Tommy John paved the way to Cooperstown for John Smoltz

24 07 2015

When John Smoltz is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend (deservedly), who’s the first guy he should thank in his acceptance speech?

Not Bobby Cox or Leo Mazzone or Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine or Chipper Jones or his high school coach or any other teammate, coach or manager who helped his career. Those can come later. Smoltz should thank Tommy John, who’s still awaiting his call from Cooperstown.

As I noted in a post about Roger Maris, the actual name of the museum where Smoltz will be enshrined is the Hall of Fame. 

I often use stats to bolster arguments for inclusion in the Hall (and documented two years ago that John’s achievements were statistically better than most of the pitchers already in the Hall of Fame). But stats shouldn’t be the only factor in Hall of Fame selection. I do think fame should be a factor in considering a player. Or change the freakin’ name.

Here’s how famous Tommy John is: They named a surgery for him. I can think of only one other player whose name is similarly famous in baseball and medicine, and he is in the Hall of Fame: Lou Gehrig.

As I noted in another earlier post, if your name means comeback for dozens of pitchers who have suffered injuries that formerly would have ended their careers, you’re exceptionally famous.

Before Smoltz injured his elbow, he was nowhere near reaching the Hall of Fame (but well on his way). He had pitched 12 major league seasons, won a Cy Young Award in his only 20-win season and won 157 games. He had led the league once in wins, twice in strikeouts and never in ERA.

That’s not going to get you into Cooperstown, or even keep you on the ballot long. He had a sterling 12-4 post-season record, but as I’ve noted before, if post-season performance counted for anything in Hall of Fame voting, we’d see more Yankees there (see my posts about Bernie Williams or about the Yankees being only third in Hall of Fame).

When he injured his arm, Smoltz didn’t have nearly as strong a case for the Hall of Fame as Jack Morris, who outlasted Smoltz in the one of the best-pitched World Series games ever and one of the best Game Sevens ever.

Morris will make the Hall of Fame someday, but the writers never gave him more than 68 percent of the vote (you need 75 percent to be a Hall of Famer) in his 15 years on the ballot. (Players snubbed by the writers get a later chance through committees honoring players from different eras.)

But Tommy John Surgery (that link is to WebMD, not Wikipedia, but the surgery has its own Wikipedia page, too) saved Smoltz’s career. He came back from the surgery (and more than a year off) to pitch 11 more years. He was the National League’s best closer for a three-year stretch, leading the league in saves with 55 in 2002 and following that up the next year with 45 saves and a 1.12 ERA.

Then Smoltz did something that’s unique in baseball history: He went from being a dominant starter to being a dominant reliever to being a dominant starter again. Only Dennis Eckersley can approach Smoltz’s achievement in both roles, but Eck was never as good a starter as Smoltz and once he went to the bullpen, he stayed there. And Eck never faced as serious an injury.

Smoltz had three more strong years as a starter, including leading the NL with 16 wins in 2006.

He was a four-time All-Star before Tommy John Surgery and a four-time All-Star after. And he’s rightly a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And the pitcher who pioneered that comeback trail never reached 32 percent of the vote from the biased buffoons in the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Another Wikipedia page lists more than 70 players (more than 60 of them pitchers) who have undergone Tommy John Surgery. Smoltz is the only Hall of Famer in the group, but some other pitchers have returned from the surgery to continue impressive careers: A.J. Burnett (who had three good years for the Yankees and won a 2009 World Series game, all post-surgery), Chris Carpenter, John Lackey, Joe Nathan, Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook, Kerry Wood (who had a brief Yankee stint).

Brian Wilson‘s brilliant career was bracketed by two Tommy John Surgeries: his first injury ended his college career at Louisiana State University (where I now teach) and he saved 172 major league games and became a World Series hero before his second injury. He returned after the second surgery and had a decent year and a half for the Dodgers, but was unable to return to his dominant form.

It’s too early to know how great young pitchers such as Matt Harvey, Yankee Ivan NovaJoakim SoriaStephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann will be, but clearly some of the best arms in the game have been repaired by Tommy John Surgery. If you’ve enjoyed watching baseball in the past 40 years, you’ve probably been a fan of multiple players who followed John’s comeback trail (or tried to; it’s still a serious injury and a difficult trail and not everyone comes back).

Tommy John was not the surgeon who saved these careers (the late Frank Jobe developed the surgery). But he was the first pitcher to take the risk of letting a doctor transplant a tendon from his right wrist into his left elbow, creating a new ligament to replace the one he had torn.

Before John, that injury meant your career was over. And John had a promising one. He blew out his elbow at 31 in his 12th season. He had led the American league in shutouts with the White Sox in 1966 and ’67 and made his first All-Star team in ’68. With a 16-7 record for the Dodgers in 1973, he led the National League with a .696 winning percentage.

In 1974, John was one of the most dominant pitchers in the NL (his 13-3 record again gave him the league’s best winning percentage again that season) when he tore a ligament in his elbow, pitching against the Montreal Expos on July 17. The Dodgers would make it to the World Series without him. At that point, he had only 124 wins and no shot at the Hall of Fame. He appeared to be another good pitcher whose career ended with a torn elbow ligament.

But Tommy John didn’t give up. He underwent groundbreaking surgery, persevered through a daunting rehabilitation and blazed the trail for John Smoltz and the others who would follow.

After sitting out a season and a half to rehabilitate his new elbow, John was an even better pitcher than before. He won 20 games three times after surgery (Smoltz only did that once in his whole career) and reached 288 career wins, plus six more in the post-season. The only pitcher being kept out of the Hall of Fame with more wins is Roger Clemens, and that’s because of suspicion about performance-enhancing drugs.

Even sitting out the whole 1975 season, John pitched for 26 years. That rebuilt elbow pitched until he was 46 (I saw his last win against the Royals in 1989).

I think John will make the Hall of Fame, maybe the next time the Expansion Era Committee considers players spurned by the writers. The era committees include Hall of Fame members. I hope Smoltz gets a seat on the Expansion Era Committee. Who better to make the case for the guy who paved the path to Cooperstown for Smoltz?

(The Expansion Era Committee may eventually correct some of the worst anti-Yankee bias of the writers. Most of the egregious writer snubs of the era were Yankees: Maris, Ron Guidry, Thurman Munson and, of course, John. Several others, including Morris, deserve consideration. But no eligible player left out of the Hall from that era has a stronger case than John, and I expect at least him and Maris to make it someday.)

Tommy John belongs in the Hall of Fame based on his achievements on the pitching mound. And he certainly belongs in the Hall based on his fame.

Others in the 2015 Hall of Fame class

I blogged in January about my observations on all four members of this year’s Hall of Fame class:

  • Smoltz, who got two of his four post-season losses (and only one win) in World Series appearances against the Yankees.
  • Randy Johnson, a former Yankee pitcher, but more notably the primary reason the Yankees lost a memorable World Series.
  • Pedro Martinez, a rival Yankee fans loved to hate in his Red Sox days. He was only 1-4 against the Yankees in the post-season.
  • Craig Biggio, who had no notable history with the Yankees, but made his only World Series appearance as a teammate of former Yankees Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

All four are deserving and I’m glad to see them honored this weekend.

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, statistics in this post come from Baseball-Reference.com.





My first visit to Yankee Stadium: May 28, 2005

24 05 2015

I lived my first 50 years without entering Yankee Stadium. My oldest son, Mike, thought tickets to a Yankee game would be a fitting present for that round-numbered birthday. So he and his wife, Susie, sent Mimi and me to New York (we lived in Omaha at the time), providing air fare, hotel and tickets to watch the Yankees play the Red Sox in the House that Ruth Built. What could be better?

I actually turned 50 the day of Game 3 of the 2004 World Series, a game the Yankees would have been playing, if not for their collapse the week before after leading the Red Sox, three games to none, in the American League Championship Series. So a chance to see the Yankees finally beat the Red Sox seemed a perfect present.

As a lifelong Yankee fan finally visiting baseball’s most historic park, I was expecting to see some history made. And I did. More on that later.

Mimi and I flew to New York that Friday, with tickets for Saturday afternoon’s game 10 years ago today. We joined a throng of Yankee fans, and some people in Red Sox gear, on the subway and made our way out to the Bronx, getting off at 161st Street and making our way to the stadium. The Red Sox fans were outnumbered, so they were pretty well-behaved, if cocky. An occasional crack about last fall’s collapse might have slipped out, perhaps answered by a comment about the previous night’s game, a 6-3 Yankee win, or perhaps a reminder of our 26 championships (it became 27 in 2009).

We got there as they were closing Monument Park, so I missed that bit of Yankee history. I’ll have to catch that another time.

Our seats were well down the left-field line in the upper deck. But location didn’t matter. I was in baseball’s most glorious ballpark, and I was reveling in it. Mimi and I bought a couple hot dogs and beers and settled into our seats to enjoy the action.

Pavano pitching

Carl Pavano, whom the Yankees had signed as a free agent from the Florida Marlins in the off-season, was on the mound. He was an 18-game winner in 2004, but was 4-2 for the Yankees so far in 2005. He didn’t get off to a good start for us, though. The Red Sox scored in the first inning on a double by Johnny Damon, a bunt by Edgar Rentería and a sacrifice fly by David Ortiz.

So my hopes of maybe seeing a Yankee perfect game, or no-hitter, or shutout, were dashed immediately. The Yankee bats might have to deliver my historic game. Not in the first inning. Matt Clement struck out Derek Jeter, Tony Womack and Gary Sheffield in order.

At the break between the first and second innings, a young man came up, asking if he and a friend could swap seats with us. They had unknowingly bought seats in the family section, where drinks aren’t sold, and they wanted to have a few beers at the game. The family section was several sections closer to home plate, sort of behind third base, and we’d already had a beer, and probably wouldn’t drink much more at ballpark prices anyway. So we swapped and took the better view.

But what we were seeing wasn’t that good. Singles by Jason Varitek, John Olerud, Damon and Rentería produced two more runs in the top of the second. Alex Rodriguez doubled in the bottom of the second, but the Yankees didn’t score.

Pavano gave up two more singles, but no runs, in the third. Clement hit Jeter (I wonder how many times Red Sox pitchers hit Jeter?) and walked Sheffield, but they couldn’t score.

Pavano couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning. With two outs, he gave up a single to Rentería, walked Ortiz and gave up RBI singles to Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon.

If Pavano wasn’t the biggest free-agent bust in Yankees’ history, he is very close. He didn’t win another game that year, finishing at 4-6. Due to a combination of ineffective pitching and injury, he won only nine games in four years as a Yankee (he was completely inactive in 2006). He later returned to form with the Twins, though the Yankees beat him in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs.

Mike Stanton’s turn

The score was 5-0 10 years ago when Joe Torre had seen enough of Pavano and brought in Mike Stanton to pitch.

A-Rod singled and Tino Martinez walked to open the bottom of the fourth. The Yankees had a bit of hope, but Clement got the next three batters out.

Then things started getting historic. Stanton gave up three singles and left in the top of the fifth with the bases loaded and one out.

Let’s try Paul Quantrill

Torre brought in Paul Quantrill to pitch. Quantrill was actually an All-Star in 2000 for Toronto, and won seven games for the Yankees in 2004. But he didn’t fare as well in 2005. Especially on May 28.

Rentería had only 140 career homers, but nine of them were grand slams. One of those came in the fifth inning 10 years ago. The score was 9-0.

I wondered as I was writing this how many hitters could match Rentería’s record of hitting grand slams for 6.4 percent of his career homers. For instance, Big Papi has 472 career homers, but only 11 grand slams, or 2.3 percent. A-Rod holds the grand-slam record at 24, but with 664 career homers, he only has 3.6 percent.

I checked a couple other hitters renowned for hitting with the bases loaded: Robin Ventura at 6.1 percent was pretty close to Rentería (18 grand slams in 294 homers). Pat Tabler was great with the bases loaded but only actually hit two grand slams (4.2 percent of his 47 total homers).

I checked a few others among the grand-slam leaders. Richie Sexson, with 15 grand slams in 306 homers, is at 4.9 percent. Carlos Lee, with 17 grand slams in 358 homers, is at 4.7 percent.

Finally I found a player with a higher percentage of career homers than Rentería: Joe Rudi hit 12 grand slams in 179 career homers, 6.9 percent. I won’t keep checking to see if he has the highest ratio, but clearly Rentería was either an amazing clutch hitter with the bases loaded or very lucky. And better than Quantrill on the day I was watching.

Things didn’t get better for Quantrill. He walked Ortiz and gave up a single to Ramirez. Then Nixon hit a three-run homer (Trot Nixon!). The Yankees were down 12-0. And Torre wasn’t about to change pitchers. Quantrill got through the sixth without further damage, but Jay Payton rocked him for a two-run homer in the seventh, making the score 14-0. The runs on base for Rentería were charged to Stanton, but Quantrill, in less than three innings, gave up three homers that produced nine runs. He was a solo shot short of the homer cycle, if there is such a thing.

I should note here that most of the Yankee fans in the stadium had not waited their whole lives for this game, and they were leaving the stadium in large numbers. By this time, Red Sox fans might have outnumbered the remaining Yankee fans.

In fact, the Red Sox fans felt so bold that several rows above us (but still in the same section, so presumably they were sober), a couple Red Sox fans were escorted from the ballpark by security for urinating on some Yankee fans sitting in front of them. Leading by two touchdowns, the Red Sox fans didn’t fear getting the crap beaten out of them in the Bronx by angry Yankee fans.

You might be wondering why I stayed. Well, I grew up in the age of Yogi Berra, so I’m a believer in it-ain’t-over-till-it’s-over. I didn’t want to miss the biggest comeback in Yankee history. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t.)

In the bottom of the seventh, Bernie Williams broke through for the Yankees, driving home Womack with a single. That would be all for the Yankees.

Buddy Groom mops up

Buddy Groom pitched the last two innings and gave up three more runs in the eighth inning.

The final score was 17-1. It was the worst loss the Yankees had endured in that hallowed park since Ruth built it. And the Red Sox’ 27 hits were the most hits ever by a visiting team there.

The ride back to our hotel on the subway was somewhat boisterous. Most of the Yankee fans had ridden home, probably in silence, much earlier. But we rode home with Red Sox fans, who thought they had won the World Series again. No fights broke out on our subway car, but it was only because of the restraint of the few Yankee fans.

That was my only visit to old Yankee Stadium. Next time I visited, the Yankees were in the new ballpark. I wanted a memorable trip, and I got it.

Source note: Stats for this blog post and details of the game came from Baseball-Reference.com.





Alex Rodriguez’s disappointing decade as a Yankee

6 04 2015

Alex Rodriguez would be a disappointment to Yankee fans if he had never used performance-enhancing drugs. Nothing enhanced his post-season play for the Yankees. That he was caught using drugs twice, lied about using them and still was a huge October disappointment makes him really unique among disappointing Yankees.

Don Mattingly made the post-season only in his final year with the Yankees and never delivered a championship. Yankee fans revere him. Dave Winfield was a horrific 1-for-22 in his only Yankee World Series, but fans have forgiven him. Bobby Murcer and Mel Stottlemyre also became fan favorites without winning rings (though Stottlemyre made it to the World Series his rookie year and pitched well in head-to-head match-ups against Bob Gibson).

A-Rod actually won a ring, putting him ahead of those Yankees  (but behind dozens of Yankee stars of various eras).

None of the Yankee busts disappointed on the scale that A-Rod did — not in-their-prime free agents who tanked under New York pressure (think Steve Kemp, Ed Whitson and Carl Pavano) and not aging stars who didn’t have one more great season left for the Yankees (think Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson). The free agent busts and lopsided trades just kind of blur together. But A-Rod stands out as the biggest disappointment in Yankee history.

I didn’t blog about his suspension last year or about the various discussions of his return this year or about his appearance at spring training or his stupid hand-written apology to fans. I guess that I was hoping he would just retire, rather than make us watch how far he had declined after a year off. I mean, how much money does one person need?

But it’s Opening Day and he’s back, so I’m posting this piece that’s been in the works for more than year, about A-Rod and why he’s been such a disappointment to the Yankees and Yankee fans. Read the rest of this entry »





Remembering Ernie Banks and why he’s in the Hall of Fame

24 01 2015

RIP, Mr. Cub.

Though I was a Yankee fan as a child, my mother was a Cub fan and we made annual visits to her mother in Chicago that usually included games at Wrigley Field, where Ernie Banks was probably more beloved than any baseball player anywhere.

I think my first five or six major league ballgames were all at Wrigley, all cheering on Ernie and the Cubs. If he wasn’t my favorite non-Yankee in my youth, he was in the top five or six (maybe with Maury Wills, Luis Aparicio, Bob Gibson, Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax).

So everything I say here is with deep fondness for Ernie Banks and with absolute agreement that he belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But the truth is, Ernie was on the decline by the time I started watching him in the 1960s. If we got to a game in 1961 (I think our first game was in 1962, but I could be wrong), we might have seen him play shortstop. He played 104 games at shortstop in ’61 but moved to first base by 1962.

Banks makes an interesting contrast to Roger Maris, one of my Yankee heroes of that era, and to Don Mattingly, a Yankee of another era. Neither of them has made it into the Hall of Fame. Banks rightfully entered Cooperstown on the first ballot with 84 percent of the vote.

But the difference wasn’t that Banks soared higher in baseball greatness. His prime was remarkably similar to the primes of Maris and Mattingly. He didn’t make it to Cooperstown on those six years that he was one of the very best players in baseball, winning back-to-back Most Valuable Player Awards when Hank Aaron and Willie Mays were also in their primes. He made it to Cooperstown by following that sensational prime with a decade as a pretty good first baseman. Maris and Mattingly had great years that compared to Banks’ prime, but Hall of Fame voters reward longevity, and neither Maris nor Mattingly could match Banks’ stretch as a pretty good player.

Each had a really awesome stretch (six years for Banks and Mattingly, five for Maris) when he was one of the best hitters in baseball, and each had a significant decline after that stretch, age 29 for Banks, 28 for Mattingly and 27 for Maris.

Let’s compare the primes of these three players:

Home runs

Banks certainly had the most consistent home run production during his prime, belting 40 or more homers in five out of six seasons, and leading the league with 47 homers in 1958 and 41 in 1960. In that spectacular six-year run, he hit 248 homers.

Maris, of course, way surpassed Banks for peak homer performance with his record 61-homer season in 1961. That was his only season with more than 40 homers, though he had 39 in 1960. In his five-year prime, he hit 177 homers, an average of six fewer homers a year than Banks.

Mattingly was nowhere near the home run hitter that Maris or Banks were, peaking at 35 homers in 1985 and having two other 30-homer seasons. With only 160 homers, he was nowhere near Banks or Maris for prime homer performance.

For homers, Banks had a clear but slight prime advantage over Maris and a big advantage over Mattingly. Banks played all his prime years in the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field. But Maris moved to Yankee Stadium and its “short porch” in right field in 1960, two years into this prime stretch that we’re examining.

Runs batted in

Banks topped 100 RBI five of the six years of his prime, leading the league with 129 in 1958 and 143 in 1959.

Mattingly also topped 100 five of his six prime years, leading the league with 145 in 1985. Banks had just a few more RBI for his prime, 693 to 684.

Maris had three seasons with 100 or more RBI and led the league with 112 in 1960 and 141 in 1962, a similar peak to Banks, but not as sustained.

Batting average

Banks topped .300 twice in his prime, .313 in 1958 and .304 in 1959. Maris never hit .300. Mattingly hit better than .300 throughout his prime, leading the league with .343 in 1984 and hitting .352 in 1986 (but losing the batting crown to Wade Boggs).

Mattingly had a huge advantage here, hitting .325 for his prime, compared to .294 for Banks and .263 for Maris.

Hits

Mattingly topped 200 hits three times. Banks peaked at 193 in 1959, Maris at 159 in 1961.

Runs

Maris had the best single-season run total, with 132 in 1961, but that was his only 100-run season. Mattingly scored 117 runs in 1986 and 107 in 1985. Banks scored 119 in 1958 and 113 in 1957.

Walks

Maris had as many walks in his five-year prime as Banks had in his six years, 354. Banks topped out at 71 walks in 1960, while Maris had 94 walks in 1961. Mattingly had 293 walks in his prime, with a peak of 56 in 1985.

Interestingly, Banks led the league in intentional walks in 1959 (20) and 1960 (28), while Maris (hitting in front of Mickey Mantle) famously had no intentional passes in his 61-homer 1961 season. So Maris had significantly more discipline at the plate.

Banks’ relative lack of plate discipline shows up in career on-base percentages: Though Banks had a higher batting average than Maris, .274 to .263, Maris had a higher on-base percentage, .345 to .330. Mattingly, with a much higher career batting average, .307, blew them both away with on-base percentage, .358. In their primes, Maris and Banks had similar peak OBP, .374 for Banks in 1959 and .372 for Maris in 1961. But Mattingly again was easily the best, with three seasons better than either of the others’ peak, including .394 in 1986.

Strikeouts

Maris averaged 70 strikeouts per season for his prime, compared to 75 for Banks. Mattingly was one of the toughest great hitters ever to strike out, averaging just 34 K’s per season in his prime.

Sacrifice flies

Mattingly led the league with 15 sac flies in 1985 and twice had 10 in a season. Banks reached 10 only once, in 1962, after his prime. In fact, Mattingly had as many sac flies, 96, in his 14-year career as Banks had in his 19-year career. Maris’ best sac-fly total was seven in 1961.

Leading leagues

Beyond his two times leading the league each in homers, RBI and intentional walks, Banks led the league once each in slugging (.614), total bases (379) and at-bats (617), all in 1959. He also led the league in games played six times, 1954-55 and ’57-60.

In addition to leading the league in homers in 1961 and RBI in 1960-61, Maris led the league in runs (132) and total bases (366) in 1961 and slugging (.581) in 1960.

Mattingly led his league in batting in 1984 and RBI in 1985, in hits in 1984 (207) and 1986 (238), in doubles in 1984 (44), ’85 (48) and ’86  (53), in total bases (370) and sacrifice flies (15) in ’85 and in at-bats (742), slugging (.573), OPS (.967), OPS+ (161) and total bases (388) in ’86.

Maris led the league in various achievements in two seasons, while Banks and Mattingly each had three consecutive seasons leading the league in important stats, 1958-60 for Banks and 1984-86 for Mattingly. But Mattingly had more titles in more different categories.

Awards

Banks and Maris were back-to-back MVPs, Banks in 1958-59 and Maris in 1960-61. Mattingly was MVP in 1985 and was second with an even better year in 1986, topped by Roger Clemens in a rare year (anti-Yankee bias surfacing there) when MVP voters favored a pitcher over a dominant hitter.

Banks and Maris each won one Gold Glove. Mattingly won nine.

Summarizing their primes

Mattingly clearly had at least a comparable prime to Banks. He had a bigger advantage in batting average, hits, strikeouts and sacrifice flies than Banks’ average in homers and walks. They were almost dead even in RBI. Mattingly led the league more times in more stats. Banks got one more MVP, but Mattingly had way more Gold Gloves. I’d say advantage Mattingly, but it’s a slight one.

Maris is clearly comparable, but didn’t have quite the prime of either Banks or Mattingly. His 1961 was better than either of their best years (though Banks in ’58 and Mattingly in ’86 were close).

Post-season


Banks may be the best player never to play in the post-season. Of course, playoffs started late in his career, and his 1969 Cubs collapsed to make way for the Miracle Mets.

Mattingly also never made it to the World Series. The 1994 strike robbed him of his first shot at post-season play. He finally made the playoffs in his final season, 1995. He went out in style, hitting .417 with a homer and 6 RBI against the Mariners. But the Yankees lost the series.

Maris played for seven league champions and three world champions. He hit only .217 in World Series play, but had 6 homers, 18 RBI and 26 runs scored. His .385 average, with 10 hits, a homer and 7 RBI, certainly helped the 1967 Cardinals to their World Series win. But he was hitless in 5 at-bats when the 1963 Dodgers swept the Yankees.

Because of the anti-Yankee bias of Hall of Fame voters, post-season play and championships count for nothing in Hall of Fame selection, unlike the heavy role they play in football and basketball Hall of Fame voting. But for whatever they count, Maris’ prime contributed to two World Series titles for the Yankees and another league championship. And he played in four more World Series, including a championship, after his prime.

Personality

Banks was one of the most charming players in baseball history and certainly benefited from his personality when it came to Hall of Fame voting, though he didn’t need it.

By contrast, Maris was surly to sports writers during his chase of Babe Ruth’s home run record, and the sports writers, who control the keys to Cooperstown, never forgave him.

Mattingly was well-liked, like Banks given a nickname, Donnie Baseball, that reflected his fondness among players and the media.

After the prime

All three of the players had significant declines after the primes we have just examined.

In the last 12 years of Banks’ career, he was seldom more than an average first baseman. He topped 100 RBI three times (never with more than 106). He topped 30 homers twice, despite playing in a homer-friendly park. He never hit .300 or scored 100 runs or led the league in anything. He made five more All-Star teams, but that was more on reputation than current performance.

Banks was the National League’s best shortstop of the 1950s. But he was in the middle of the pack of National League’s first basemen in the 1960s. Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Bill White all were better than Banks most years of the decade. Dick Allen, Lee May, Felipe Alou and Donn Clendenon had seasons when they were better than Banks. (If you’re wondering, Willie Stargell didn’t move full-time to first base until after Banks retired.)

You wouldn’t possibly look at Banks’ stats for the 1960s, the whole decade, and think those were the achievements of a Hall of Famer, though he played 130 or more games every year. (He was a part-time player his last two seasons, 1970 and ’71.)

But Hall of Fame voters love longevity. By playing a lot in the 1960s, Banks was able to pass the magic 500-homer mark in 1970, which assured Hall of Fame election until steroid use cheapened the mark decades later. Banks’s decade as a pretty good player pushed his hits total past 2,500, his RBI past 1,600 and his runs past 1,300. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

But Maris and Mattingly each had a serious injury that caused a more severe decline after their similar primes to Banks. Maris played 130 games in only one season (1964) after his prime. He had only a couple seasons with more than 20 homers. He played only six mediocre seasons after his prime and didn’t approach career totals we associate with the Hall of Fame.

Mattingly didn’t decline as sharply as Maris. He played in more than 130 games three seasons after his prime, topping 150 games in 1991 and 1992. But a back injury severely curtailed his production. He never topped 20 homers after his prime and only made it into the teens twice. His RBI peak after his prime was 86 (in ’92 and ’93). He only hit .300 once (.304 in ’94). He never reached 200 hits again, his post-prime peak at 184 in ’92 (still better than all but one season in Banks’ career).

Mattingly never made an All-Star team after his prime. Like Banks, he had slipped from elite to middling. But, while Banks was middling for a full decade, full-time every season, Mattingly was middling for only six seasons, two of them notably curtailed by injuries.

Mattingly retired in 1995 with comparable career averages to Banks: way better at batting average (.307 to .274), clearly better at on-base percentage (.358 to .300), clearly behind in slugging (.500 to .471) and dead-even at OPS (.830). But Banks’ extra years as a middling player pushed all his career totals higher than Mattingly’s. While Banks had hung on long enough to reach the 500-homer mark, Mattingly was way short of any magic threshold. Once on pace to break Pete Rose’s hit record, he retired at just 2,153 hits.

Cubs vs. Yankees

Another interesting contrast in Hall of Fame voting is to look at the Yankees and Cubs of the 1960s.

The Yankees won five league championships and two World Series in the 1960s, and they have three players from that decade in the Hall of Fame: Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, who was past his prime.

The Cubs finished tenth, ninth, eighth twice, seventh three times (twice in an eight-team league), third twice and second in the Eastern Division in 1969 (still third-best record in their league). They were 133 games under .500 for the decade.

And they had four Hall of Famers: Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ferguson Jenkins (plus Lou Brock, though he made it to Cooperstown based on his play for the St. Louis Cardinals after the Cubs foolishly traded him away for Ernie Broglio).

I’m not saying any of the Cubs don’t belong in the Hall of Fame. They do. But Santo’s case for Cooperstown is not as strong as Maris’. And Williams wasn’t notably better than the Yankees’ Bernie Williams (and, if you count post-season play, Bernie soars past Billy). Jenkins had a comparable career to Tommy John, except for that surgery thing that made John far more famous than Jenkins.

Hall of Fame voting has smiled much more kindly on the Cubs than on the Yankees.

Farewell to Ernie

Beyond my usual Hall of Fame points, I was glad to see lots of love for Ernie Banks last night on social media and in professional media. He was a sure-thing Hall of Famer. He was always a favorite of mine, and I treasure the memories of those early visits to Wrigley Field.

Source note: All statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.





Young Randy Johnson never projected as a Hall of Famer

7 01 2015

Next time you read a statistical projection of a player’s chances of making the Hall of Fame, think of Randy Johnson, especially if a young player projects as having no chance.

Johnson made it to Cooperstown on the first ballot, leading the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame class announced Tuesday. And when Johnson was age 28, two years older than Clayton Kershaw is now and the same age as Félix Hernández is today, the Big Unit was just a Big Bust. No one would have projected him for the Hall of Fame.

Kershaw and Hernández have combined for four Cy Young Awards. By age 28, Johnson didn’t have a career winning record yet or a season of 15 wins. His power was always frightening, but he had led the league in walks three times and strikeouts only once. The most optimistic computer projection or pitching coach couldn’t possibly have forecast him as a five-time Cy Young winner and first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Johnson didn’t make it to the majors until he was 24, and the first five years of his career he was mostly an oddity, a skinny 6-foot-10 freak with more potential than performance.

The Expos gave up on him after three wins, scattered over 10 starts and two seasons. He made an All-Star team for the Mariners in 1990, at age 26, but his 14-11 record that year wasn’t as notable as his league-leading 120 walks.

The walk total grew worse, to a peak of 152 in 1991 and improving only to 144 in 1992. That year, he actually led the league in strikeouts for the first time, too, with 241. And in hit batters, 18.

The Mariners didn’t have a bull mascot for The Big Unit to hit, but at age 28, Johnson was still basically Nuke LaLoosh, but hurling his wild pitches at the big-league level.

Two other power pitchers remembered for their slow starts, Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax, bloomed notably younger than Johnson. Both broke into the big leagues at age 19 and were in full-stride by their mid-20s.

Ryan didn’t reach 10 wins in any of his first four seasons, but he had three strikeout titles, two 20-win seasons and three no-hitters by the end of the 1974 season, when he was 27.

Koufax, whose first six years were unremarkable, won his first strikeout title at age 25 and his first Cy Young Award and two no-hitters by the time he was 27.

Both were on their way to Cooperstown at an age when Johnson was still trying to find home plate. Read the rest of this entry »





I always loved Mickey Mantle; not so much mantle-cell lymphoma

12 12 2014

As a kid, I wanted Mickey Mantle’s mighty swing. And his blazing speed. And his grace in centerfield.

As an adult, books by and about Mantle line my bookshelves.

So when the doctor said what kind of cancer I have, I did a double take: Did he say mantle-cell lymphoma? Yes, he did.

It really has nothing to do with The Mick. Unlike Lou Gehrig, he has no disease named for him. And, I should note, since Mickey died of liver cancer and blamed his life of hard drinking, mantle-cell is not related to alcohol consumption.

This type of lymphoma gets its name because it originates in the B-lymphocyte cells in the “mantle zone” of the lymph node, according to the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

More on my disease on my Caring Bridge page and at The Buttry Diary. My outlook is good and my oncologist and I are optimistic. But my treatment may distract me from this blog for a while. I suppose I’ll probably blog about the Hall of Fame selections, and I hope to be finished with treatment pretty early in the next baseball season. But if Hated Yankees takes a little hiatus, I blame mantle-cell, not The Mick.





Yankees on the ballot: Who makes the Hall of Fame? Who gets screwed again?

5 12 2014

Ten former Yankees are on two different Hall of Fame ballots for consideration for enshrinement in Cooperstown next summer.

Nine Yankees are among the 34 players on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for election by sports writers and one former Yankee is on the Golden Era ballot for election by a special committee considering players whose primary contributions came between 1947 and 1972.

You won’t think of most of these players as primarily Yankees. All but one played most of their careers for other teams. Here are my thoughts on those players and their chances to make the Hall of Fame (this year or ever):

Sure bet

Randy Johnson

Easy, automatic selection. He’d be in as either a 300-game winner or a five-time Cy Young Award winner (four in a row) or as No. 2 all time on the strikeout list with 4,875. As all three, Johnson is a first-ballot slam-dunk. I think Pedro Martinez was a little better pitcher, and he’s probably a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer (a stupid distinction) this year, too. But the voters love longevity and Johnson put up bigger career numbers. He’s the more certain first-ballot guy.

It’s hard to overstate how good Johnson was. He led the league in strikeouts nine times, winning percentage, ERA and complete games four times each and innings pitched, shutouts and hit batters twice (and each of those hit batters felt it).

I’ve noted before that pitchers’ wins are a more useful stat than the hypothetical stat of WAR (wins above replacement). But I acknowledged then that wins are a flawed statistic (every stat is flawed). Johnson certainly illustrates the flaws. He won 20 games only three times and only twice in his Cy Young years. But 18-2, 17-9 and 19-7 are damn good won-loss records and that’s what he had the three years he won the Cy Young without winning 20. He led his league in strikeouts each of those years and in ERA two of those years and shutouts the other year.

Johnson’s two years with the Yankees were unremarkable: 17-8 with a 3.79 ERA and 211 strikeouts and 17-11, 5.00 and 172. The Yankees faced him at his best in the 2001 World Series (three wins, one of them in relief, two runs given up in 17 innings, a shutout and 19 strikeouts). But he was on the decline when the Yankees traded for him four years later. At that point, he was just trying to make it to 300 wins. He did that in 2009 as a Giant.

Tainted by PED scandal

Roger Clemens


When and if the Hall of Fame voters ever decide to elect players tainted by suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens should go in first. He and Barry Bonds are far and away the greatest players being kept out of Cooperstown because of PED suspicions. Clemens also was actually acquitted of perjury (allegedly lying to Congress when he denied using PED’s), so the jury that heard the case against him didn’t find it convincing. But I doubt this is the year he gets in.

And I don’t much care. I might vote for him if I had a vote, because I believe you’re innocent until proven guilty, and he wasn’t. But I don’t think Andy Pettitte misunderstood Clemens. I think he probably juiced and I will save the outrage of this blog for players I think are more deserving.

Gary Sheffield


I think even if his era and he himself had not been tainted by PED scandals, Sheffield might have taken several years to make it to the Hall of Fame. He hit 509 homers and topping 500 used to ensure enshrinement. Beyond the homers, looking at his career statistically by itself, he belongs in Cooperstown:

  • With 1,636 runs, he was 38th all-time, and most of those around him on the leaders list are in Cooperstown or sure to be: He ranks just ahead of Hall of Famers Robin Yount, Eddie Murray, Paul Waner and Al Kaline. He had seven seasons over 100 runs.
  • With 1,676 RBI, he’s in similar company, 26th all-time, just ahead of Hall of Famers Tony Perez and Ernie Banks. He had eight seasons over 100 RBI.
  • With 2,689, he’s not in as elite company, 66th all-time, but still just ahead of Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio, Max Carey and Nellie Fox, none of whom had Sheffield’s power.
  • With 1,475 walks, he’s 21st all-time, just ahead of Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx and Eddie Mathews. He had four seasons over 100 walks.
  • Sheffield hit .292, well within Hall of Fame range, and led the National League in batting at .300 with the Padres in 1992. He also led the league in on-base percentage and OPS with the Marlins in 1996.
  • He was a nine-time All-Star.

Statistically, you can’t make a case that Sheffield wasn’t a Hall of Famer. But he was a long way from the best power hitter of his time, and I think he’d have waited on the ballot for several years, even if it wasn’t for his implication in the PED scandals. Among his contemporaries, Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Albert Pujols, Frank Thomas, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were more feared sluggers. And he doesn’t particularly stand out from some others: Jim Thome, Rafael Palmeiro, Chipper Jones and Fred McGriff. The guy who was the 10th to 12th-best slugger of his time doesn’t necessarily make the Hall of Fame, and if he does, he waits a while. Sheffield played in a time of great offense, and he might have had to wait a while for Cooperstown even without being tainted by the drug scandals.

He’ll have to wait a while even when/if the Hall starts admitting the juicers. And, if the standard is whether voters think he’d have been a Hall of Famer without cheating, Sheffield might not make it.

Getting screwed (still)

Don Mattingly

Mattingly illustrates better than anyone (with the possible exception of Ron Guidry) the Hall of Fame’s two strongest biases (after the bias against those suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs): against Yankees and in favor of longevity.

I have already made the case for Mattingly twice here: Showing that his career was almost identical to first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Kirby Puckett and that by most measures he outperformed the Hall-of-Famers of his era. He should be in the Hall of Fame already, but this is his only year on the baseball writers’ ballot and he got only 8 percent of the vote last year. He has no chance this year. I think he could be a strong candidate for Expansion Era Committee selection eventually, but perhaps not as long as the baseball writers control the selection of candidates for those committees’ ballots.

Lee Smith

Here are the career achievements of four relief pitchers whose careers overlapped by six years: 1980-85:

Pitcher A: 341 career saves in 17 seasons, three years leading his league in saves, two seasons over 30 saves, 6.9 strikeouts/9 innings, seven All-Star games, 1 Cy Young, 1 MVP.

Pitcher B: 478 career saves in 18 seasons, four seasons leading his league in saves, 11 seasons over 30 saves, 8.7 strikeouts/9 innings, seven All-Star games.

Pitcher C: 310 career saves in 22 seasons, three seasons leading his league in saves, two seasons over 30 saves, 7.5 strikeouts/9 innings, nine All-Star games.

Pitcher D: 300 career saves in 12 seasons, five seasons leading his league in saves, four seasons over 30 saves, 7.9 strikeouts/9 innings, six All-Star games.

Perhaps you can identify the four pitchers. What you cannot do is say why one of them isn’t in the Hall of Fame. You especially can’t say why the one with the most saves, most 30-save seasons and most strikeouts per 9 innings isn’t in the Hall of Fame.

Smith, of course, is Pitcher B, the only one of the four not in the Hall of Fame. A is Rollie Fingers, B is Goose Gossage and C is Bruce Sutter. The only other reliever of their time in the Hall of Fame is Dennis Eckersley, who defies comparison with his career as a starter (with a 20-win season), then a reliever. (If there’s a comparison, it’s John Smoltz, also likely to get in on the first-ballot this year.) For the record, though, Smith bested Eck in career saves, 30-save seasons, strikeouts per nine innings, seasons leading the league in saves and All-Star selections.

You can make a case that Smith was better than any of those pitchers, but you also could make the case that they were better than him. That’s the point: He was their peer in every respect. If they’re in the Hall of Fame, Smith should be.

I probably can’t claim it’s anti-Yankee bias that keeps Smith out of Cooperstown, because few people remember him as a Yankee. With only eight games for New York (in 1993; he saved three games), he probably has the lowest percentage of his career in pinstripes of any great player who played for the Yankees.

Clearly Smith should be in the Hall of Fame. With only 29 percent of the vote last year and only three years left on the writers’ ballot, his best shot will be through the Expansion Era Committee.

Tim Raines

Can you name a comparable player to Raines who’s not in the Hall of Fame? Who else in the top five in any major career statistical is waiting to get into Cooperstown without a gambling ban or suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs?

Throw in four seasons leading the league in steals, a batting championship and two years leading the league in runs. Raines absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame (and mostly for achievements before reaching the Yankees; he gave them three part-time years but contributed to their 1996 and ’98 championships). In baseball discussions during their primes, he was always paired with Rickey Henderson. How did one of them become a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and the other one can’t get in?

Raines does have a possible added factor in his consideration: his use of cocaine. He testified during the Pittsburgh drug trials that he used to slide headfirst to avoid breaking the cocaine vials in his back pocket.

But cocaine is not a performance-enhancing drug, and I can’t think of another person blocked from the Hall of Fame because of cocaine use. Lots of players — Vida Blue, Dave Parker, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry — appeared to be on the path to the Hall of Fame, but derailed their careers with cocaine abuse. None of those players reached a level of career achievement where everyone makes it to the Hall of Fame. And Hall voters have honored multiple players tainted by stories of recreational drug use: Orlando Cepeda, Ferguson Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Willie Stargell.

The only players who have more stolen bases than Raines’ 808 are Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb, all in the Hall of Fame.

Next on the stolen-base list behind Raines is Vince Coleman at 752. But stealing bases was virtually Coleman’s only skill. He hit .264, was only an All-Star twice and only scored 100 runs twice (and never led his league in runs scored).

Raines is much more like the four players ahead of him than like Coleman. Let’s set aside Hamilton, who played in the 1800’s, when baseball was much different, including counting as a stolen base when you went from first to third on a single. And let’s set aside Cobb, who was one of the greatest hitters of all time and still has the career record for batting average.

Comparing Raines as a hitter to Brock, he had better career averages at batting, on-base percentage (a leadoff hitter’s job) and slugging (and, of course, OPS): .294, .385, .425, .810 for Raines, .293, .343, .410, .753. Brock never led the league in a single batting category. Raines led the league in batting (.334) and on-base percentage (.413) in 1986 and doubles (38) in 1984. Brock was more durable, though, playing full-time long enough to reach 3,000 hits (Raines was a part-time player after 1992 and retired with 2,605 hits).

Runs combine hitting and running, and Brock had a slight advantage there. Each led his league twice. Brock topped 100 runs seven times and Raines had six 100-run seasons. Brock had slightly more career runs (in 100 more career games), 1,610 to 1,571.

Brock stole more bases, 938, and led his league in steals more times, eight, but Brock was largely a volume base-stealer. Raines was really a more successful base stealer, safe on 85 percent of his steals, compared to 75 percent for Brock. Even with all his stolen bases, Raines never led his league in times caught stealing. Brock led his league seven times. Raines’ worst season, he was caught 16 times. Brock topped that 10 times, getting caught 33 times in 1974, when he set the single-season record with 118 steals. In fact, Brock’s lead of Raines by 130 stolen bases is actually smaller than his caught-stealing lead, 307-146.

Defensively Raines was way better: He had a higher fielding percentage, .988 to .957. Brock had slightly more putouts, assists and double plays, but he played almost 400 more outfield games. But Raines committed only 54 errors. Brock made 196.

Raines was the player in baseball history most similar to Brock. And you can argue that he was a better hitter, base stealer and fielder. How is one guy in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot and the other isn’t there yet?

The comparison to Henderson is not as favorable for Raines. Henderson never won a batting or doubles title, but he led his league in hits in 1981 and on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 1990 (his MVP year, an achievement Raines never matched).

For career averages, Raines had the advantage in batting (.294 to .279) and slugging (.425 to .419), but Henderson led in on-base percentage (.401 to .385) and OPS (.820 to .810). Henderson was a better homerun hitter (297 to 170) and drove in more runs (1,115 to 980).

One of a leadoff hitter’s most important jobs is getting on base, and Henderson led his league in walks four times, topped 100 walks seven times and set the record with 2,190 career walks (he’s second now to Barry Bonds). Raines had a respectable 1,330 career walks but never led his league and never topped 100 in a season.

In runs, Henderson blew Raines (and everyone in baseball history) away, setting the career record (still) with 2,295, leading his league five times and topping 100 runs 13 times.

Henderson stole 1,406 career bases, a record that’s safe for at least 15 years. He stole a record (still) 130 in 1982, one of three years that he topped 100, and he led his league in steals 12 times. He was the greatest base-stealer of all time. Raines was a better percentage stealer, 85 to 81.

So Henderson was the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time and significantly better than Raines. But Raines was the most similar player in baseball history to two first-ballot Hall of Famers. He should be in.

Maybe someday

Mike Mussina

USA Today’s Ted Berg predicts Mussina will make the Hall of Fame eventually. He’s been on the ballot two years and got 20 percent of the vote last year.

With 270 wins, he’s in Hall of Fame territory, four wins or fewer ahead of Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, Bob Feller and Eppa Rixey. But Mussina also is one win ahead of Jamie Moyer, who has no shot at Cooperstown. Moose is way better than Moyer and his winning percentage was more than 100 points higher than Rixey’s. But he’s nowhere near Palmer’s or Feller’s league.

Berg says, “Time and context will smile on Mussina’s counting numbers and reward his consistency.” He may be right. I’m skeptical, but I’m horrible at predicting Hall of Fame elections. Just considering Yankee pitchers not in the Hall of Fame, I’d say Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds all belong there before Mussina. He’s about even with David Cone, Cone having soared to greater heights but Moose being more consistent. The Hall of Fame rewards longevity and consistency, so he could get in.

I don’t think he’ll ever make it to Cooperstown, but he probably could have. For the first 17 years of his career, he was a model of consistency, never winning 20 games in a season but winning 19 twice, 18 three times and 17 twice. He never won fewer than 11 games.

Moose won 20 for the only time in his 18th and final year, 2008, at age 39. It’s hard to believe he didn’t have another 30 wins in him if he’d wanted to pitch another three years (possibly two). If he had made it to 300 wins, he’d be automatic. But you have to admire a guy who goes out on top, and that might help him in Hall of Fame voting.

Two things we don’t know yet about Hall of Fame could affect Moose’s chances of election:

  1. We don’t know how long the baseball writers will keep the PED-era stars out of the Hall of Fame. Will they have to wait a few years to get in, or will the writers just never vote any of them in?
  2. If they don’t vote the drug-tainted players in, will they just vote in fewer players from that era, or will some of the marginal players from that era, who used to wait for veterans committee votes, get voted in by the writers. It’s hard to imagine Moose making the Hall of Fame with all the players tainted by PED’s on the ballot. But if those guys aren’t getting in, Moose could be an attractive candidate in some year when the crop of first-time candidates is a little thin. I suspect he’ll be an Expansion Era Committee selection someday.

Luis Tiant

El Tiante is the only ex-Yankee on the Golden Era ballot (the writers keep Roger Maris out of the Hall of Fame by controlling access to the era ballots). His 229 wins don’t carry him into automatic territory (or the writers would have voted him in), but they certainly are Cooperstown-worthy. He ranks a few wins ahead of Hall of Famers Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter, but tied with Sad Sam Jones, who never made the Hall of Fame and never topped 1 percent in the writers’ vote. He’s also 10 wins behind David Wells and 11 behind Frank Tanana, neither of whom is likely to get a Cooperstown plaque.

The Tiant case is strong: four 20-win seasons, two ERA championships (under 2.00 both times), led his league in shutouts three times. If post-season performance counted for anything (it doesn’t, or they’d have to let more Yankees in), his 3-0 record in his only post-season, including two complete-game 1975 World Series wins (one of them a shutout) over the Big Red Machine would push him over the top.

His Yankee years were insignificant, a 13-8 showing at age 38 and 8-9 the next year in 1979-80.

Comparing Tiant to Hunter shows why he has fallen short of the Hall of Fame so far. Catfish won his 224 games in 15 years, while Tiant played 19. Catfish won 20 games five years in a row and won a Cy Young Award (Tiant’s highest finish was fourth).

Tiant was more comparable to Bunning, who won 20 games only once (he had four 19-win seasons) and had a career winning percentage 22 points lower than Tiant. Bunning never led his league in ERA, but led twice in shutouts and three times in strikeouts.

All-Star selections aren’t a strong part of Tiant’s case: He was selected three times and Catfish had eight selections and Bunning seven.

Tiant was a fierce competitor who probably was regarded as a Hall of Famer by the batters he faced in a career that stretched from 1964 to 1982. He played in an era of great pitchers: Hunter and Bunning are among 17 pitchers who were Tiant contemporaries who are already in Cooperstown. Guidry’s another who belongs there, ahead of Tiant.

It’s clear that Tiant was more comparable to Hunter and Bunning than to Jones, Wells and Tanana. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I’m not outraged if he doesn’t make it.

If the Golden Era Committee just picks one or two players, I would expect Tony Oliva and/or Maury Wills to go ahead of Tiant. But maybe, like the Expansion Era Committee went with three managers (Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox) last year, the Golden Era Committee will choose three Cubans this year: Oliva, Tiant and Minnie Minoso. I tend to think Tiant will continue to wait.

No chance

Aaron Boone

Boone has no shot at the Hall of Fame. This will be his only year on the ballot. He gave Yankee fans a great memory in 2003, but he has no Hall of Fame qualifications: barely 1,000 career hits, never hit .300 or 30 homers or 100 RBI, never won a Gold Glove. He had a respectable 12-year career and made an All-Star team for the Reds in 2003 (before being traded to the Yankees.

Boone was actually only the third-best baseball player in his family. Brother Bret has no Hall of Fame chance either, but he had three 100-RBI seasons for the Mariners. He was third in the MVP race in 2001, hitting .331 with 206 hits, 37 homers and a league-leading 141 RBI. He was a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover. But he also was named as a PED user in Jose Canseco’s book (he denied the allegation). Bret Boone didn’t approach Hall of Fame consideration, but had a better career than Aaron.

Their father, Bob, a four-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove catcher who’s third all-time in games caught, might catch the fancy of an era committee someday and make it to the Hall of Fame.

Bob’s father, Ray Boone, was also an All-Star (twice) and led the American League with 116 RBI in 1955. But he also was far short of Hall of Fame levels.

They are one of baseball’s best families ever (does any other family have four All-Stars?). But I doubt they’ll have any Hall of Famers, certainly not Aaron.

Tom Gordon


As I noted last month, Flash was one of the best pitchers ever at relieving and starting. But only Eck and Smoltz of that group will make the Hall of Fame (Allie Reynolds should, but he’s unique because he started and relieved in the same season for a few years, never becoming a full-time reliever). Gordon is back in the pack with Wilbur Wood, Dave Righetti and Derek Lowe, probably a bit behind them.

Gordon has a better case than Aaron Boone, with three All-Star selections and one season leading the American League in saves (1998 with 46). He delivered on a then-record 54 consecutive save opportunities. But neither 138 career wins nor 158 career saves is anywhere near Hall of Fame territory, so he doesn’t get enough benefit from having pitched well in both roles to have a shot at Cooperstown.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, facts in this post come from Baseball-Reference.com or the Baseball Hall of Fame website.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 891 other followers