Another round of “What about the CHILDREN” baseball columns. How, in heaven’s name, can we possibly induct steroid users into the Church of Cooperstown? But they’re coming, make no mistake. There’s no way to keep them out. Most importantly, we (yes, “we”) shouldn’t try. Some of them clearly belong among the all-time greats in baseball history. Not based on their numbers, because those were really silly, but based on the fact that they were the best players in baseball while they were active, or considered the among the best at their positions, or any of the other criteria we use to “define” a HOFer. I think I’ve written before – it’s a gut-check for me, anyway.
But time grows short, and this may be obsolete before I even
post it, but here goes. First, the guys who re-appear on the ballot this
year, in order of their vote last year:
Jack Morris – he always seemed like a HOFer while he was active. Consistent, a bulldog, a central role on a great team. Made a few runs at Cy Young Awards (although he never won one), won 20 three times, led the league in SOs and Wins a couple of times. Generally considered an elite pitcher while he was active. 2nd most similar pitcher is Bob Gibson (but let’s be honest here – the similarity is primarily due to W/L record, and Gibson was a killer strikeout pitcher. Morris threw hard, but not to Gibby’s level. I think most of the similarity is due to their similar levels of assholery). Cons – 1st most similar pitcher is Denny Martinez. Was great, but never once had that towering single season where he just mowed people down – was never his style. Think Cris Carpenter or Andy Pettite. Verdict – out. Barely.
A postscript on Jack Morris: Joe Posnanski has been killing it this week, and he wrote a long blog post about Morris that hits a solid point for me: He agrees, generally, that Morris is not a HOFer by the current “standards”, but he also says that it won’t bother him if he gets in. I agree 100% - He’s not the best pitcher not in the Hall, but I’ll be happy for him and my Tiger fan friends (which are legion) when he gets in. He (along with Parrish, and Whitaker, and Trammell, and Kirk Gibson) was a lead dog on one of the best teams of my lifetime, and that team will always be under-represented in the Hall, because those guys all fell just short of immortality. Morris is the closest, so hey, let ‘er rip. But I wouldn’t have him on my ballot.
Jeff Bagwell – A tremendous hitter for a long period of time, won a Rookie of the Year and an MVP before the PEDs got too crazy. 1994 season is one of my favorite statistical lines of all time – hit .368 (in the ASTRODOME), 39 HR, 104 runs, 116 RBI, stole 15 bases, .451 On-base. Four fifty one. He even won the Gold Glove (although let’s be honest here – a great example of why the GG is completely silly). Had some really spectacular seasons that didn’t include a silly number of HRs but did include a ton of runs scored and walks. Could even run a bit. In the MVP race several times. Cons – hit 449 HR, 2314 hits. Getting to 475 or 2800 hits would make his case a lot more air-tight. Verdict – in. It bums me out that he’s not in before all the crazy PED guys start stealing the oxygen, because they might take the spotlight.
Lee Smith – real good numbers, but he just never struck me as a HOFer. There were always five guys I’d rather have, even in his best seasons, and I have this feeling that he never pulled it out in critical situations, which may be entirely invented on my part. Verdict – out.
Tim Raines – Jonah Keri thinks that Raines is the great forgotten talent of his generation, which is a) sorta true, and b)but only sorta. He was terrific, obviously…had a good long career, stole a ton of bases, scored a ton of runs, was the second-best leadoff hitter of his era (okay, maybe the third, with Wade Boggs around), stole a ton of bases, was an okay fielder, stole a ton of bases. I’m not convinced – you could definitely win a World Series with him playing a key role, and he did have a wide range of skills, but – again, he never had that blaze-across-the-sky season that removed all doubt. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times. His most-similar player is Lou Brock, who is in the HOF but probably wouldn’t be if he hadn’t reached 3000 hits. The rest of them are guys like Kenny Lofton and Max Carey and Johnny Damon and Willie Davis. Carey is in, but I can’t honestly explain why. Verdict – Out.
Alan Trammell – a good player, but I will never understand why he’s in the conversation but Lou Whitaker isn’t. A good player, but never, not once, considered the best player in baseball. Or the best player on his team. Or the best shortstop in baseball. Verdict – out.
Edgar Martinez – see Trammell, Alan. Good, but not great – the only thing in his favor is that there was discussion during his career as to whether he was the best DH ever, which in my opinion is like being the best long reliever – it’s proof that they are good, but also proof that they don’t have a wide base of skills. In Martinez’ case, he couldn’t field, and he was one of the worst baserunners ever. In my memory, anyway. But boy, could he hit. Verdict – out.
Fred McGriff – sorta ditto. Good, nearly great…some really terrific seasons, finished with 493 HR and 2490 hits – if he’d gotten to 500 and 2500 he’d probably be in already. First four comparables are Stargell, and McCovey, Bagwell, and Frank Thomas, which is fast company and pushes him over the line for me. Verdict – in. Barely.
Larry Walker – I was stunned to see that he got 22% of the vote in 2011, his third season on the ballot. He was a good hitter for a few years, won an MVP once, flirted with .400 once (didn’t he?), but his big seasons were in Colorado. And they were in Colorado. I don’t know, I feel like he was just a more-disciplined version of Dante Bichette. And Dante Bichette ain’t gettin’ in. Verdict – out.
Mark McGwire – ah, yes, Mark McGwire. Cue the rant. Mark McGwire was a pretty good offensive player before he got all streroided up…even when he hit .235, which he did in 1987, he juiced it with 116 walks, slugged .470 (a good number in those days), scored 87 runs in the center of a terrific offense. BUT – at 28 he started breaking down and spent about three seasons unable to stay on the field. By many accounts, this is when he really started cranking up the hypodermic needles, and boom – he suddenly stayed mostly healthy and jacked up his power numbers for five seasons, at which point he started breaking down again. Those five years were spectacular, obviously, but without them he’s Dave Kingman or Carlos Pena. AFTER 31, he’s Harmon Killebrew.
To me, the acid test for all of these guys is whether they were HOF material before it got all silly, and McGwire was clearly not (until 31, his comps are guys like Nate Colbert and Cecil Fielder and – briefly – Mark Texiera). To me, that keeps McGwire out. Verdict – out.
Don Mattingly – one of my favorite players ever, and I loved him as a rookie, long before he became the RBI machine wrecking crew that won MVPs for lousy teams. Love his stance, how he turned his back slightly to the pitcher and would just watch that breaking ball come in over his shoulder and into the catcher’s mitt. Loved how he would turn on the inside fastball and just drive it all over the park. Loved the mustache. Loved that when he got in a groove you absolutely couldn’t get him out – I’m a big walk guy, And he was as good a hitter as there was for a few years there…but he had back problems which a) killed his power, although he was still productive, and b) ended his career when he was 34 and kept him from piling up any meaningful career numbers. Verdict – out, sadly.
Dale Murphy – Why Jonah Keri is jazzed up about Tim Raines instead of this guy is beyond me. Back-to-back MVPs, durable, led the league in a ton of offensive categories, multiple Gold Gloves, could run, drew a ton of walks, a great guy by all accounts. Just a terrific all-around player…but he’s one of those guys that never quite got over the hump. Had five OPS over .900, but he never got to 1.000. 398 career homers. 1197 runs. Never a great average hitter, “only” 2111 hits. His peak, while it was very high, was six seasons – outside of those seasons, he was basically just a guy. For some reason, I can see the hesitancy in voting him in. Verdict – out. barely.
Rafael Palmeiro – man, I don’t know. He was a really good hitter for a really good long time – 3000 hits, 569 homers…I don’t know if you can keep him out. But he’s a steroid guy, and you have to ask – would he have made it if he hadn’t done them? Unlike in McGwire’s case, where there’s a pretty clear demarcation between “before” and “after,” Palmeiro was never terrible and never made any kind of clear leap. He just got better, and better, and better. In his case, it’s not that hard to imagine a HOF career from his first five seasons…a total douche, but a terrific hitter. Verdict – In.
Bernie Williams – another personal favorite. Won a batting title, was often mentioned as an MVP candidate, Gold Glover…but was never really the best player in baseball, let alone on his team, could run but not that much, had some pop but not a huge amount. Scored a ton of runs, got on base, had a wide range of skills, but he misses the cut for me, and I love the guy. Verdict – out.
So, my ballot so far: Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Rafael Palmeiro. Not at all what I expected...