Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hall of Fame Redux

This is such an interesting issue to me that I have returned from my duties in Greensburg, PA just to comment - Mike and I do not disagree often, but I think you will find our difference of opinion intriguing.

First, congratulations to Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken - I saw Cal on QVC peddling his HOF gear. I wonder how that set of phone calls went: hi, this is ESPN; hi, this is ABC; hi, this is QVC.

Issue 1: vote percentages. Someone will someday explain to me how it is that Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken are not unanimously elected to the HOF. I can almost understand the blank ballot - if a writer wants to take a position and stand by it, fine. But who were the 11 and 6 writers, respectively, that voted for at least one other person on the ballot, but not Gwynn or Ripken? Baseball writers on the whole believe that they are better than the other writers - they are the old school, the Druids so to speak of the baseball world. And, by golly, they have a HOF vote! Well, until these writers can demonstrate more responsibility and more thoughtfulness, instead of making a mockery of the voting process, their votes should be taken away and they should be banished to basements with manual typewriters.

Issue 2: the non-winners. In my mind, Goose Gossage wins the award for most patient non-winner of the year award. His bitterness (and I can assure you that he feels it - he must) has dwelled below the surface for sometime now; jeez, Bruce Sutter made it to the HOF before he did. 9 time All-Star. Top 10 in the MVP voting twice. Top 5 in CYA voting 5 times. Led the league in saves 3 times. He took a whole season off from saving games to throw 230 innings as a starter in 1976. He threw over 130 innings as a reliever 4 other times, and put up 1800 IP in his career. When he actually worked like a Lee Smith closer in 1981, he put up a .77 ERA and a WHIP of equal value. He pitched in 8 post-season series, 31 IP and an ERA under 3 with 8 saves. Oh, and by the way, he had 310 career saves in a much less forgiving era. I am not going to take away from Lee Smith, who was also dominating for a long period - perhaps both of these "closers" should be in the Hall, and I believe they should. I agree with Mike that BB should be in the Hall as well.

Issue 3: McGwire. I do not understand why this is so difficult for people to understand. First, and foremost, please do not forget that Mark McGwire was caught with steroids IN HIS LOCKER. I understand they were not illegal at the time. I understand they were not banned at the time. Revisionist history, however, has forced us to forget this one simple fact. Second, a look at McGwire's numbers pre-1997 make it clear that he is not a HOF'er. Between the two 40+ HR years, McGwire hit 30+ 3 times and 20+ 1 time, with accompanying averages never above .230. The next three years consisted of all of 450-500 AB. Then, suddenly, in 1996, the string of 50+ starts. Unfortunately for me, and unfortunately more so for Mark, this is the steroid time. There is a shadow of steroids over those years, and the fact is that I cannot accept those numbers. There need be no trial; there need be no admission - he was caught with them in 1998, unlike other players (Bonds, for example) who are being crucified without any such "positive evidence." The difference between Bonds and McGwire is that Bonds was likely a HOF player before 2000-2001; McGwire certainly was not a HOF player prior to 1996-1997.

The sadness of the Mark McGwire story is more the shadow it casts over the sport. I heard a radio commentator yesterday suggest that Ripken took steroids to recover from injuries and that is how he managed to keep his streak alive. I do not believe anyone has ever suggested Ripken took steroids, even his teammates that have fingered other players. That shadow is dark and cold and impacts the game to its very roots.

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