the Major Leagues at least five (5) calendar years preceding the election but may be otherwise connected with baseball.
  4. In case of the death of an active player or a player who has been retired for less than five (5) full years, a candidate who is otherwise eligible shall be eligible in the next regular election held at least six (6) months after the date of death or after the end of the five (5) year period, whichever occurs first.
  5. Any player on Baseball's ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate.

Interestingly, the founders also felt it necessary to keep out one-time wonders such as a Don Larsen with this rule:

Automatic Elections — No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.

Thus we, the non-voting public, are left with the endless debates regarding who was dominant and for how long; which player(s) “defined” a position in terms of defense while hitting more than respectably; whose numbers matched or exceeded current members of the Hall; who was a “feared” opponent and why; etc..

This year’s list of eligible candidates include two certain entrants – Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn – one certifiably controversial candidate – Mark McGwire – and a host of players who have been on the ballot for many years without gaining entry, most notably Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven, Goose Gossage, Andre Dawson, Lee Smith, Tommy John, Dave Parker, Steve Garvey, Jack Morris, Dave Concepcion and Don Mattingly. The list is completed by a group of lesser players including names like Bobby Witt, who is eligible for the first time and has absolutely no shot at entry and others, such as Harold Baines and Alan Trammell, who had estimable careers but are unlikely to get sufficient support. Finally, there are names such as Albert Belle, whose demeanor especially toward the voting writers, was nothing short of openly hostile, and who will be elected only when the distance between bases is reduced to 80 feet.

For what it is worth, my ballot would include the following:

1. Gwynn
2. Ripken
3. Gossage
4. Blyleven

McGwire should not make the Hall on merit, or more precisely a lack thereof. His overall totals do not measure up to the general standards set by current members apart from his 583 home runs and his slugging percentage. Even though at least some of his power figures are suspect, I agree with that camp arguing it is impossible to determine without concrete evidence who was definitely using steroids and what portion of their career totals were thus affected. Where I differ from their point of view is in concluding that some of their numbers were “falsely” achieved even though the likely substances had not been deemed “illegal” at the time by MLB. We are talking about the spirit if not the letter of the law and one look at the younger McGwire and a comparison with the later image raises all sorts of red flags about his use of supplements.

Gwynn and Ripken meet all of the Hall’s criteria though, remarkably, a few voices have argued Ripken’s Iron Man streak should not be a factor in the voters’ minds as if that were his only achievement. There will always be dissenters in any vote. Remember, even Willie Mays did not receive unanimous support when he became eligible. Gossage deserves election in this, his eighth year on the ballot. He was a dominating indeed fearsome presence for many years in a pressure-packed position for teams frequently in contention. The Hall of Fame site offers these biographical details:

RICH GOSSAGE: 8th year on the ballot… Pitched 22 seasons… Led the AL in saves three times (1975, ’78, ’80)… Two seasons with 30-plus saves… Named The Sporting News AL Fireman of the Year in 1975 and ’78… Named to nine All-Star teams (1975-’78, ‘80-’82, ’84-‘85)… Finished in top 10 in AL MVP voting twice in 1980 (3rd) and ’81 (9th)… Received Cy Young Award votes in 1975 (T6th), ’78 (5th), ’80 (3rd), ’81 (6th) and ’84 (5th)…Ranks 17th all-time in saves and 10th in games pitched…One AL Division Series (1981); three saves and no earned runs in 6 2/3 ALDS innings… Four League Championship Series (1978, ’80, ’81, ’84); owns 4.91 ERA and three saves in 11 LCS innings… Three World Series (1978, ’81, ’84); owns 2.63 ERA and two saves in 13 2/3 WS innings… Member of 1978 WS championship team.

Blyleven is a “victim” of having pitched during an era when there were certainly other dominating eventual Hall of Fame pitchers around. He also had the misfortune to play for a lot of mediocre teams yet he put together impressive totals by any standard. Here is the HOF site’s bio on him:

BERT BLYLEVEN: 10th year on the ballot… Pitched 22 seasons…Ranks 5th all-time in strikeouts, 9th in starts, 9th in shutouts, 25th in wins, and 7th in innings pitched… Led AL in shutouts three times (1973, ’85, ’89), innings twice (1985, ’86), complete games once (1985), and strikeouts once (1985)… Tabbed by The Sporting News as AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year (1970) and Comeback Player of the Year (1989)… One 20-win season (1973) and eight 200-plus strikeout seasons… Received AL Cy Young votes in 1973 (T-7th), ’84 (3rd), ’85 (T-3rd), and ’89 (4th)… Two All-Star teams (1973, ’85)… Pitched a 6-0 no-hitter against the California Angels on Sept. 22, 1977 … Shares AL single-game record for longest one-hit complete game – 10 innings ( June 21, 1976 )… Three League Championship Series (1970, ’79, ’87); owns a 3-0 record with a 2.59 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 24 1/3 LCS innings… Two World Series (1979, ’87); owns a 2-1 record with a 2.35 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 23 WS innings… Member of two WS championship teams in 1979 and ’87.


RickSchuBlues said...

Agreed that Gossage should get in and that McGwire should not. My chief criteria for HOFers is *dominance*: were the players among the very best in the game for a substantial number of years (at least five). Mattingly fits that criteria as far as I'm concerned, and so do Rice, Dawson, and Morris. I don't think it applies to Blyleven; I'm not nearly as keen on guys who last forever and were average to above-average. But I do agree that if guys like Niekro and Sutton are in, so should Jim Kaat, Tommy John, and Blyleven. (No one, of course, would argue Ripken or Gwynn.) I tend to think, however, that 'borderline' HOFers like Dawson and Rice stand a better chance of getting in during years when there's just one or no strong candidiates coming off the five-year wait period following retirement.

Tom Goodman said...

RSB: I thought long and hard about Mattingly and nearly included him. He was a clutch hitter and an outstanding fielder who had the "misfortune" to play for the Yankees during what was probably their worst stretch in history. That said, he didn't necessarily "dominate" so much as produce reliably and consistently, which is probably damning with faint praise. If he were elected I would have no gripe whatsoever.

Rice was much more feared during his ten years of outstanding performance at the plate, but he was a poor fielder and that and his antagonisms with the press have hurt him. He is my darkhorse to get in this year though his fielding would prevent me from voting for him were I able.

I don't think guys who "last forever" and win should be penalized, especially in an era when starters cannot even last six innings any longer. Blyleven would have had a much more impressive resume (damn good already) had he played for a good club much of his career.

I think guys who did not play for a winner are penalized. Dawson is a good example as are Blyleven and Mattingly.

As for your last point, I agree though I would have thought last year would have been Rice's year, with only Sutter gaining admission. Sutter's admission makes Gossage's omission even harder to understand though one other factor I neglected to list in my questions in the post would be: "defined a position OR invented a pitch"!!