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Wednesday, January 7, 2004
 



IS ANYBODY MISSING FROM THE HALL OF FAME?


Great institution that it is, the Baseball Hall of Fame has its scabs, and the Writers' Bloc picked away at them yesterday till they bled, demanding the immediate expulsion of numerous losers, jerks and non-entities. But today, for some reason, the WB was in a mellow mood, reminiscing about their favorite non-Famers.

For reasons that we'd rather not think about, Steve Garvey's name came up quite often. It seems that most WB writers remember baseball's answer to Shawn Kemp with great fondness, though perhaps with a bit of stardust clouding their usual laser-like hindsight.

Steve Garvey, should-be Hall of Famer | From Steve Wulf

It's like the 10 years I covered baseball never existed.

The most feared hitters in the game were Jim Rice and Dave Parker. The most feared pitchers were Jack Morris and Rich Gossage. I don't think there was a baseball fan alive in 1984 who didn't think Steve Garvey was a surefire Hall of Famer. I remember a Royals teammate asking George Brett what he was going to do after an afternoon game, and Brett replying, "I'm going home to watch Ryne Sandberg play on TV."

Guys I think belong seem almost laughable now: Larry Bowa, who never made an error and hit about as well as Ozzie Smith; Dan Quisenberry, who pushed save totals into the 40s and led the AL five years in a row; Al Oliver, who hit every ball hard for 18 seasons.

I figure the cusp candidates will make it sooner or later: Sandberg, Rice, Morris, Bruce Sutter, Bert Blyleven. But what of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, Lee Smith and Tommy John, Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly? We often deride the Veterans Committee, and indeed, there aren't too many hidden pre-1970 gems. But in a decade or so, we'll be grateful for its existence, for its collective memory. Somebody will have a persuasive argument in favor of The Cobra.

The inflated numbers of the last decade have hurt the stars of the '80s, but there are other factors. Like the year a player retires -- Kirby Puckett had no competition the year he came up. And the way the writers look at him --Garvey was too nice, Rice too nasty. And the cumulative effect of havng more teams, and thus more worthies, than ever before.

Jim Caple's right: Most of the voters take their responsibility very seriously. But if in 50 years, Elmer Flick is in the Hall of Fame and Steve Garvey is not, not enough of them did their job.


Robert Lipsyte
To: Steve Wulf
Subject: I'll make my own hall of fame

That was a sweet piece, Steve, and it makes me think that we all build our own private halls of fame and that's what's important. The ballplayers who thrilled us are the only ones who count. Maris, who I covered, is far more vivid to me than even the Babe, and Roger is in my hall as a ballplayer and a person. Pete Rose, who always filled my notebook and did it graciously and thoughtfully, gets professional gratitude points, but no ticket in; if the hall is going to mean anything beyond just numbers, character has to count, too.

One mistake we sometimes make is thinking a wonderful career is somehow uncapped without a bust in Cooperstown. Nothing is negated because some baseball writers chose one man in a million who won games, heard the crowd, had ladies in the lobby, and still drinks free in his hometown over another man in a million.

The bittersweet tone of Steve's piece made me think of this: In 1992, I was runner-up to Anna Quindlen for a plaque in our Hall. She got the Pulitzer in Commentary, and while my friends said then that the jury had to vote for a woman, I still say she had the better numbers, more character, she deserved it more than I did. The Times put me up the next two years, but I was never that close again.

I felt pissed and sad for a few years -- the Pulitzer's a bankable notch -- but I've come to think it's sometimes as much luck and politics as merit. Maybe this is a pep talk for losers, the Marises, the Trammells, the guys who won't get in, but it's also a suggestion that by making it so important we are the ones sticking it to the guys for whom we claim to be tolling the bell.

Of course, it's splendid to be a Hall of Famer, but ultimately it may mostly be an affirmation for fans and the first adjectival phrase in an obit.


Patrick Hruby
To: Robert Lipsyte
Subject: I got screwed, too

Aye, Bob, I feel your pain. I'll never forget the dull sting of coming up short in the prestigious Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association sports journalism contest. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to vomit now.

By the way: What is this "Pulitzer" you speak of?

Oh, and just to clarify: I guess the guy who wrote about the one-armed high school coach who was shot six times while battling cancer deserved to win.

Still, I thought my piece on why ex-jocks get fatter than Al Roker, pre-stapling, was pretty good.


Chuck Hirshberg
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Pete Rose, that other non-Hall of Famer

The Roker piece was brilliant, P. Don't sell yourself short.

But I agree with Lip. It's been said that flattery is the most worthless currency on earth. And sometimes I think that maybe honors and awards and Halls of Fame are just very elaborate forms of flattery.

I'm trying to imagine what Pete Rose's life would be like today if he'd taken that attitude. Let's say it's 1989, and A. Bartlett Giamatti announces that Pete is banned from baseball for life. And Pete replies something like: "Don't that suck? Now I'll never get to see my face on a vomit-colored plaque in a podunk town in upstate New York. But I'll tell you one thing: They can stop me from managin' baseball, but they can't stop me from bettin' on it!"

He goes out to Vegas, where the party never stops, and gets a lucrative gig as a greeter at Circus Circus. He writes a completely honest book, full of yarns about betting and carousing and, oh yeah, baseball, and people love it (or they hate it, but, either way, they buy it, and they talk about it). Then maybe he even starts his own offshore Internet wagering service on some tropical island. A lot of people loathe him, but even they have to admit that Pete Rose is his own man -- Charlie Hustle, one of the greatest ever, true to himself even when he broke the rules.

Instead, for 14 years, he's filled up his gut with bile, hasn't he? You know the bile I mean? You taste it in the back of your gullet when you tell a lie, and then another to cover that one, and your friends rush forward to defend you against all comers, and you let them, even though you know you're lying. Now you've made liars and fools out of everyone who loves you and every time you look in the mirror, you feel just a little bit sick. Don't you?

In spite of it all, I still feel sorry for Pete. He actually seems to believe that a sorry-ass plaque and a testimonial dinner will make him feel better.


Ralph Wiley
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Behind the eyeballs

Wulfie's right, and everything the Lipper says is true. Patrick's flippancy is oddly appropriate, and the Hirsch Horn's take on Pete is right on the black at the knees. Cooperstown's a nice place to visit, but my memories don't live there. Like the Wulf Man, I recall the Cobra's stroke and admonition: When the leaves turned brown, he'd wear the (batting) crown. And that hose!

I saw Tram & Sweet Lou. Who am I going to believe, some wag's ballot, or my own lying eyes? I'll give you one guess. I know I saw Eric Davis make plays in 1987 that 90 percent of the guys in the Hall of Fame could only dream of making. And I'm sure there's somebody out there who feels the same about, say, Pete Reiser. Hall of Fame? Look behind your eyeballs.


Tim Keown
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Give me Jim Rice

Like Ralph says, it's all behind the eyeballs. Here's one:

I sat with a couple of college friends in the last row of the Oakland Coliseum's left-field bleachers for a Red Sox-A's game in September of 1982, when Billy Martin summoned Dave Beard to face Jim Rice with the game on the line. One of my buddies, a hopeless A's fan, stared out toward the plate from under his green-and-gold cap and said, "Here it comes." He meant the ball, of course, and two pitches later Rice sent one screaming over our heads, one-hopping the concession stand 30 feet behind us.

Is Jim Rice a Hall of Famer? A former Braves beat writer from suburban Atlanta, armed with a Baseball Encyclopedia and a head full of Dale Murphy, might not think so. He should ask Dave Beard. Or my buddy.


Eric Neel
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Bert, Orel, Fernando, Pete ...

I'm sure, if you're a player, being left out of the Hall is a painful thing. But as a fan, I often develop a special feeling for the guys on the outside looking in. I always appreciated Bert Blyleven, but never so much as now, when he's being jobbed by the voters. I loved Fernando and marveled at Orel, and those connections are all the more intense because I know, great as they were, they've got almost no shot at getting in. It's up to me and their other fans to immortalize them.

By my reckoning, it's only this affection for the exiled that has rallied anyone at all around Slick Pete these last 14 years. Now he's gone and mucked that up, too.


Dan Shanoff
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Back to Steve Garvey

What are we really talking about here. Immortality? Quite the opposite. More like the key detail of the lead paragraph in the player's obituary.

(Unfortunately for Steve Garvey, his most notable obit detail came off the field and would at least run even with -- or possibly trump -- any Hall of Fame status.)


David Schoenfield
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Re: Back to Steve Garvey

You guys are very sweet and poetic with all your "behind the eyeball" stuff. I remember one time I was sitting in the right-field bleachers at the Kingdome when Jesse Barfield picked up a triple in the deep corner and threw a laser beam to third base -- on the fly! It was like a Nolan Ryan heater that traveled over 300 feet! Best throw I've ever seen. Roberto Clemente couldn't have topped it.

Jesse even led the league in home runs once (take that, Steve Garvey!).

But I sure ain't touting Jesse Barfield for the Hall of Fame.

Look, eyeballs can lie. They can tell us magic, but not who belongs in the Hall of Fame. Take Garvey, for example.

The Web site baseballreference.com lists the 10 most similar players to him: Al Oliver, Bill Buckner, Mickey Vernon, Cecil Cooper, Chili Davis, Orlando Cepeda, Will Clark, Mark Grace, Vada Pinson and Paul O'Neill.

All very good players. But only one Hall of Famer (and marginal at that) in the bunch in Cepeda. Garvey was a first baseman who never slugged .500. Finished in the top 10 in HRs just three times. Never scored 100 runs. Had his last good year at age 31.

No matter what our eyeballs think, the numbers don't lie. Not great enough.