Monday, January 6, 2014

Expect a Crowd on the Cooperstown Dais

Expect a Crowd on the Cooperstown Dais
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
January 6, 2013

While temperatures have been so harsh, even thinking about baseball seems crazy, and pitchers and catchers don’t report for duty for about six weeks, there is some important baseball business needing immediate attention – the vote on who will make up the Hall of Fame class of 2014 to join former managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre.

“Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” ( This is the standard by which the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) is to do their jobs.

The crux is character and integrity – neither of which was exhibited by Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, or Sammy Sosa, each accused of using steroids during their playing careers. These players’ bad behavior should not be rewarded. They only way they should be allowed into Cooperstown is with a paid ticket for admission.

The “steroid era” of baseball is more of a black mark than the Black Sox scandal of 1919 that temporarily stained the game and gave the game a commissioner. Steroids have tainted baseball from the top down – from the majors to high school where players are under such pressure to perform, maintain a level of performance, and procure high dollar contracts.

Those words, character and integrity, have meaning and should be upheld while casting votes in favor of some of the past generation’s great players on the field, and honorable men off the field.

Were I casting some of the precious votes to determine the Class of 2014 inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame, eight former stars would appear on my ballot – four holdovers from last year and four appearing on the ballot for the first time.

Craig Biggio spent the entirety of his 20 years in the majors with the Houston Astros. The seven time all-star also earned four Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers, and reached the magic number of hits, surpassing 3,000 with his 3,060. Biggio managed to appear in many offensive leadership categories while playing for a typically sluggish Astros team. The former second baseman, who I incorrectly predicted would be a first ballot entrant, still deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, but may be passed over in favor of first year candidates Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas, almost certain locks.

Glavine was named to 10 All Star teams, won two Cy Young awards, and also surpassed a magic number by garnering 305 wins during his 22 years with the Braves and Mets, including five 20-win seasons. He will be inducted as a Brave, as he should.

Glavine’s teammate for 10 years, from 1993-2002, Maddux compiled even more impressive statistics than Glavine and will also be enshrined this summer. During his 23-year career, Maddux won 355 games, eighth all time, along with a record 18 Gold Gloves, four consecutive Cy Young awards, and a 3.16 ERA.

Jack Morris pitched for 14 of his 18 major league seasons with the Detroit Tigers and could soak up the innings as though he had a rubber arm, tossing 175 complete games. Morris pitched in three World Series, was a three-time 20-plus game winner, including winning 21 at age 37. The five-time all-star also pitched for the Twins, Blue Jays, and Indians. Having pitched from 1977-94, Morris is in his 15th and final year of eligibility, inching closer each year to Cooperstown. His 254 wins rank him higher than Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Bob Feller.

Also ranking higher in the career wins total, with 270, is first time ballot occupant Mike Mussina, who spent 10 years with the Baltimore Orioles and eight with the New York Yankees. A big fan of “Moose,” an economics graduate from Stanford University as an Oriole, it hurt my eyes to see him donning the pinstripes. Mussina was selected to five All Star teams and won seven Gold Gloves. While he may be overshadowed by Glavine and Maddux, Mussina garnered more victories than Hall of Famers Carl Hubbell, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal – with whom Mussina was compared, and Whitey Ford. Mussina ended his career with his lone 20-win season, going 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA

Because Mike Piazza played nearly eight of his 16-year career with the Mets, naturally he is a favorite. However, the 12-time all-star cracked 427 home runs, batted .308 and earned 10 Silver Slugger awards all while catching 1629 games – top flight numbers regardless of what team he played for. Piazza, the 1993 Rookie of the Year, spent the first six-plus years with the Dodgers, a year each with the Padres and A’s as well as five minutes with the Marlins. Piazza’s place in Cooperstown is all but bronzed – is what I erroneously predicted last year, but I still believe he will be enshrined.

Curt Schilling, bloody sock and all, is on my ballot. The six-time all-star pitched 20 seasons in the big leagues – three with the Orioles, one with the Astros, eight-plus with the Phillies, three-plus with the Diamondbacks, then calling it a career with the Red Sox. Schilling tossed 83 complete games, appeared in three World Series, and had three 20-plus win seasons within a four year span at ages 36, 38, and 39. Schilling should have his ticket stamped this summer – was my mistaken prediction last year, and perhaps he may be overlooked in this year’s pitching rich ballot, but Schilling still belongs among those who will enter before him.

Last but not least on my ballot would be Frank Thomas. Thomas, the “Big Hurt,” slammed 521 home runs, ranking him 18th all time. Thomas won the MVP in consecutive years, driving in 1,704 runs, and scoring 1,494. What is also impressive is that for a slugger, Thomas walked more than he struck out, 1,667 and 1,397 times respectively and had a career batting average of .301. Thomas was selected to five All Star teams and garnered four Silver Sluggers.

While it is important to not sully the Baseball Hall of Fame with the likes of Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro, and Sosa, the focus should be on the greats who will be enshrined this July and how they will continue to be the true ambassadors to the community as so many before them have been.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN. He has been a Patron-level member of the Baseball Hall of Fame since 2007.

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