Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hall of Fame Results

Congratulations to two guys who baseball desperately needed – Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, who were just announced as the 2007 Hall of Fame inductees.

From the Hall of Fame’s official announcement:

A record 545 ballots, including two blanks, were cast by BBWAA members with 10 or more consecutive years' service, eclipsing by 25 the previous mark of 2006. Players must be named on 75 percent of ballots submitted to gain election. This year, 409 votes were needed.

Ripken got five more votes than Gwynn did – 537 to 532. As a result, Ripken has set a new record for most votes received. He did not, however, set the record for percentage of votes. Tom Seaver set that record in 1992.

Before we get into the elected players, let us discuss the voting process, which is an embarrassment. First and foremost, these are only writers who vote (from the Baseball Writers of America – BBWA). With that said, there is a great deal of “old boys club” going on. Were you nice to that writer? Then you stand a chance of at least getting some votes. How else can you explain to me that Jim Rice isn’t in the Hall yet? Rice was a surly SOB, but he put fear in me every time I saw him at the plate. Yet because he was a pain in the neck with the media, and the fact he didn’t put up “no-brainer” HOF numbers, enough writers have banded together to make sure Rice never gets into the Hall. Yet from 1975 to 1986, Rice was a monster – a .304 batting average, hit 350 home runs, and drove in 1276. Plus he was a top-five MVP vote receiver six times (winning the award over Ron Guidry in 1978). A comparable player might be Mike Schmidt (though the two played in different leagues). From 75-86, Schmidt hit .271, with 440 home runs, and 1221 RBI’s. Rice had more total bases than Schmidt. Schmidt won three MVP’s. Don’t get me wrong, Schmidt was a more dominant player, but are their offensive numbers so different that Schmidt is a no-doubter and Rice is still waiting? Puzzling, to say the least.

Of course, I’m also up in arms about Rich “Goose” Gossage not making the Hall today. The Goose received 71.2% of the vote. I know Bruce Sutter “invented” the split-finger fastball, and I’m aware of what Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley did. Here’s what Goose did – he took the ball, as early as the sixth inning sometimes, and promptly shut down his opponent. He didn’t need a split finger or a cutter he just used a devastating fastball. He dominated over a long period of time. That’s a hall of famer.

Of course, debates about who should and should not be in any hall of fame is half the fun. Still it is time to take the votes away from just these writers. Broadcasters – who see and hear as much as writers often do, should be factored in, as should well-regarded historians. Bob Costas, for instance, who hasn’t called a baseball time in some time, has a vote on the committee to elect the Ford Frick Award winner (for the broadcasting legends). He should also have a vote for the general election. The votes should not be only in hands of the ink-stained folks. Heck, I (and I do consider myself to be a rank amateur baseball historian) could do a better job with the voting process.

Then we come to this writer in Chicago, Paul Ladewski. You can read it here, but let’s suffice it to say that he was one of the two ballots that were returned blank. Basically he didn’t vote for anybody as an indictment of the “Steroids Era” in baseball. OK, fair enough, and I feel mighty good that Mark McGwire came in ninth and did not get into the Hall. McGwire got 23.5% of the vote, behind Ripken, Gwynn, Gossage, Rice, Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven, Lee Smith (Lee Smith??), and Jack Morris. He got three more votes than Tommy John!

Anyway, back to Ladewski. To not vote for either Ripken or Gwynn is an attempt to lump them in with McGwire, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and so on. He’ll try to tell you otherwise, but his answer is bogus. Don’t try to be all high and mighty with us. Please – most fans are smarter than that. Plus think of the other people who could have used those votes, such as the aforementioned Gossage and Rice. Are you going to try to tell me that both of them used steroids? You’re then an idiot, and should not have a hall of fame vote, just because you’re somehow lucky enough to belong to the BBWA. What you did, while it might seem morally right, was irresponsible. This isn’t a political election – you can choose to not vote for somebody, or write in “Mickey Mouse” on Election Day. That is a right. You have a responsibility to fill out your ballot. And it also served for your own purpose – to call attention to you and your outlet. Nobody heard of you before this, and nobody will remember your name after the furor dies down. Thus, you’re a fool. May the governing body have the same kind of “guts”, and remove your voting rights.

Now onto the elected players. I like Tony Gwynn – and always have. As a Yankees fan, I traditionally didn’t have the chance to see National League players (pre-interleague play, which I still abhor). So in 1995, The Wife and I went and saw a Montreal Expos (remember them?) game, and I was thrilled that their opponent that night was the San Diego Padres. That meant getting to see Tony Gwynn in person – who didn’t let me down by stroking a double. I saw Gwynn again against the Yankees in 1998, and wasn’t thrilled with him that time, as he homered to right extend a lead for the Padres in Game One of the World Series. But a few Yankees home runs later (including Tino Martinez’s grand slam) and all was well in the world.

Gwynn was dominant, consistent, and amazing. He should absolutely be in the Hall.

I have bigger problems with Cal Ripken. This is not to say that I don’t think he should be in the Hall of Fame. He was great – just not as elite, to me, as Gwynn. I know he was the first truly great offensive shortstop, but he’s getting in as much for being “a good guy” and for “The Streak” as he is for being a great player. Consider the numbers: a career .276 hitter, 431 home runs, 1695 runs batted in, a .340 on-base percentage, and a .447 slugging percentage over 21 seasons. He won two MVP’s (only three top-five finishes), got the requisite 3000 hits (finished with 3184), made countless All-Star games (largely irrelevant, since their popularity contests).

Before you think I’m only talking offensively, consider this – he won two Gold Gloves.

Incidentally, he played in one World Series, in 1983, which the Orioles won. He would not make another post-season appearance until 1996.

Still, when people want to talk about Ripken, they want to talk about “The Streak.” It’s an impressive feat – 2632 consecutive games played from 1982 to 1998. It surpassed Lou Gehrig’s record by 502 games. One thing to keep in mind about Gehrig – he took himself out of the lineup after he noticed that he was no longer playing up to monstrous expectations that he had set over his career. Why? He was dying, that’s why! Dying of a disease that now bears his name. Lou Gehirg was dead just over two years after he played his last game.

This is not about Lou Gehrig though. It was clear, despite his incredible work ethic, that Ripken was hurting his team. Take a look at his career numbers, with the exception of a wonderful 1991 season, and you’ll see stats that are not elite. In fact, take a look at 1992. He hit .251 with 14 homers and 72 RBI’s, with a .323 on-base percentage, and a .366 slugging percentage. How tough must it have been for any manager of his to keep writing his name on the lineup card, knowing that not doing so would have been destructive to a record, the sanctity of a the game, blah, blah, blah?

With Cal, though, was “The Streak” ever threatened? Probably not. His manager, at one point, was his father! After his father was fired, what manager was going to further upset the teams “star” by ending his consecutive games streak? Then along came Frank Robinson, who, despite being a standup guy, is also an Orioles legend. Nope, he’s not going to bench Cal.

The point is that, at one point, Cal probably should have sat, at least a few days. But god forbid that be allowed to happen.

Still, Cal Ripken was great for baseball, but his role in “saving” baseball is largely overrated. Yes, breaking Gehrig’s record in 1995 was a great night, but it’s still about the game. The Yankees and Mariners coming back from the dead to make the playoffs, then staging the wild 1995 playoff series, can be given as much credit as anything. To the fan, Ripken did everything right. To those who don’t defend his legacy, he was selfish.

One last thing, and though Ripken is not personally guilty for this, I still can’t forget it. In 1994, baseball nearly committed suicide with their selfish strike and cancellation of the World Series. For those who were responsible, I hope they sleep well every night. As a result of the strike, Cal Ripken was able to take the rest of the 1994 season off (from August on). Then baseball was faced the possibility of using replacement players in 1995. In fact, replacements were used in Spring Training that year (including the replacement Yankees who were in the same hotel as The Wife and I on part of our honeymoon). One team did not – the Orioles. If you believe owner Peter Angelos (a personal fave of mine…not), he did it because he didn’t want anybody other than the actual players on the field. The fact is – he did it because of Ripken and “The Streak.” If he loses The Streak, in his mind, he thinks that people won’t come out to Camden Yards. At the time, nothing could have been further from the truth, because Camden Yards was a palace (it still is).

OK, enough about Cal Ripken. He’s a Hall of Famer, a great guy, somebody who I admire very much. I just don’t hold him up as being as elite as, say, Tony Gwynn. Congratulations to them both. Despite what you might be thinking, I have tremendous respect for both of them.

To finish up here – no locals will be anywhere near Cooperstown (without buying tickets). Gossage came the closest, with Tommy John in the top ten. Don Mattingly was the only other Yankee or Met who can continue to appear on the ballot next year, and he got a mere 9.9 percent. Incidentally, I’m not counting Lee Smith as a Yankee, despite the fact that he had a cup of coffee in the Bronx. Those receiving less than five percent of the vote get removed from the ballot. Therefore, Paul O’Neill, Bret Saberhagen, Tony Fernandez. Bobby Bonilla, and Scott Brosius will not be preparing acceptance speeches ever. Neither will Jose Canseco, by the way (yes, unfortunately, he was a Yankee in 2000).

Finally, the next few years give hope to Rice, Gossage, Jack Morris, among others. Check out some of the names…and groan…

2008: Shawon Dunston, Travis Fryman, David Justice, Mike Morgan, Tim Raines, Randy Velarde
2009: Mark Grace, Rickey Henderson, Dean Palmer, Dan Plesac, Matt Williams
2010: Andres Galarraga, Edgar Martinez, Robin Ventura

Only Rickey Henderson is a lock. Edgar Martinez will be a tough call, due to the Designated Hitter issue. Personally I like him, but if I had a ballot (and after today, I think I deserve one), I’d have to really study his career to make a firm decision.

Let’s move on – adios, Randy Johnson. I was proud to have The Big Unit here, but it didn’t work. May he fare well in the desert. Just so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of the Yankees.

The Jets lost to the Patriots. Did anybody reasonably think that Tom Brady was going lose to Chad Pennington? It was a game for a while, but the Pats knocked them around. Let’s be honest. As for the Giants, Tom Coughlin got the team to the playoffs. I would bring him back for the final year of his deal, because the injuries were just too much to overcome. Still I think the Giants are in big trouble. The loss of Tiki Barber will be hard to overcome. He was amazing in his last two games.

Back to the Pats-Jets. Did you see the hug between Belichick and Mingini? Ok. Did you also see Belichick pick up a camerman and throw him out of the way in the process of getting to Mangini? Is a simple “excuse me” that hard?

The best video that I can find of it is here. It's not great, but you should be able to see the incident, if you care.

I’m done, but, before I go, my blog buddy Tim Parry has started an “Exit 55” style effort. His new blog, “Hello, My Name is TIM” will be an across the board, anything goes kind of thing. I don’t know where he finds the time (his wife, like mine, must be a saint) but I like reading "Slim Shady's" stuff (look at the name of the blog and you'll understand why I'm calling him that). I hope you like reading his stuff also.

By the way, the Veterans Committee will name their hall of famers next month. Expect more ranting and raving!

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