George Steinbrenner for Hall of Fame
What if the Baseball Hall of Fame holds an election ceremony and there's nobody to elect?
It could happen. And considering the annual ceremony brings in tens of thousands of visitors to Cooperstown, N.Y., and thus tens of thousands of dollars to the Hall of Fame, it's important to enshrine new members each year.
The Baseball Writers Association votes on the main ballot, and to put this politely, that group is stingier in electing players than Bill O'Reilly is in praising Democrats. In 2010, Andre Dawson was the sole player voted in, barely passing the 75 percent threshold. In 2006, Bruce Sutter was the only player voted in, and he squeaked in. The last year the writers didn't vote in a player was 1996, but we could see that scenario in 2011 (with no clear-cut candidates) and down the road, as the ballot gets clouded with more and more steroid-era players.
The Hall has countered this potential disaster with its Veterans Committee, which reviews players no longer on the ballot and former executives, managers, umpires and Negro Leaguers. Trouble is, not including Negro Leaguers, the various forms of that committee have enshrined three players this decade -- Bid McPhee, Joe Gordon and Bill Mazeroski. At least Maz was still alive. Meanwhile, it elected four managers, three executives and an umpire. The committee hit a low in 2008, when it elected a terrible commissioner (Bowie Kuhn), two deceased owners (Barney Dreyfuss and Walter O'Malley) and two marginal managers (Billy Southworth and Dick Williams), but no players. Now, no offense to Kuhn or the relatives of Dreyfuss, but those inductees didn't make for a very exciting Hall of Fame weekend.
This year, the Hall changed its Veterans Committee structure and introduced the Expansion Era Committee (you don't want to know the official name, which is much, much longer). This committee will be voting on eight former players, three executives and one manager "whose most significant career impact was realized during the 1973-present time frame." For those of you into Hall of Fame voting procedures, in 2011 we'll have the Golden Era Committee, in 2012 the Pre-Integration Era Committee and then it cycles back to the Expansion Era Committee in 2013. In 2034, I'm guessing we'll get the Steroids Era Committee.
Anyway, let's review the 12 individuals who made it onto the ballot: Players Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons and Rusty Staub; manager Billy Martin; and execs Pat Gillick, Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner.
Right now a large percentage of you are screaming, "Al Oliver?!?! Rusty Staub?!?! Dave Concepcion?!?! Are you joking? None of those guys are Hall of Famers. Those guys would stain the legacies of Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt and Johnny Bench!"
To which I say: Bruce Sutter. Or Jim Rice. Or Orlando Cepeda. Or Bid McPhee and Joe Gordon. Those guys get the same plaque as Mays, Schmidt and Bench. Now obviously, no player on the list is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, otherwise they'd be in already. But in considering their qualifications, two main question should be considered: Are they the best eligible player at their position not in the Hall of Fame and will they raise or lower the current Hall of Fame standards?
Final note: The committee consists of 16 voters; 12 votes are needed for election. The voters: Players Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith; major league executives Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Orioles) and Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox); and media members Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun), Tim Kurkjian (ESPN), Ross Newhan (retired, Los Angeles Times) and Tom Verducci (Sports Illustrated).
OK, on to the fun stuff.
Career stats: 209-161, 3.27 ERA, 3343.1 IP, 2939 hits, 1185 BBs, 2175 K's, 6-time All-Star, one Cy Young, one MVP.
Career in a sentence: One of hardest throwers in the game when he arrived in the majors, Blue had a Mount Rushmore season in his first full year but never again reached those heights, although he helped the Oakland A's win three straight World Series titles.
Reason he's not in the Hall: Spent 81 days in prison after pleading guilty to purchasing cocaine in 1983.
Real reason he's not in the Hall: While his 1971 season was one of the most spectacular of the decade (24-8, 1.82 ERA, 301 strikeouts, Cy Young and MVP winner), Blue accumulated only 209 wins.
Most ridiculous thing about his career: Before Ichiro, there was Vida. For a while, he had just "VIDA" on the back of his jersey. Also, commissioner Kuhn twice vetoed attempted deals by the A's involving Blue, to the Yankees in 1976 and the Reds in 1977, claiming they wouldn't be good for baseball.
Nerdy analysis: A comparison to his old Oakland teammate Catfish Hunter, who cruised into the Hall in his third year on the ballot:
Blue: 209-161, 3343 IP, 3.27 ERA, 43.8 WAR (wins above replacement-level player)
Hunter: 224-166, 3449 IP, 3.26 ERA, 32.5 WAR
Not much difference, and Blue actually rates higher in career value. Hunter had a six-year peak of 128-64, 2.80 (five 20-win seasons), compared to Blue's six-year peak of 107-66, 2.72 (three 20-win seasons). But comparing Blue to Hunter reveals a flaw of many Hall of Fame arguments -- Hunter is near the bottom of Hall of Fame standards. A lot of players are as good as the worst Hall of Famers. So why the love for Hunter and not Blue? When the A's won three straight World Series titles, Hunter went 7-1 with a save in the postseason. Blue went 1-4. Hunter became the first free agent and signed a huge deal with the Yankees. He was more "famous" than Blue, if not more valuable.
Best eligible player at his position not in the Hall: Bert Blyleven.
Should he make it? No.
Will he make it? Hard to see Blue getting enough support with John also on the ballot.
Career stats: .267/.322/.357, 101 HR, 950 RBIs, 2326 hits, 321 SBs, nine-time All-Star, 5-time Gold Glover.
Career in a sentence: A hero in his native Venezuela, he was a slick-fielding shortstop, who played on six division winners and two World Series champions with the Reds and was a good hitter for a 1970s shortstop.
Reason he's not in the Hall of Fame: Geez, the Big Red Machine only won two World Series. You wanna put the whole damn team in?
Real reason he's not in the Hall of Fame: Voters say his hitting numbers didn't quite measure up.
Nerdy analysis: Every current Hall of Fame shortstop has a higher career WAR (from Baseball-Reference.com) than Concepcion. Several shortstops not in the Hall of Fame have a higher WAR, including Jim Fregosi and Bert Campaneris. Nobody is campaigning for either of them ... and remember that Campy played on three World Series champs with the A's.
So really, Concepcion's case rests on two arguments:
1. Good player on a great team. Those Reds teams currently have three Hall of Famers -- Bench, Joe Morgan and Perez (plus Pete Rose). Do great teams deserve more Hall of Famers?
2. Voters have been too stingy in electing middle infielders from this era. Only eight middle infielders who debuted since 1950 are in the Hall:
Luis Aparicio (1956)
Bill Mazeroski (1956)
Joe Morgan (1963)
Rod Carew (1967)
Robin Yount (1974)
Ozzie Smith (1978)
Cal Ripken (1981)
Ryne Sandberg (1981)
(Carew actually played a few more games at first base, although his best years came as a second baseman).
Best eligible player at his position not in the Hall: Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell.
Should he make it? No. Hard to justify electing Concepcion when the clearly superior Larkin and Trammell have yet to make it.
Will he make it? Yes. With former teammates Bench and Perez undoubtedly pushing hard for him, the bet here is Concepcion makes it.
Career stats: .294/.329/.446, 272 HRs, 1308 RBIs, 2599 hits, 10-time All-Star, one MVP, 4-time Gold Glover.
Career in a sentence: Robot-like first baseman with hairy Popeye forearms who regularly pounded out 200 hits and represented all that was good with baseball in the 1970s.
Reason he's not in the Hall: His golden-boy image was ruined by a 1980 Inside Sports cover story detailing his troubled marriage to wife Cyndy that included one of the great quotes ever in a sports magazine: "You can't even make love to your husband when you want to. You have to wait for an off day." The couple later divorced and Garvey admitted to fathering two children out of wedlock.
Real reason he's not in the Hall: While certainly viewed as a surefire Hall of Famer during his prime, Garvey only had a run of seven good seasons, from 1974 to 1980, when he averaged .311 with 23 home runs and 104 RBIs.
Most ridiculous thing about his career: The Padres retired his jersey number, which frankly is an embarrassment to the franchise. Believed to have political aspirations while playing, teammates called him "Senator." Career high in walks in a season was 50.
Nerdy analysis: The only Hall of Fame hitters with a lower career on-base percentage than Garvey's .329 are Mazeroski, Joe Tinker, Luis Aparicio, Rabbit Maranville, Brooks Robinson and Dawson. They were all excellent glovemen who played key defensive positions. Garvey was a first baseman.
In looking at WAR, Garvey ranks 41st among first basemen, alongside guys like Don Mattingly, Boog Powell, Kent Hrbek and Cecil Cooper. Garvey isn't a strong candidate.
Best eligible player at his position not in the Hall: Jeff Bagwell (on ballot for first time this year), Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff.
Should he make it? No.
Will he make it? No. Not surprisingly, Garvey's highest vote percentage came in his first year on the ballot, at 41.6 percent. None of his former teammates are on the committee, and you get the idea that he wasn't exactly well-liked by opponents. (Sports Illustrated once ran a cover reading, "Is Steve Garvey Really Too Good To Be True?")
Career stats: 170-91, 3.29 ERA, 2392 IP, 2198 hits, 1778 K's, 4-time All-Star, one Cy Young.
Career in a sentence: Skinny little lefty who came out of nowhere in 1977 as a 26-year-old, electrified baseball in 1978, when he went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA, and helped pitch the Yankees to two World Series titles.
Reason he's not in the Hall of Fame: Lack of appreciation for one of the great baseball nicknames, "Louisiana Lightning."
Real reason he's not in the Hall: Despite his .651 career winning percentage (13th all time among pitchers with at least 150 wins), voters were unimpressed with his 170 career wins.
Most ridiculous thing about his career: After a poor relief outing against the Red Sox in 1976, owner Steinbrenner said that outing showed that Guidry "didn't have any guts." After getting sent down to Triple-A, he considered quitting baseball. After a poor spring training in 1977, Steinbrenner suggested trading him. Then-GM Gabe Paul refused to do it.
Nerdy analysis: There are 116 pitchers who have won between 150 and 200 games. One of those is Sandy Koufax, and Guidry supporters will often compare his career numbers to Koufax:
Guidry: 170-91, 3.29, 2392 IP, three 20-win seasons
Koufax: 165-87, 2.76, 2324 IP, three 20-win seasons
While there are some similarities, Koufax ranks much higher in adjusted ERA (sixth out of the 116) and WAR (eighth). Guidry ranks 25th in both categories. Guidry was good, but his career was too short.
Best eligible player at his position not in the Hall: Blyleven.
Should he make it? No.
Will he make it? No. John has 118 more victories. Hard to see the voters going with Guidry.
Career stats: 288-231, 3.34 ERA, 4710 IP, 4783 hits, 2245 K's, 4-time All-Star.
Career in a sentence: Most famous as the guy the surgery was named after, John was a crafty left-hander who pitched forever and nearly won 300 games.
Reason he's not in the Hall of Fame: Voters believed his ligament replacement surgery was the first example of PEL (performance enhancing ligament) surgery.
Real reason he's not in the Hall of Fame: Didn't reach that "magical" 300-win barrier. Here's what happens when you have a mass of more than 500 people voting for something that requires 75 percent to get elected: The standards become unrealistically high. Look at the last nine pitchers the BBWAA has elected:
Goose Gossage, 2008
Bruce Sutter, 2006
Dennis Eckersley, 2004
Nolan Ryan, 1999
Don Sutton, 1998
Phil Niekro, 1997
Steve Carlton, 1994
Rollie Fingers, 1992
Tom Seaver, 1992
Four relievers and four guys who won 300-plus games. Sutter threw 3600 fewer career innings than John but was elected. Setting the standard at 300 wins is absurd and wasn't always the case. The writers elected Fergie Jenkins in 1991 and Jim Palmer in 1990. Now, those guys were good, but the writers elected Hunter and Don Drysdale before that, two marginal candidates.
Most ridiculous thing about his career: Early on, John was a decent strikeout pitcher -- not overpowering, but averaged more than 6 K's per nine innings. That had dropped to 4.6 by the time of his surgery in 1974. When he returned, his strikeout rate actually rose to 5.2 in 1978. But then it fell to 3.6 in 1979. Careers usually end rapidly when your strikeout rate dips below 4.0. But John, as an extreme groundball pitcher, managed to last all the way to 1989 and win 117 games over those final 11 seasons. Ridiculous.
Nerdy analysis: A comparison of John and some of his contemporaries, listing their six best seasons based on WAR and then their career total (* = Hall of Famer):
Phil Niekro*: 9.1, 8.5, 7.5, 6.8, 6.7, 6.6 (96.8)
Bert Blyleven: 9.2, 7.2, 6.3, 6.2, 5.8, 5.7 (90.1)
Bruce Sutton*: 6.4, 6.0, 5.7, 5.0, 4.6, 4.3 (70.8)
Rick Reuschel: 8.7, 5.9, 5.5, 5.5, 5.4, 5.2 (66.3)
Don Drysdale*: 8.2, 7.0, 6.7, 5.9, 5.8, 5.7 (65.7)
Luis Tiant: 7.5, 7.2, 5.9, 5.7, 5.4, 5.2 (60.1)
Jim Bunning*: 8.7, 8.4, 8.3, 6.2, 6.1, 5.8 (60.1)
John: 5.7, 5.2, 5.2, 4.8, 4.8, 4.2 (59.0)
Jerry Koosman: 6.8, 6.7, 6.5, 5.7, 5.1, 4.6 (58.8)
Frank Tanana: 7.8, 7.7, 7.2, 4.9, 3.7, 2.8 (55.1)
Ron Guidry: 8.5, 6.0, 4.9, 4.6, 4.2, 3.9 (44.4)
Vida Blue: 8.8, 7.7, 5.8, 5.0, 4.4, 3.6 (43.8)
Jim Kaat: 7.4, 6.6, 5.2, 4.2, 3.9, 3.3 (41.2)
Jim Morris: 5.1, 4.9, 4.8, 4.7, 4.1, 3.4 (39.3)
As you can see, the problem with John is he lacks the career value of the Hall of Famers and the high-peak individual seasons that voters love. In the end, John was a compiler, a very good pitcher who lasted a long time, but was never one of the best in the game.
Best eligible player at his position not in the Hall: Blyleven.
Should he make it: No. I have hard time backing John's candidacy until Blyleven gets in.
Will he make it? On the other hand, 288 wins is a lot of wins. Closest call on the ballot, but I think he falls short.
Career stats: .303/.344/.451, 219 HRs, 1326 RBIs, 2743 hits, 1189 runs, 7-time All-Star.
Career in a sentence: Sweet-swinging line-drive hitter -- Morgan once said nobody hit the ball harder -- who batted .300 11 times.
Reason he's not in the Hall of Fame: Didn't reach 3,000 hits. Those writers love those nice, round numbers. Makes it easier to vote yes or no. Plus, he played primarily for three different franchises -- Pirates, Rangers and Expos -- so who is there to rally behind him?
Real reason he's not in the Hall of Fame: Umm ... because there's more to life than batting average?
Most ridiculous thing about his career: Wore No. 0. Also, his career ended after Game 7 of the 1985 ALCS, when he threw a tantrum after Bobby Cox pinch-hit for him in the fifth inning. (Bret Saberhagen started for Kansas City but left with an injury; with Charlie Leibrandt pitching, Cox hit Cliff Johnson.)
Nerdy analysis: While he was a consistent .300 hitter and led the NL with a .331 average in 1982, that doesn't mean he was one of the best hitters of his era.
Times in the top 10 in batting average: 9
Times in the top 10 in slugging percentage: 2
Times in the top 10 in on-base percentage.: 1
Times in the top 10 in OPS: 1
Other than 1982, Oliver wasn't one of the elite hitters of his era. He hit line drives and rarely struck out but lacked big-time power and didn't walk enough (drew 40 walks three times in his career) to make him an MVP-caliber player.
Best eligible player at his position not in the Hall: Tim Raines. Oliver split his career between center field (840 games), first base (733 games) and left field (486 games). Raines is the best outfielder not in the Hall.
Should he make it: No.
Will he make it? No.
Career stats: .285/.348/.437, 248 HRs, 1389 RBIs, 2472 hits, 1074 runs, 8-time All-Star.
Career in a sentence: One of the best-hitting catchers of all time; during his 10-year peak from 1971 to 1980 he averaged .301 with an 834 OPS and 90 RBIs per season.
Reason he's not in the Hall of Fame: He wasn't as good as Bench.
Real reason he's not in the Hall of Fame: He wasn't as good as Bench.
Simmons came up a couple years after Bench and suffered from the inevitable comparisons. The Cardinals in the '70s were a bit of a mess, never making the playoffs, making bad talent judgments (Steve Carlton, Jose Cruz, Reggie Smith) and were essentially viewed as a club that failed to reach its potential. Simmons was smart, outspoken and wore sideburns and long hair. Being the team's best player, much of the blame was naturally placed on him. Meanwhile, Bench's Reds always won, and he had nice, short-cropped hair. The media never latched on to how good Simmons was, and then when he didn't play as well after getting traded to Milwaukee everyone kind of forgot about him.
Most ridiculous thing about his career: Received just 3.7 percent of the vote in his first year and was booted from the ballot because of the 5 percent rule. Really? A catcher who hit like he did got only 17 votes?
Nerdy analysis: Simmons ranks ninth among catchers on baseball reference's WAR list. The eight players ahead of him: Bench, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane, all Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers. Six Hall of Fame catchers rate below Simmons.
Best eligible player at his position not in the Hall: Simmons.
Should he make it: Yes.
Will he make it? He's remained in the game in various capacities through the years (GM, bench coach, advisor), which should help him with the executives on the committee. I have to think Bench will be an important voice, the guy who could persuade voters either way. Herzog is also on the committee, and he's the guy who traded Simmons away from St. Louis. I say he makes it.
Career stats: .279/.362/.431, 292 HRs, 1466 RBIs, 2716 hits, 1189 runs, 6-time All-Star.
Career in a sentence: Much-beloved right fielder, who debuted when he was 19 years old and lasted 23 seasons, hitting line drives, walking more than he struck out and driving in 100 runs three times.
Reason he's not in the Hall of Fame: Voters remembered the last five years of his career when he was primarily a fat pinch hitter for the Mets.
Real reason he's not in the Hall of Fame: Didn't get 3,000 hits. Didn't get 300 home runs. Not a good defensive player. His best years were spent in Houston and Montreal, when both clubs were horrible and his hitting stats were deflated by the Astrodome and the low-scoring run environment.
Most ridiculous thing about his career: Nicknamed "Le Grand Orange" in Montreal for his orange hair. Actually, that's not ridiculous; that's awesome.
Nerdy analysis: While Staub undoubtedly would have been perceived as a better player in almost any other era or any other ballpark (he also played in tough-to-hit-in Shea Stadium in the early '70s), he ranks just 29th on the WAR list for right fielders. He does rank ninth in RBIs and 11th in hits but lacks the all-around game of other, more qualified right fielders. He's in the Hall of Very Good.
Best eligible player at his position not in the Hall: Larry Walker (on ballot this year), Dwight Evans.
Should he make it: No.
Will he make it? No.
Gillick spent 27 years as the general manager of the Blue Jays (1978-1994), Orioles (1996-98), Mariners (2000-2003) and Phillies (2006-08). He built the expansion Jays into a two-time World Series champion and baseball's preeminent franchise in the late '80s/early '90s. The Orioles made the playoffs in 1996-97. He helped build the Mariners squad that won a record 116 games in 2001 and the Phillies team that won the 2008 World Series. It's an impressive list of accomplishments.
However, there's one thing that bothers me about Gillick: The Jays, Orioles and Mariners all cratered as soon as he left. They've combined for zero playoffs appearances. Now, you can view this as a testament to Gillick's abilities, or you can view it as he saw the handwriting on the wall (they were all veteran teams with poor farm systems) and jumped ship before it sank, reputation intact.
There are only four guys in the Hall elected primarily as general managers -- Ed Barrow (top exec of the Yankees from 1921 to 1945), Branch Rickey (created the modern farm system, signed Jackie Robinson, built powerhouses in St. Louis and Brooklyn), George Weiss (Yankees GM during seven World Series titles) and Larry MacPhail (ran the Reds, Dodgers and Yankees in the '30s and '40s). (Warren Giles and Lee MacPhail were general managers but also league presidents.)
He's an interesting debate, but I'll pass for now. I can see the committee voting him in, however.
If the Hall of Fame were only about fame, Martin have been elected long ago. As for his credentials, he's 34th on the win list for managers, and 19 ahead of him are already in the Hall of Fame, seven others were active in 2010 and Fred Clarke and Cap Anson are in as players. Martin made the playoffs with four different teams and won a World Series with the Yankees. He was mean, hateful, alcoholic and had a rare genius in turning around teams, but nobody could stand the guy for more than a few months at a time.
The only Hall of Fame manager with fewer wins is Southworth. It seems to me we have plenty managers already enshrined. I'll pass and I predict the committee will, too.
The former head of the players union is now 93 years old. He's undoubtedly one of the most important figures in baseball history. If you're going to consider him, how do you not put him in? He certainly deserves to be there ahead of an inept commissioner such as Kuhn. Miller has come close to getting elected in the past but finally got frustrated and asked to have his name removed from the ballot last year. In 2003, Reggie Jackson said he didn't vote for Miller because the Hall was for "players only." (Contrary to the actual facts, of course.) In some fashion, he's competing against Steinbrenner, and it's hard to compete against the Boss.
Let's put it this way: If you can elect Effa Manley, how does Steinbrenner not get in?
My ballot: Simmons, Miller
Who I think gets in: Concepcion, Simmons, Gillick and Steinbrenner
David Schoenfield is a senior editor for ESPN.com.
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