Monday, January 16, 2017
Ivan the Great, Bagwell, and Raines to Reign in Hall Balloting
“Baseball is a game you’d play for nothing. I am so happy the Lord gave me a little ability, because it allowed me to meet a lot of good people and see so many exciting places.” – 1973 Hall of Fame inductee Monte Irvin (02/25/19 – 01/11/16)
“Baseball is an endless drama with an ever-changing cast.” – 1991 Ford C. Frick Award Winner (broadcaster’s wing of the Hall of Fame) Joe Garagiola (02/12/26 – 03/23/16)
Ivan the Great, Bagwell, and Raines to Reign in Hall Balloting
Sanford D. Horn
January 16, 2017
We managed to survive the 2016 presidential campaign and election leading to the inevitable January links between baseball and politics – this week a new president will be inaugurated just two days after the Baseball Hall of Fame announces its new inductees on Wednesday. Hopefully, the bitter temperatures, a reminder that pitchers and catchers don’t report for duty for another month, will also serve notice that the Russians did not hack into the Hall of Fame voting process.
“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.” (http://baseballhall.org/hall-famers/rules-election/bbwaa) 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, 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. For as many years as these miscreants have been on the ballot, I remain steadfastly opposed to their entry, and will continue to be so in the future until their eligibility is exhausted and beyond. And this year, the name of Manny Ramirez can be added to the naughty list.
Candidates are required to earn five percent of the vote in order to remain on the ballot for the next year. Should a few more voters shun Sosa, his seven percent from 2016 could drop enough to bounce him from future consideration. More BBWAA members would be needed to withhold votes from Clemens – 45.2 percent, and Bonds – 44.3 percent, to remove them from the ballot, if not from our collective memories. While the vote percentages increased for Clemens and Bonds, demonstrating a lack of character by those supporting their entry into Cooperstown, enough did the right thing by eliminating Mark McGwire from future consideration.
Were I privileged with casting votes to determine the Class of 2017 into the Baseball Hall of Fame, four retired players would appear on my ballot – one freshman candidate, and three holdovers from 2016.
Moving from the malevolent to the magnificent, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez spent 21 years as a major league backstop catching pitchers for the Texas Rangers, Florida Marlins, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Houston Astros, and Washington Nationals doing it right and avoiding scandal. Rodriguez should be a first ballot entrant into Cooperstown having caught 2,427 games – most ever for a backstop while batting .296 with 2,844 hits, 311 home runs, and 1,332 runs batted in. While a member of the 2003 Marlins World Series winning team, Rodriguez played mostly for average teams while often helping to tutor young pitchers.
Trevor Hoffman pitched his 18 years in the major leagues with the then Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres, and Milwaukee Brewers racking up 601 saves while hurling mostly for mediocre teams where save opportunities were not as prevalent as for sure-fire Hall of Famer to be in 2019 Mariano Rivera. Known as a Padre the majority of his career, Hoffman represented the team as a six-time All Star, and one additional selection as a Brewer. The first pitcher to reach both the 500 and 600 save threshold, Hoffman was four times in the top 10 voting for the Cy Young award and five times received votes for MVP. In 1998 Hoffman converted 41 consecutive save opportunities – a record at the time.
Checking in with 270 career wins is four-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 was overshadowed by Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz in 2015, 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 at age 39, the oldest to record his lone 20-win season, going 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA. While a jump from his 2016 43 percent to the necessary 75 seems more than unlikely (up 18 from 2015), Mussina remains on my ballot.
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 Philadelphia Phillies, three-plus with the Arizona Diamondbacks, then calling it a career with the Boston 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 the last four years, and perhaps he may not be able to leap to 75 percent from his 52.3 percent from 2016 (up 13 from 2015), Schilling still belongs among those earning a plaque in Cooperstown.
Although they would not make my ballot, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines seem to be assured of election this year. Bagwell fell 15 votes short in 2016 and Raines is in his 10th and final year of eligibility having earned 67.3 percent of the vote last year.
While it is important to not sully the Baseball Hall of Fame with the likes of Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez, and Sosa, the focus must 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. Ambassadors and class acts such as Monte Irvin and Joe Garagiola, who sadly left us in 2016 – Irvin at age 96, on January 11 and Garagiola at age 90, on March 23 – six months after his best friend Yogi Berra. May their memories always be for a Blessing.
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.