maandag, december 02, 2002

Have Hall of Fame Ballot, Will Travel

Although I am not a member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, one of the lucky few who actually get a ballot, there are 17 players to choose from on baseball's Hall of Fame ballot this year. Last season, Ozzie Smith became the 37th player picked in his first year of eligibility. Among those who might join him this year are Eddie Murray, Ryne Sandberg and Lee Smith. In addition to these first time shots are a list of holdovers on the ballot, players who have been eligible but have not received the requisite 75 percent of the ballots to get elected. Among those who might merit additional consideration are Gary Carter, who missed election by 11 votes last year, Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter. Pitcher Jim Kaat is on the ballot for the final time. Players can remain on the ballot for up to 15 years as long as they are on at least 5 percent of the ballots each year.

Over the last few years, the standard of getting into the Hall of Fame has lowered significantly. Players are matched by pure statistical longevity, how they fared among their lusterless contemporaries and how much these idiot sportswriters liked the guy rather than how he matches up, at his position, against immortals already in the Hall of Fame. If I had a ballot, no way does someone like Kirby Puckett get in. No way does Maz make it. No way does an ineffectual lifer like Robin Yount infilterate the Hall just because he had 20 years to muster 3,000 hits on a .285 lifetime average and virtually complete colorlessness in play. No way does a stiff like Don Sutton take up space in the pitcher's Hall, just because he put together 23 mediocre, lackluster seasons in a row and was able to pinch out 300 victories. None of the above-referenced players were the kind to inspire the youth of future generations except maybe in Milwaukee, Minneapolis or Pittsburgh. None of them were household names, none of them inspired songs, none of them awakened the ghosts of Hall of Fame elections past. Maybe they could make it in long after death, when the veteran's committee gets mawkish and sentimental, but otherwise, they should stand aside for more worthy contemporaries and if there are none, then none should be picked to enter the Hall for a year. It wouldn't be a human tragedy. History would not go unpreserved.

Fortunately, this season, there are several first time eligibles who are appealing. You can begin with Eddie Murray. Murray is one of only three players to collect 3,000 hits and 500 homeruns in a career. Ever. Know who the other two were? Hammerin' Hank and the Say Hey Kid. Eddie Murray is a unanimous yes. Regardless of position.

Another legitimate first ballot candidate is Ryno Ryne Sandberg. To begin with, Sandberg hit more homeruns than any other second baseman in history, surpassing Joe Morgan in 1997. In and of itself, this probably doesn't do it but add to this the 9 straight gold gloves, the 10 straight All-Star appearances and an MVP award in 1984, and we're starting to look at a class second baseman. Add to that a .989 career fielding percentage, higher than Joe Morgan's whom few if anyone would argue doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame, and you can't ignore this is a very good candidate. How many championships did the guy win? Well, as you know, he played for the Cubs and since he didn't play alongside Tinkers or Chance in 1908, that means Johnny Evers was the last Cub second baseman to win a World Championship, so you can't really fault Sandberg on that. Ryno is a Hall of Fame second baseman but maybe not first ballot.

The only other first ballot candidate worth anything but a belly laugh for Hall of Fame consideration is possibly Lee Smith. Ok, maybe he does merit a belly laugh when you consider his 71-92 career won-loss record and his 3.03 ERA for a career bullpen specialist. But, the guy did manage 478 career saves, more than anyone else so far, ever. On the other hand, major league saves did not become an officially recognized statistic until the 1969 season so there are a good 100 years of ball players he can't compare with. Smith, if he is still the career saves leader in 10 or 15 years deserves further consideration but at the moment, he just doesn't measure up.

Now, as for those unfortunates who didn't make it the first time around, only Gary Carter and Jim Rice merit serious consideration. There are currently 12 catchers in the Hall of Fame. At least one of them, Ray Schalk was less of a catcher than Carter. In fact, in reviewing Schalk's rather bromidic career, I'm hard-pressed to understand how he ever made it in the first place. If Ray Schalk deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, so does Gary Carter. It's that simple.

The enigmatic Rice, on the other hand, faces considerable Hall of Fame competition from his position at left field. There are 18 others listed in the Hall at left field, including former Redsox' Yaz and Ted Williams. Rice put up decent numbers, but let's face it, even though he had a couple of semi-monster seasons, he didn't get to 400 homers, had a lifetime batting average under .300 and played almost a quarter of his games as a DH. Mets fans might want to note that current pitching coach Vern Ruhle broke Rice's hand in '75, causing Rice to miss the entirety of that infamous World Series clash with the Reds and perhaps even costing the Sox a World Championship that year. (Or maybe not. The Curse of the Bambino may have won the day, even with Jim Rice in the lineup that post season.) In any case, compare for example, Rice's stats with Murray's, who I've already said deserves to be a unanimous choice for the Hall of Fame and perhaps the only one elected in this year. Rice is more like Murray's bat boy than his equal in the Hall.

Lastly, for all you sobbing, sentimental dupes out there, the amaranthine Kitty Kaat gets his final shot this year to make it in. The addlepates who listen to Yankees broadcasts are well familiar with Kaat's voice and his baseball expertise. He's such a good broadcaster he even wrote an article on it for Popular Mechanics. But unless he makes it into the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster, I don't think a guy who took 25 years to win 283 games is Hall of Fame material. Maybe Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame material, as he is their all-time leader in victories, but otherwise, as a pitcher, fugetaboutit.

So on this ballet, Eddie Murray is the only guy that gets through on his first try and Gary Carter makes it in based upon whatever absurdist argument got Ray Schalk in. Of those who are on the ballet, either as first time candidates or as a holdover, the one whose name should be scratched off for good and never considered again, except for purely comedic value, is good ole Fat Sid Fernandez who had a career season for the Mets in 1986 before eating himself out of baseball for good in 1997. He made an ill-fated comeback attempt in 2001 with the Yankees after reportedly losing "a ton" of weight, which might have dropped him down to about 2,000 pounds but otherwise, hasn't been heard from since.

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