By Eric Neel and David Schoenfield
Page 2

It's hard to remember now, in the era of big muscles and bigger BALCO rumors, but once upon a time 30 homers and 100 RBI were a big deal. Once upon a time, a second baseman who could slug .500 was a superstar freak, a guy you'd name your kids after.

People forget that time now. That time was the '80s. Do you remember the 80s?

We do. We grew up with the game in the '80s. These were the stars of our youth. Maybe these guys aren't all Hall of Famers; they certainly haven't been getting much respect from Hall of Fame voters. And when the results for the 2005 class for Cooperstown are announced Tuesday, we suspect none of them will make it.

But we remember ...

DALE MURPHY, 1976-1993
Games Hits HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS+ GG All-Star Top-10
MVP
2180 2111 398 1266 .265 .346 .469 121 5 7 4

There were peaks and valleys, but the overall numbers are very good (exactly one homer per every 20 ABs career), and there was a time, in the mid-'80s, when Murphy was King, a seemingly iron-clad lock for the Hall. (Between 1982 and 1985, he hit more than 36 homers and drove in 100+ four straight times.) More than the numbers, though, we carry a picture of him, all upright and angular, his 6-foot-5 frame capable of an unexpected grace. Think of the swooping, almost casual finish to his swing; think of the long-legged landing when he stole a base. (Bet you didn't remember he did that too, did you? 30-out-of-34 in 1983, baby.)
--Eric Neel

ANDRE DAWSON, 1976-1996
Games Hits HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS+ GG All-Star Top-10
MVP
2627 2774 438 1591 .279 .323 .482 119 8 8 4

As good as he was in Chicago (and he might not have been MVP good, but he was mighty good), and as much as I admired the way he hobbled on two bum knees with grit and grace, it's the young Hawk I think of now. Between 1979-1983 his nickname wasn't a hook, it was pure description. The man flew about the yard. He stole bases, hit for power, and worked the alleys with both glove and bat. And I loved that he played north of the border. These were the days before "Baseball Tonight." They were the days of snippets on "This Week In Baseball" and glimpses when the Expos came to town. The young Hawk was a mystery, a legend, a force whose exploits traveled on the wind.
--Neel

ALAN TRAMMELL, 1977-1996
Games Hits HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS+ GG All-Star Top-10
MVP
2293 2365 185 1003 .285 .352 .415 110 4 6 3

Our vocabulary for guys like Trammell is weak. We use anemic words like "steady" and "consistent," words better suited to coffee tables and cars than stalwart shortstops. The man was a rock, and not a cold, flat river stone, but a monument facade, with spectacular peaks (take a look at the 1984 postseason) and a fundamental base (.977 career fielding percentage). Trammell was the Detroit Tigers for 20 seasons, in the same way Robin Yount was the Brewers and Tony Gwynn was the Padres, and in a way that almost no one in the game embodies their team or their city right now.
--Neel

LOU WHITAKER, 1977-1995
Games Hits HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS+ GG All-Star Top-10
MVP
2390 2369 244 1084 .276 .363 .426 117 3 5 1

Whitaker was always in the shadows. Teammates like Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris and Cecil Fielder and even Trammell were more heralded. Maybe it was that funny gait of his (I can't describe it, but you'll know what I mean if you saw Whitaker play), which made him seem unathletic. He was quiet; heck, I couldn't even tell you what he sounded like when he talked, because you never heard him talk. Maybe he was too smooth on the field, made everything look too easy. And maybe that's why voters dumped him off the ballot after his first year on it. But he sure could hit and field and turn the deuce.
--David Schoenfield

DON MATTINGLY, 1982-1995
Games Hits HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS+ GG All-Star Top-10
MVP
1785 2153 222 1099 .307 .358 .471 127 9 6 4

Exhibit A in "Why I hate the Hall of Fame" (he received just 65 votes last year and is in real danger of slipping off the ballot entirely). More important than a ticket to the Hall is the quality of a man's game, from eye-black to eight straight games with a home run, from inside-out doubles to flawless picks off the infield dirt, and from sun-up to sundown. I know it makes me a bad scientist and a bit of a romantic, but Mattingly was an idea to me, he was the idea of baseball, in something like its pure Platonic form. (Bill James writes in the "Historical Baseball Abstract": "100% ballplayer, 0% bulls---")." Hit for average? Yes, sir. Hit for power? Done. Play stellar defense? Check. Do it all so well that you're universally recognized as the gold standard, not for a week, or a month, or a season, but for three straight years? Got that right. Forget the Hall, forget the Hall's fascination with longevity, put Mattingly in the Pantheon.
--Neel

KEITH HERNANDEZ, 1974-1990
Games Hits HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS+ GG All-Star Top-10
MVP
2088 2182 162 1071 .296 .384 .436 129 11 5 4

This isn't fair, but Hernandez has always been on my list of the best baseball players who don't really look like baseball players (along with Ron Cey, Willie McGee, Frank Tanana, Chris Sabo, Terry Forster, Alex Rodriguez, and a host of others). Maybe it was the bustle-butt stance, maybe it was the Tony Clifton mustache ... I don't know, but he just never looked the part to me, even when he was slapping doubles into the alley. In fact, it wasn't until I saw him take a turn on "Seinfeld" that I really felt like he was, without question, a baseball player. But like I said, I'm not being fair ...
--Neel

JIM RICE, 1974-1989
Games Hits HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS+ GG All-Star Top-10
MVP
2089 2452 382 1451 .298 .352 .502 128 0 8 6

I was sitting in the family station wagon with my mom in 1978, opening a pack of baseball cards, listening on the radio to hear that Rice beat out Ron Guidry for the AL MVP Award. I remember being happy Rice won; I guess I must have disliked the Yankees. In retrospect, however, Guidry was clearly the most valuable player in the AL that year. And that's kind of how Rice's career seems in retrospect: man, he sure was feared at the time, but when you study things a little closer, you realize he wasn't as great as we thought. He gained a huge advantage from Fenway, back when it was a great hitter's park; he didn't draw many walks, meaning he never finished higher than ninth in the AL in on-base percentage; he was a mediocre fielder; he grounded into a ton of DPs (36 in 1984!). Still, it seems like Rice should be a Hall of Famer.
--Schoenfield

DWIGHT EVANS, 1972-1991
Games Hits HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS+ GG All-Star Top-10
MVP
2606 2446 385 1384 .272 .370 .470 127 8 3 4

For those of us who grew up in the '80s reading Bill James, Dwight Evans was sort of the secret superstar we knew about that made us feel a little superior to other baseball fans. He did the things that didn't show up in the box score, like draw walks and play great defense. He also had that knock-kneed stance at the plate and a cannon of an arm in right field. He was a testimony to hard work -- even though he reached the majors when he was 21, he didn't become a star until 1981, when he was 29. Maybe he falls short of Cooperstown; but he doesn't fall short of the Underrated Hall of Fame.
--Schoenfield

DAVE PARKER, 1973-1991
Games Hits HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS+ GG All-Star Top-10
MVP
2466 2712 339 1493 .290 .339 .471 121 3 7 6

OK, it wasn't quite the '80s, but I was sitting in the Kingdome at the 1979 All-Star Game, back when Parker showed why he was the most intimidating player in baseball there for a few years. I can still see the throws, 25 years later: Jim Rice doubling into the right-field corner in the seventh inning, trying to make a three-bagger, Parker uncoiling, unleashing a laser beam -- no cutoff man, mind you -- to third to nail Rice. And then, the next inning, gunning down Brian Downing at the plate, keeping the game tied 6-6. And in ninth, when AL pitchers walked four hitters -- including Parker intentionally -- the NL had won again, like they always did in those days. I was an AL fan; I sure hated Parker that day.
--Schoenfield

JACK MORRIS, 1977-1994
Games IP W L PCT ERA ERA+ Post PERA All-Star Top-5
Cy
549 3824 254 186 .577 3.90 105 7-4 3.80 5 5

Before he pitched maybe the greatest game in World Series history in 1991, he was laying the groundwork in the '80s. 126 wins, six times in the top six in innings pitched, six times in the top five in games started, six times in the top five in complete games, and seven times in the top 10 in strikeouts. When folks get all teary-eyed talking about the days when pitchers were pitchers and men were men, they're talking about Jack Morris.
--Neel

BERT BLYLEVEN, 1970-1992
Games IP W L PCT ERA ERA+ Post PERA All-Star Top-5
Cy
692 4970 287 250 .534 3.31 118 5-1 2.47 2 3

OK, maybe the point isn't that Blyleven was more valuable than Nolan Ryan (even though he was). Maybe the point is that Blyleven was as good as Ryan, if only less famous, and while Ryan soared into the Hall, Blyleven continues to struggle to get even 50 percent of the vote. From 1971 to 1977, Blyleven never had an ERA above 3.00 and pitched at least 275 innings in six of those seven seasons, but went 112-104. And voters hold that against him? And after an elbow injury in 1981, he had a second life with the Indians and Twins as one of the AL's best pitchers in the '80s. Ryan had an ERA below 3.00 in seasons of at least 200 innings just five times in his career. Blyleven did it nine times. Blyleven helped two teams win the World Series, going 5-1, 2.47 in eight career playoff games. Must be a Dutch bias with the voters, I tell you.
--Schoenfield

FERNANDO VALENZUELA, 1980-1997
Games IP W L PCT ERA ERA+ Post PERA All-Star Top-5
Cy
453 2930 173 153 .531 3.54 103 5-1 1.98 6 4

What I remember is being in the right-field pavilion seats for an April game against the Giants in 1981. Fernando threw a seven-hit shutout and collected three hits of his own. The park was a giant party. People were singing his name, doing little dances of joy. I was there with my grandfather. We were raising cups of beer and soda and delivering toasts in his honor. We could not believe he was real and he was ours.
--Neel

GOOSE GOSSAGE, 1972-1994
Games IP W L SV ERA ERA+ Post PERA All-Star Top-5
Cy
1002 1809 124 107 310 3.01 126 2-1 2.87 9 4

It's simple, isn't it? As an opposing fan, Goose scared the hell out of you. Think how the hitters felt.
--Schoenfield

BRUCE SUTTER, 1976-1988
Games IP W L PCT ERA ERA+ Post PERA All-Star Top-5
Cy
661 1042 68 71 300 2.83 136 2-0 3.00 6 4

OK, maybe he didn't last long enough to make the Hall. But consider how respected he was at his peak: he finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting five times in his career. That's more than Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, Don Mattingly and a bunch of Hall of Famers, including Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Billy Williams, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, Ozzie Smith, Carlton Fisk. And none of those guys had the Grizzly Adams beard to match Sutter's.
--Schoenfield

Key: OPS+ = OPS, adjusted for ballpark and compared to league average; 120 means 20 percent better than league average. GG = Gold Gloves. All-Star = All-Star Games. Top-10 MVP = times in the top 10 in MVP voting. ERA+ = ERA, adjusted for ballpark and compared to league average. Post = postseason W-L record. PERA = postseason ERA.




Eric
Neel
and
David
Schoenfield
REMEMBER THE '80s