Thursday, January 8, 2009

Calls from the Hall

I’ll give baseball writers some credit. They know how to time things. In mid January, baseball is in the middle of its off-season. Most of the major free agents will have signed by now…although this year Manny is still lingering. The writers don’t have many hot stove headlines to write about. They can’t write their stories about the trucks leaving for Spring Training yet. They’re in a quiet spot of the year. So, even though the induction ceremony won’t be until July, they announce the Hall-of-Fame class in January. That way they can fill weeks of columns with Hall-of-Fame talk. Who should get in? Who did get in? Who should have gotten in? It’s pure genius. It’s much better than releasing the class during the World Series…or Super Bowl…there’s already plenty to talk about there. So, here we are in the middle of winter with lots of baseball to discuss.

This year’s ballot is a little less impressive than it has been in the past. It does include a few people who wore the Red Sox uniform at some point. What are the chances of a former Sox player getting the needed votes for enshrinement? Here’s what I think.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I have only three criteria when it comes to whom I would vote into the Hall, if they let me. I have no magic stats. 3000 hits or 500 home runs don’t make you a Hall-of-Famer. I don’t care about rings or playoff performance either. The three criteria?

1. Five Hall-of-Fame years. I need five years of your career to be otherworldly. Five years where you’re in the conversation as the best player in the game. At the very least, the best at your position. I don’t need MVP awards, or Cy Young awards. But, if somebody asked who the best player was, your name should come up at some point. (Think Ken Griffey Jr 1993-1999, Pedro Martinez 1997-2002, or Nomar Garciaparra 1997-2002)

2. Five more All-Star Years. Again, I don’t need actual selection to the All-Star team. As long as teenage girls keep voting Derek Jeter to the team, actual selections are meaningless. But, for five more years, you should be one of those guys you expect to make the team. If Fox was promoting the game in April, they should feel comfortable using your face in the commercial. There was a year that Pedro was hurt, and couldn’t make the team. But, a poll of AL managers said he deserved to be there, so they asked the League for a special spot to put him on the team. It didn’t seem right to have an All-Star team without him on it. That’s the type of player I’m talking about.

3. Don’t embarrass yourself. For the rest of your career, don’t be a fourth outfielder. Don’t be a washed up hanger-on. Continue to play at a high level, and be a top player on your team.
So, would any former Sox make the cut if it were up to me? Let’s see who’s on the ballot.

David Cone – Cone was with the Sox during the 2001 Red Sox season. By then, he was just hanging on trying to squeeze an extra year or two out of his career. Cone won the Cy Young with the Royals in 1994, although his best season may have been in 1988 with the Mets. Cone practically invented the “hired gun” position, joining two teams midseason to carry them to the playoffs. He threw a perfect game with the Yankees, and was in the Bronx long enough to collect a couple rings. He was a mighty fine pitcher that any team would be glad to have on their team. But, he’s short of being a Hall-of-Famer. I can’t find many superstar seasons in his career. He’ll go down as a great pitcher, just not an elite one.

Andre Dawson – Dawson played with the Sox in 1993 and 1994. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, by then he was a shell of his former self. Injuries to his knees had sapped him of the skills he once had. Admittedly, I’m probably not informed enough to rate Dawson’s career. Looking at the numbers, however, I just don’t see the otherworldly stats. He won the MVP award in 1987, but the rest of his years look above average. He ended up with some nice career stats, collecting 438 home runs and 2774 hits. He just looks to fall short of my first two criteria. He’s close, and a contemporary of his might say otherwise, but I couldn’t put him in.

Rickey Henderson- He played for the Red Sox in 2002, at the end of his career. I remember seeing him on base one game and just marveling. The pitcher couldn’t take his eyes off him. The whole game had changed from pitcher vs. batter to pitcher vs. runner. The pitcher was off his rhythm and out of sorts. Clearly the batter now had an advantage. The whole inning turned to the Red Sox favor, just by having this old guy on first. It was unbelievable. I remember thinking, “My gosh. If he can do this in his forties, how did he not win every MVP award in his prime?” As it turns out, he only won the award once, finishing second once and third once. But, that’s why I don’t care about awards. Awards don’t tell the whole story of his dominance. A quick look at my Total Baseball shows Henderson leading the league in their Total Player Rating six times. (For comparison, Joe Dimaggio did it twice, Hank Aaron three times, and Ted Williams seven) So, he met my fist criteria with six years he was considered among the best in the game. He had the other five all-star years to meet criteria two. And, while he sure shopped himself around at the end of his career, he met criteria number three. He may have hung around getting some career records, but that day at Fenway proved to me that he was still a star…even as a fourth outfielder. Put him in the Hall.

Jim Rice – Rice played his entire 16-year career with the Red Sox from 1974 to 1989. He was the obvious successor to Yaz in front of Fenway’s left field Wall. It would be nice to say he continued the string of Hall-of-Famers at that position following Williams and Yaz. Instead, he looks like part of the steady decline at the position. From Williams ( all-time great) to Yaz (Hall-of-Famer) to Rice to Greenwell. I want to say Rice deserves to be in the Hall, I really do. I just can’t get there. If I look over his career, I see about 4 career years in ’77-79 and 1983 that he was at the top of the league leaders is all kinds of categories. I could even be convinced to give him “otherworldly status” for those four. After that, I just see “really good” and not enough of it. People who saw him play more than I did swear he had the cache I want to see in a Hall-of-Famer. That may be. I just can’t support it. He’s the definition of borderline and, for me, just below the line.

Lee Smith – Smith was with the Sox from 1988 to 1990, collecting 58 saves as the Red Sox closer. My problem with Lee’s Hall-of-Fame eligibility is I don’t know where closers fit in. There are ten starting positions in a ballgame, including the DH. Smith wasn’t any of those. He was brought in at the end of the game when the starter couldn’t finish. How is that different than a defensive replacement? Or a pinch hitter? Do we need to start looking at Doug Mientkiewicz as a Hall-of-Famer because he plays great defense at first during the ninth inning? Or Dave Roberts because he runs well in the ninth inning? Smith pitched pretty well, although his career 3.03 ERA seems high for a closer. Since closers are prevented from giving up big innings, they need to have much better numbers than starters. Smith doesn’t have them. I can’t put a guy with his numbers who averaged 71 innings a year into the Hall-of-Fame.

Mo Vaughn – Mo played for the Sox from 1991 to 1998, and he was my favorite player on the team for most of those years. His grand slam in the bottom of the ninth in the 1998 home opener is still one of my favorite live memories. Unfortunately for Mo, after he left the Sox injuries never really let him continue a Hall-of-Fame path. His years in Boston were pretty good, including an MVP award. But, not enough of them were at the elite level needed for enshrinement. He was a 2008 inductee to the Red Sox Hall-of-Fame, and that will have to be enough.

It look like just Rickey this Year. Do you agree?

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