The Royals’ greatest moments of championship seasons

3 04 2016

My Royals-fan sons and I exchanged some emails heading into Opening Day, spurred by two excellent pieces on the Royals:

  • A New York Times interactive package that tracked down the people (mostly Met fans) in a photo reacting to Eric Hosmer’s slide into home with the tying run in Game Five of last year’s World Series, with audio clips recalling their reactions to the play. Making the piece especially enjoyable for Royal fans was the fact that the two non-Met fans interviewed were George and Leslie Brett. I highly recommend reading and listening to it (unless you’re a Met fan).
  • Rany Jazayerli‘s post on the best five moments of the 2014-15 Royals. This is the detailed, emotional conclusion of an excessively long series (I think it was about the 150 best moments or something like that). I recommend it for Royal fans, but no one else would read it all. We all did, though.

(If you missed my World Series posts last year, I am a lifelong Yankee fan who took my sons to Royals games in the 1980s when they were young. I failed to make Yankee fans of them, but they all grew up to be passionate Royal fans. While my loyalties remain with the Yankees, I developed a strong secondary fondness for the Royals and enjoyed the past two Octobers along with my sons, especially last year’s World Series victory. We went to Game Two together in 2014.)

Each of the boys weighed in by email, after reading the two pieces, on their own favorite 2014-15 moments. With their permission, I am using their emails here, adding some links and videos. I’ve done a little editing to use full names on first references and such, and adding some context in parentheses for non-Royal fans who don’t recall them all as vividly as we do, though I tried to keep that to a minimum. I doubt you’re going to read this if you don’t get most of the context.

Mike’s favorite 2014-15 Royal moments

This section comes from my oldest son Mike, whom I promised in 1985 to take to the World Series the next time the Royals made it:

My personal top 5 is:

5. Hosmer scoring (the World Series Game 5 tying run that prompted the Times story).

4. Omar Infante home run (Game Two in 2014, the game the four of us attended together).

3. Lorenzo Cain scoring from first on a single (scoring the winning run in Game Six, clinching the 2015 American League Championship Series over Toronto).

2. Wade Davis striking out Wilmer Flores (final out of the 2015 World Series).

1. Salvy’s walk-off (Salvador Pérez winning the 2014 wild-card game in the 12th inning, the Royals’ first post-season win in 29 years)

Tom’s favorite 2014-15 Royal moments

Tom Buttry

Tom Buttry

Tom had just turned 3 when the Royals won the 1985 World Series, but went to lots of Royals games with me the next six years, before we moved away, and became a lifelong fan. Tom made lots more choices than Mike:

Honorable mentions, in roughly chronological order (I didn’t embed videos of the honorable mentions, but the links below take you to videos):

The first time we tied the A’s in the 2014 wild-card game, the parade of stolen bases against Oakland, the second time we tied the A’s, Mike Moustakas’ and Eric Hosmer’s home runs in Anaheim, Jarrod Dyson gunning down an Anaheim baserunner, Billy Butler stealing a base, Alcides Escobar hitting a traditional home run to my delighted surprise, Wade Davis mowing down the heart of the Orioles’ lineup in the bottom of the eighth, Alex Gordon and Moose hitting homers in extra innings against the Orioles, Cain’s amazing catches in Baltimore, Escobar’s double against Baltimore, Salvy’s double against Hunter Strickland, Kelvin Herrera getting an at-bat in the World Series, Yordano Ventura destroying the Giants in Game six, Hosmer’s game-icing home run in Houston, Johnny Cueto destroying the Astros in Game five, the comeback on David Price, the lineup destroying R.A. Dickey, Cueto mauling the Mets in Game 2, running Jacob deGrom from Game 2, buying a round for a bar full of people (only doesn’t make the list because it didn’t directly involve a Royals player).

And here are Tom’s 15 most memorable Royal moments of 2014-15:

15. Moose’s railing catch (if we’re stripping plays of their context, this play is one of the top two, but the series was already fairly well in hand, so it appears at the end of the list).

14. Kendrys Morales’ ground ball getting past Carlos Correa. This should probably be higher, but I was still in the afterglow of the wedding and not quite back into full-on baseball mode.  The comeback against the Astros is one of the two most remarkable team-wide feats the Royals pulled off in a single game, and this was definitely the payoff moment.

13. Escobar’s inside-the-park homer (Esky. Magic.)

12. Gordon’s triple (this is a tough one… the what-ifs and having our hopes crushed on the next play can’t be totally removed, but while the play was happening, I was elated.  If we had pulled it off last year, this moment would combine with the winning play to create the no-doubt greatest moment in Royals history, surpassing Game 6 in 1985.)

11. Wade Davis allowing the tying and winning runs to get into scoring position, just to see what it’s like. I’ll admit that for a moment I thought it was possible that Wade Davis was mortal.  That an hour’s rest was too much even for him.  Then he struck out Ben Revere and got Josh Donaldson to ground out and all was right with the world. (In our email exchange, Joe shared a Kansas City Star story by Rustin Dodd about Wade’s “escape” in that game.)

10. Christian Colón tying the game against Oakland, the third time we tied that game and got the winning run on base. (Included in the video with No. 9.)

9. Hosmer’s triple. One could argue this was the moment the identity of the team was defined.  We had already come back to tie the A’s twice, only to fall behind yet again, and again showed everyone that this team refuses to die.

8. Cain scoring from first. Stripped of context, this probably tied Moose’s catch as the most impressive single play with smart, aggressive base-running coupled with Cain’s amazing speed.  I don’t want to diminish the context, but the plays above it were either in the World Series, or the walk-off of the most exciting game in the history of baseball, so this is only #8.

7. Gordon’s home run. I remember actually being terrified of the Mets before Gordon tied the game.  Earlier in the game, they had managed to come back on us, despite Esky Magic.  We had made the dumb mistake that put the other team ahead.  Gordo’s homer reminded me that we’re the Royals and we’re the team that comes back to win, not someone else.

6. The final out: Great, amazing moment when it became official, but we all knew Davis wasn’t blowing a five-run lead … which is an odd feeling after years of being a KC sports fan.

5. The top of the 12th: Colón go-ahead, Cain clearing the bases. In my memory, these plays are really linked. Colón put us three outs away, Cain put the game out of reach and started the celebration.

4. Daniel Murphy error/Moustakas go-ahead run. Combining multiple plays in the same half-inning again. Early in the game, I noticed that the bulk of the Mets’ fans around me couldn’t tell the difference between me saying MOOOOOSE! and their booing him — though the guys right next to me could tell and were friendly enough to find it funny.  So not only were these two plays together really important, I actually got to loudly celebrate without getting crap thrown at me.

3. Infante home run. Good call, Mike.  The company we were in gave this moment its importance.  The payoff moment of going to Royals’ and Chiefs’ games since together since we were children.

2. Hosmer’s dash. I agree with Dad, this was the championship moment.  As awesome as the actual final out was, this is the defining play of the Royals’ championship.

1. Salvy’s walk-off. I know logically the wild card game of the season they didn’t win shouldn’t be #1, but after a lifetime as a beaten-down KC sports fan, winning that game was honestly the most joy I ever felt as a sports fan. This is just an instance where the moment that really kicked off this run meant more than the climax.

Joe’s moments

Joe didn’t compile a list of great memories, but weighed in with three observations in separate emails. On a memory his brothers didn’t mention:

I feel like the 2014 Game Two go-ahead Billy Butler single makes the list for me. When they went to the pen I ran to the bathroom and watched the play from the entryway, then charged up the stairs to our seats high-fiving the entire way.

What I did not recall until I watched the inning again was that the Giants used five pitchers that inning. Big play in the game. Great base-running from Cain. Not the double or the homer, but the go-ahead run, a good play and a good memory.

Also, I had not listened to Reynolds’ commentary. Solid gold. Strickland throws two pitches (a foul and a strike to Salvi) and he says “I think they have figured out the problem with Strickland.” He then talks up his ability against right handlers.

Strickland’s next four pitches:

  • Wild pitch
  • Double in the gap
  • Ball
  • Homer in the bullpen.

Nailed it, Harold.

When Joe sent that, I looked for a YouTube clip of the broadcast of the inning. Couldn’t find it, but here’s the full game:

Joe also weighed in on two plays from the 2015 World Series:

And the scouting report told them to make Lucas Duda throw the ball and to make Murphy field it. Both spot on. I don’t know that the scouting report said either would be in such a big spot.

Joe’s reaction to Rany’s list of the top five moments:

I have always thought that Cain scoring from first should be up there. Rany had it close, but MLB network had a list of this years playoff that it didn’t make. (As I recall 40 clips). Probably not top 5, but 6 or 7.

My response:

If it’s top 5 plays, Cain’s dash makes the top 5 (and Wade’s strikeout of Flores doesn’t). But if you’re ranking moments, not plays, the championship moment has to be up there (I might have put Hos No. 1, because that was the championship). Either way, Cain’s dash was fabulous, pushed down the list only because there were so many great ones.

Update: Joe sent along a link from the Star’s Sam Mellinger, on the players recalling some of their favorite moments.

Dad’s moments

Mike, Tom, Joe and me, Game Two of the 2014 World Series, back in our old seats

Mike, Tom, Joe and me, Game Two of the 2014 World Series, back in our old seats

While I started the discussion by sharing the New York Times story, I didn’t weigh in nearly as much on the ranking of great Royal moments of the past two years. The best for me dealt with my sons more than they dealt with the Royals. And my joy focused on experiences that were too extended to call “moments”:

  1. Attending World Series Game Two in 2014 with the boys (all of whom are in their 30s now, so I should stop calling them “boys,” but, you know, I’m their dad), but I already wrote about that.
  2. Texting like crazy with the boys through all the other games, especially last year’s clincher.
  3. Enjoying Game Two and Game Four in 2015 vicariously through Mike, who went to Kauffman Stadium for one and Tom, who wore his Moustakas jersey in Citi Field for the other.
  4. Enjoying how the joy from the last two falls has endured, as in this email exchange months later as another season approaches. If the Royals have to wait another 29 years for post-season play or another 30 years for their third World Series crown, they will savor this the whole time. And I don’t think it will be that long (though I didn’t think so in 1985 either). Even if these Royals turn into a dynasty with multiple championships, these first two years will always be the most special.

To me, the moment of the last two seasons (outside the family context) was Hosmer’s dash home. As I said in our email string about the Met fans’ reactions:

I like how they all blame it on Duda, and he did make a bad throw, but Hosmer forced him to make a good throw. And a good throw wouldn’t have been enough. Catchers can’t block the plate any more, so it doesn’t just take a good throw, it takes a good throw, a good catch, a sweep tag of a guy who’s behind the catcher and hanging onto the ball when a guy’s sliding into your glove. Hos made it happen, and the Mets didn’t execute the first thing they needed to do to nail him, but even with a good throw, they don’t necessarily get the out.

I especially loved the contrast to last year, when the Royals didn’t force the Giants to make a play and stopped Gordon at third with the tying run. I don’t disagree with everyone who said it was probably the right call for third base coach Mike Jirschele to hold Gordon. But it also would have been the right call by the same reasoning for Hosmer to hold at third. Sometimes champions make a play by forcing the other team to make a play when they’re not expecting it. Sometimes surprise, hustle and pressure make a good player make a bad throw (or drop a good throw or miss a tag). If Hosmer’s hustle hadn’t erased the pain of losing with the tying run at third base, the what-if of holding Gordon would have taunted and haunted Royal fans forever. Now we can just laugh at the what-ifs of Hosmer’s dash for home. There’s no what-if, just what happened: Hosmer made a great play.

The boys covered the other Royals’ post-season moments well, but I had to remind them of the Pete Rose photobomb during the rain delay.

The Royals’ best 1985 moments

The boys covered 2014-15 well enough (except for the Pete Rose omission) that I decided to add some 1985 moments. I’ll confess I didn’t work as hard as Tom (or Rany) in analyzing each and deciding their order. But here are some special moments from the 1985 championship run.

Since the memories from 30-plus years ago aren’t as fresh, I’ll provide more detail and context than my sons did. First we’ll review some moments from the first 12-plus games of the post-season, then review Game Seven and Game Six’s fabulous ninth-inning comeback.

Before Game Six’s ninth inning

Frank White’s homer

Frank White’s fifth-inning, two-run homer (following a Brett single) gave the Royals a 4-0 lead with Bret Saberhagen on the mound in Game Three of the World Series. After losing the first two games of the Series in Kansas City, the Royals desperately needed this game. Lonnie Smith’s two-run double in the fourth gave the Yankees the lead, but White’s homer felt bigger. Back then the designated hitter was used in alternating years, rather than in American League parks, so Hal McRae had been reduced to a pinch-hitter the whole series, a huge disadvantage for the Royals. Manager Dick Howser used White, who had 22 regular-season homers, in McRae’s clean-up spot. When he gave the Royals a 4-0 lead, that felt insurmountable with Sabes pitching. And it was. The Royals won, 6-1, with Sabes going the distance, and the Series was suddenly competitive.

Buddy Biancalana


Buddy Biancalana put the Royals ahead early in Game Five of the World Series with a single off Bob Forsch. The Royals were trailing 3-1 in the Series and tied 1-1 after the first inning. Biancalana, whose hitting was so weak David Letterman lampooned him with a “Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter,” singled home Jim Sundberg and later scored on Willie Wilson’s triple. That 3-1 lead was all Danny Jackson needed, pitching a five-hit complete game and winning 6-1. The other key moment in that game was when Jackson got Tito Landrum to pop up to Brett in foul territory to end the third inning with the bases loaded.

Jim Sundberg’s triple

Jim Sundberg’s bases-loaded triple off Dave Stieb in the sixth inning of Game Seven of the American League Championship Series put the Royals in control. The Royals were leading 2-1, and Dick Howser had lost confidence in his closer, Dan Quisenberry.

For the second day in a row, Howser had outmaneuvered Toronto manager Bobby Cox, starting a righthander (Mark Gubicza in Game Six, Bret Saberhagen in Game Seven) so that Cox, who rigidly platooned his designated hitters, would start Al Oliver, who had punished Quiz in the ninth and 10th innings of Games Two and Four with two hits and three RBI, beating the Royals in both games. The Royals had no left-handed relievers in the post-season, but Howser used lefty starters Bud Black and Charlie Leibrandt out of the bullpen, prompting Cox to pinch-hit right-handed DH Cliff Johnson for Oliver.

Even with Oliver out of the game, the 2-1 lead didn’t feel comfortable. But Sundberg’s triple scored Hal McRae, Pat Sheridan and Steve Balboni. That 5-1 lead suddenly felt safe. And it became 6-1 after Frank White singled in Sundberg. Quiz entered the ninth inning with a 6-1 lead and two men on base, and Oliver not available to hit. Quiz induced groundouts from Damaso Garcia (that one scored a run) and Lloyd Moseby, and the Royals were headed to the World Series.

Charlie Leibrandt

Charlie Leibrandt’s five perfect innings to start Game Six were a pretty amazing string of moments. He had lost a heart-breaker in Game Two (I was in the stands, chanting “Char-lie!” as we waited for a final strike that never came). To start Game Six so strong meant a lot, even if Danny Cox was matching Leibrandt scoreless inning for scoreless inning.

The perfection didn’t last. Leibrandt gave up two singles in the sixth inning, but induced a double-play ground ball from Ozzie Smith to get out of the inning. After a perfect seventh, Leibrandt finally gave up a run in the eighth and left the game, trailing 1-0. We’ll have more on Game Six later, but Leibrandt’s stellar start deserves mention here.

George Brett

Every time Brett came to the plate in Game Three vs. the Blue Jays was a special moment. He kept the Royals in the American League Championship Series. They started the series with two losses, so they needed to win this game. Brett hit a solo homer in the first inning and scored the Royals’ second run in the fourth, doubling and then scoring on a Frank White sacrifice fly.

The Royals fell behind 5-2 when Toronto chased Bret Saberhagen from the game in the fifth inning. A Sundberg homer in the bottom of the fifth closed the gap to 5-3, but Cox stayed with starter Doyle Alexander. After Willie Wilson opened the sixth inning with a single, Cox inexplicably stuck with Alexander. Brett homered again, tying the game. Brett also scored the winning run in the bottom of the eighth. He singled, moved to second on a bunt and scored on a Steve Balboni single.

Brett was 4-for-4 with two homers, 11 total bases, four runs scored and three RBI. He scored or drove in five of six runs in a 6-5 victory that kept the Royals in the series. If it wasn’t the best post-season game any player had in Royals’ history, it’s a contender.

In Game Six, Brett faced Alexander in the fifth inning, tied 2-2 with no one on. Again, Cox left Alexander in the game and again Brett took him deep. Alexander was a good pitcher, who won 194 regular-season games. Two years later, the Tigers traded a young prospect named John Smoltz to Atlanta to pick up the veteran Alexander for the stretch run. He went 9-0 for the Tigers, but again melted down in the post-season. He was 0-5 for his career in the post-season, but no one owned him like Brett did.

Game Seven

Three Game-Seven moments from the 1985 World Series deserve mention here:

Darryl Motley’s second-inning homer with Steve Balboni on base gave the Royals a 2-0 lead, and, with Saberhagen pitching, you thought that might be enough (and it was).

Whitey Herzog and Joaquín Andújar got ejected in the fifth inning, as the Royals were taking command, running up their lead to 11-0 before the inning ended. The Cardinals played the worst Game Seven in history, still fussing about the ninth-inning call the night before.

With an 11-0 lead still with two outs in the ninth inning, Brett halted play briefly to confer with Saberhagen. The Royals’ longtime star told the young pitching star that he’d better turn toward third base after the final out. And moments later, Brett and Bret embraced after Motley squeezed the final out on a fly ball to right.

Ninth inning, Game Six

This was a string of magical moments, each linked to the others. It started, of course, with one bit of luck. But champions take advantage of breaks, and the Royals relentlessly took advantage of two breaks in their amazing ninth-inning comeback. I’ll replay the moments in order:

Bad call

Motley was announced as a pinch-hitter for Pat Sheridan, opening the inning against left-handed reliever Ken Dayley, who pitched the eighth after seven strong innings from starter Danny Cox. Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog countered with right-hander Todd Worrell, a rookie who had emerged late in the season as the Cardinals’ closer. Howser then sent in Jorge Orta, a left-handed platoon DH during the regular season, to pinch-hit for Motlety. Orta singled to first baseman Jack Clark, beating out the throw to Worrell covering first. Well, he didn’t actually beat it out. Umpire Don Denkinger blew the call. But bad calls are part of baseball. As I noted in a post last year, the call didn’t cost the Cardinals the World Series. The plays that followed — good plays by the Royals, bad plays by the Cardinals — moved that tying run around the base paths, with the winning run moving along behind.

Bonesy

The next hitter was Balboni, a feast-or-famine hitter who homered a Royals record (still) 36 times in the regular season, but struck out a league-leading 166 times. Bonesy popped up in front of the Royals’ dugout. Clark misjudged the ball, and Bonesy got another chance. The power hitter sent a single between third base and shortstop to advance Orta to second base. Backup shortstop Onix Concepcion, representing the winning run, pinch-ran for the lumbering Balboni.

Blown bunt

This next moment wasn’t so good, but it continues the narrative and puts the man who scored the winning run on base: Jim Sundberg went up to bunt, which would have put the tying run on third and the winning run in scoring position. But Worrell fielded the bunt quickly and fired to third, where umpire Jim McKean finally called Orta out on another close play.

Hal McRae

I don’t know whether Howser was planning to let Biancalana hit and try a squeeze bunt to bring home the tying run if Sundberg’s bunt had succeeded. Or maybe he would have pinch hit Dane Iorg, knowing the Cardinals would walk him to keep an inning-ending double play in order. But I can’t imagine Howser would have sent one of the Royals’ most dangerous hitters ever, Hal McRae, up to take an intentional walk, not even late in Mac’s career. With runners at first and second and one out, the man who led the league in RBI just three years earlier was the logical pinch hitter. But Porter allowed a passed ball on a 1-0 count, accomplishing what Sundberg’s bunt didn’t, and Mac got the intentional walk anyway, loading the bases.

John Wathan, a catcher but the holder of the all-time record for stolen bases by a catcher (36 in 1982), went in to pinch run for McRae. That would give the Royals more speed to break up a double play at second (but Mac was pretty good at breaking up double plays). Oddly, Howser didn’t pinch hit for his slow catcher who represented the winning run. Sundberg, who was 34, had not stolen a base all season. He stole only 20 in 16 seasons. But he stayed at second base, representing the winning run.

If you’re keeping track, the Royals by this time have used three pinch hitters (only one of whom actually swung the bat) and two pinch runners. With one more pinch hitter to come.

Dane Iorg

Iorg, whose brother Garth was on the Blue Jays team the Royals beat to reach the World Series, was a former Cardinal who joined the Royals in 1984. In 10 major league seasons, he never played full-time, topping 100 games just twice, peaking at 105 games with the 1980 Cardinals.

Iorg hit just .148, 4-for-29, as a pinch hitter for the Royals in ’85, just .223 in 64 games for the full season. He wasn’t Howser’s go-to pinch hitter. Or anyone’s. For his career, he was just .245 as a pinch hitter.

But he was one of the best post-season hitters ever. He got nine hits in 17 at-bats for the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series. He didn’t play at all in the National League Championship Series, but he platooned at DH in the World Series, sizzling against the Brewers’ right-handed pitchers.

In fact, in his three previous post-season series, Iorg had never hit below .500. He was 1-for-2 for the Royals against the Tigers in 1984 and against the Blue Jays in ’85. His only previous plate appearance in the ’85 World Series was a pinch-hit fly-ball out to end Game One.

Howser needed someone to pinch hit for Quisenberry, so Iorg grabbed a bat. And on a 1-0 pitch, he lined a single to right field, bringing Concepcion home easily to score the tying run, with Sundberg sliding in safely just ahead of the tag for the winner. And in four career post-season series, Iorg always hit .500 or better.

For all of Brett’s many heroics over the years, Iorg and Sundberg together delivered the greatest moment in Royals’ history. Until 2015. Now I put Iorg/Sundberg dead even with Eric Hosmer, each moment with a Royal belly-sliding into home plate.

And a 1980 moment

As a Yankee fan and blogger, I hesitate to add this, but since we included some moments from an American League championship year, I’ll include one from 1980, the other year the Royals made the World Series but lost:

And one from 1976

This is a Yankee blog, after all, so maybe we need to end with a Royals’ post-season moment before any of my sons were born:

Starting tomorrow, I’ll shift my attention back to the Yankees, starting a series on the best five Yankees ever at each position.

I hear the Royals and Mets play again tonight. Play ball!





Yankee pitchers who are nearly Hall of Famers: Mussina, Pettitte, Cone, Tiant, Kaat

30 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Five Yankee starting pitchers have strong cases for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but probably not strong enough for most of them.

Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, David ConeLuis Tiant and Jim Kaat were among the greatest pitchers of their times, but fall short of the standards that normally get pitchers into Cooperstown.

In earlier posts in this series, I dealt with the Yankee Hall of Famers, 300-game winners who pitched for the Yankees and three Yankee starters who belong in the Hall of Fame.

These pitchers are a notch below the others. I won’t argue if an Era Committee someday welcomes one of these pitchers to Cooperstown, and they probably belong there, but I’d be surprised if they all make it and won’t campaign for any of them.

Mike Mussina


Moose passed on a shot at ensuring his spot at Cooperstown, retiring at the top of his game after 18 years. He had his only 20-win season in his final year, winning exactly 20 at age 39 and retiring with 270 wins.

Roger Clemens, who’s being kept out of the Hall of Fame only because of suspicions about performance-enhancing drugs, is the only 300-game winner who’s not in Cooperstown. You can’t be sure that a pitcher entering his 40s has 30 more wins in him. But a healthy and durable pitcher who wins 20 in his late 30s probably can win 30 more over two or three more years.

But Moose stuck with his announced retirement. And it’s hard to picture the Hall of Fame voters embracing a 270-game winner with only one 20-win season.

Moose’s case for the Hall of Fame is pretty similar to Bert Blyleven‘s or Don Sutton‘s (except that Sutton stuck around long enough to reach 300 wins). Like them, he never won a Cy Young Award or had a really great season. But he had a lot of good seasons. Nine times Mussina was in the top six in the Cy Young voting, but the closest he came was second, to unanimous-choice Pedro Martinez in 1999.

In 10 years with the Orioles and eight with New York, Mussina led the American League once in wins, once in winning percentage and once in shutouts. He also led the league once in innings pitched and twice in starts. But never in ERA or strikeouts.

Moose finished higher in Cy Young voting more often than either Sutton or Blyleven. He was a league leader about as many times as Blyleven and more times than Sutton. And both also had just one 20-win season.

Mussina was an All-Star five times, the same as Sutton, and Blyleven made only two All-Star games. Moose won seven Gold Gloves and neither of the others ever did.

Sutton never won less than 50 percent of the Hall of Fame vote and was elected his fifth year of eligibility, crossing the 75-percent threshold with 82 percent. His 324 wins ensured his election and he made it relatively quickly.

Blyleven started out getting in the teens in the voting, but his percentages gradually increased, reaching 80 percent in 2011, his 14th year on the ballot.

Mussina started out faring better in Hall of Fame voting than Blyleven, getting 20 percent his first year and 25 percent this year, his second on the ballot. Blyleven didn’t reach that level until his fifth year on the ballot.

I can see Moose making the Hall of Fame in his final years on the writers’ ballot, as Blyleven did, or being an eventual Era Committee choice. He’s definitely comparable to Hall of Famers, but he’s a borderline candidate, and I don’t argue strenuously for borderline candidates. At least three Yankee starters — Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds — were notably greater pitchers than Mussina and belong in the Hall of Fame before him.

For several Yankees, a big part of my case for putting them in the Hall of Fame is their excellence in the post-season and World Series play. Mussina was average in October, 7-8 in post-season and 1-1 in World Series play.

But the Hall of Fame voters don’t care about post-season play and they do tend to smile on those who play well for long careers. So Moose has a shot.

If Bleacher Report’s rankings reflect Hall voting, Mussina has a good shot. He rank 35th all-time on the list, ahead of about half of the starters in the Hall of Fame. That’s higher than I would rank him.

Andy Pettitte

The Hall of Fame voters’ disdain for post-season performance is the reason Andy Pettitte probably wouldn’t have made the Hall of Fame, even if his reputation hadn’t been tainted by his admitted use of human growth hormone.

Pettitte won 256 games, usually enough to get a pitcher into Cooperstown. Of the nine pitchers with more wins than Pettitte who are not in the Hall of Fame, four were Yankees: Mussina, Roger ClemensTommy John and Jim Kaat (only briefly a Yankee; more on him shortly).

And no one in history has more post-season wins than Pettitte’s 19. Only John Smoltz has more post-season strikeouts. Pettitte was the anchor of the starting rotation for a dynasty that won four World Series in five years and another nine years later. In addition to his October prowess, he led the Yankees in wins and innings pitched in two of their championship years an in innings in a third.

As with Bernie Williams, Pettitte will be hurt by how differently baseball’s Hall of Fame voters regard championships (which is because of their anti-Yankee bias). You simply can’t name a football or basketball player who was as important to a championship dynasty as Pettitte who isn’t in his sport’s Hall of Fame.

But, as I noted the first time he retired, Pettitte is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, and Yankees who are borderline simply don’t get in. Add his drug involvement, even though he was one of the few PED users who readily admitted his use, and I don’t think he has much of a shot at Cooperstown.

He retired in 2013 and has to wait another three years before he can be on the Hall of Fame ballot.

David Cone

Of course, if Pettitte’s 19-11 post-season record isn’t going to help him get into the Hall of Fame, Cone’s 8-3 record won’t do the trick either. He lasted just one year on the writers’ ballot, getting just 3.9 percent of the vote.

But here’s why there’s some hope for Cone, Pettitte and Mussina to make it to Cooperstown eventually: They were among the best dozen or so pitchers of their time, and that many pitchers from an era usually make the Hall of Fame.

I assigned Hall of Fame pitchers to decades, giving multiple decades to some pitchers if they achieved some Hall of Fame credentials in that decade. For instance, Nolan Ryan didn’t achieve much with the 1968 or ’69 Mets, so he doesn’t count as one of the Hall of Famers from the ’60s. He had great decades in the ’70s and ’80s, so of course he counts there. He pitched only four years of the ’90s, and didn’t win many games then. But he won the last of his 11 strikeout crowns in 1990 at age 43. He pitched his sixth and seventh no-hitters in the 1990s, not to mention placing his famous headlock on Robin Ventura in 1993, his final year, at age 46. So I count Ryan as a Hall of Famer from the last three of his four decades.

Five different decades had a dozen or more Hall of Famers: the 1900s, Teens, ’20s, ’30s, ’60s and ’70s.

The 1980s, ’90s and beyond will get more Hall of Famers as time goes ons. The low numbers of Hall of Famers from the 1930s (9), ’40s (7) and ’50s (8) may reflect careers shortened by service in World War II or lives lost in the war.

The 1990s have already produced six Hall of Fame starting pitchers: Ryan, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Clemens makes seven pitchers from the era who were clearly better than this Yankee trio, though we don’t know when, if ever, Hall of Fame voters will decide they have meted out enough punishment to Clemens and other greats whose fame includes suspicion of drug use.

If the ’90s are going to get a dozen starting pitchers into the Hall of Fame, you really can’t get there without Mussina, Pettitte and Cone, even if Clemens gets there eventually.

Jack Morris and Curt Schilling were arguably better than the Yankee trio, but neither won as many games as Mussina or Pettitte. Schilling and Cone tied for the lowest ERAs of the group, 3.46. Mussina and Pettitte had lower ERAs than Morris’s 3.90.

Cone was the only Cy Young Award winner in the bunch, though Schilling finished second three times and Pettitte once (he was screwed in 1996). Counting the times they led their leagues in wins, winning percentage, ERA, shutouts or strikeouts, Schilling and Cone each had five, Morris four, Mussina three and Pettitte one.

Morris and Schilling both were great in the post-season (let’s pretend a moment that that matters in Hall of Fame selection), but Pettitte won more post-season games than both of them combined. Schilling’s 11-2 October record is stellar, but Cone’s 8-3 is better than Morris’s 7-4.

Moving into the 2000s, when each of the Yankee trio had great years, as did Clemens and the five of the six Hall of Famers from the ’90s (all but Ryan), and Roy Halladay is a contender. His 203 wins usually wouldn’t be enough to make Cooperstown, but he’s a two-time Cy Young winner who led his leagues six times in the key categories mentioned above. His 3-2 record in the post-season includes a no-hitter.

With the exception of Clayton Kershaw, other star pitchers of this century either had injury-shortened careers (Chris Carpenter and Johan Santana) or are too early in their careers to project their Hall of Fame chances (David Price, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez) or appear likely to fall short of Hall of Fame standards (CC Sabathia, whom I’ll discuss in a later post in this series). None of the best Hall of Fame prospects of this century overlapped significantly with the three Yankees under consideration here.

Other pitchers of the 1990s and early 2000s with some sort of Hall of Fame credentials don’t match up well with Mussina, Pettitte and Cone. Jamie Moyer pitched forever and won 269 games, just one behind Mussina. He won 20 twice, led the league in winning percentage once and was in the top six Cy Young vote-getters three times. Just one comparison: Moose was in the top six nine times, Pettitte and Cone five each. Moyer was an All-Star once, compared to five times each for Cone and Moose and three for Pettitte. Moyer does hold one major league record: most home runs allowed.

Other leading pitchers of their era include a bunch who spent time with the Yankees (and will be discussed later in this series): Doug Drabek, Jack McDowellBartolo Colón, Jimmy KeyDenny NeagleDavid Wells, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia. A bunch of non-Yankees also were among the best pitchers of the time: Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Bob Welch, Orel Hershiser, Chuck Finley, Tim Wakefield, Barry Zito, Pat Hentgen, Mark Mulder, John Burkett, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Dontrelle Willis, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Kevin Appier.

Though some of those are still pitching, none of them has a Hall of Fame case as strong as Mussina, Pettitte or Cone. Except for Clemens, Schilling, Morris, Halladay, and the Hall of Famers, the best contemporaries lag behind this Yankee trio (usually behind two, sometimes all three) in most if not all of these measures: career wins, ERA, strikeouts, 20-win seasons, leading the league, All-Star appearances, Cy Young voting, post-season performance.

By any criteria you want to choose, Mussina, Pettitte and Cone were among the best pitchers of their time.

So if Hall of Fame selection of pitchers from the 1900s and early 2000s results in a dozen starters (including Clemens; I’ll settle for 11 Hall of Famers if he never makes it), the group will be Ryan, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Johnson, Martinez and five of these six pitchers: Schilling, Morris, Halladay, Mussina, Pettitte and Cone.

I suspect, given the Hall of Fame voters’ bias for longevity, that Moose has the best shot of the Yankees. I think Cone was the best pitcher of the three. Pettitte might pay a price for his drug use.

I expect at least one will make it eventually, and I’ll be surprised if all three do.

Luis Tiant

Tiant was a Yankee only briefly and late in his career, winning 13 and eight games for them in 1979 and ’80.

He was best known as the ace of the 1970s Red Sox, who lost the World Series to the Reds in seven games and lost the AL East title to the Yankees in a one-game playoff (he didn’t pitch that game; Mike Torrez was the starter). But he had great seasons for the Indians, too.

El Tiante was a character and a gamer. Here’s why he should be in the Hall of Fame:

  • He won 229 games, more than Jim BunningDon Drysdale, Catfish Hunter, or Sandy Koufax, contemporaries of Tiant who made the Hall of Fame.
  • He won 20 games four times, more than contemporaries Bert Blyleven, Bunning, Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Koufax, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan or Don Sutton.
  • Tiant led his league in ERA twice (1968 and 1972), both times with ERAs under 2.00. Blyleven, Bunning, Steve Carlton, Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Hunter, Ferguson JenkinsJuan Marichal, Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts and Sutton were players whose careers overlapped with Tiant’s who didn’t lead their leagues twice in ERA. Ford, Jim Palmer and Ryan matched Tiant’s two ERA crowns.
  • Tiant led his league in shutouts twice. Contemporaries Carlton, Drysdale, Hunter, Jenkins, Niekro, Perry, Roberts and Sutton led their leagues only once in shutouts or never posted the most shutouts. Blyleven, Bunning, Ford, Marichal, Palmer, Ryan and Tom Seaver matched Tiant with two shutout titles.
  • He was 3-0 in post-season play, undefeated in the 1975 post-season with a playoff win over the three-time defending World Series champion Oakland A’s and two wins over Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the World Series. Bunning, Marichal, Niekro, Perry, Roberts and Ryan didn’t match Tiant’s three post-season wins (some also played most of their careers before league playoff started). Drysdale and Seaver were 3-3 in the post-season, (Drysdale all in the World Series). Other contemporaries in the Hall of Fame had more post-season wins than Tiant, but weren’t undefeated.

You can’t examine the careers of Tiant and his contemporaries and say he doesn’t belong in Cooperstown along with them. But he’s not there.

Here’s why Tiant won’t be in the Hall of Fame: He wasn’t in the top dozen pitchers of his time. Tiant’s great years fell in the 1960s and ’70s. The 1960s and ’70s already have 17 pitchers in the Hall of Fame (the 16 named above, plus Warren Spahn, who bested Tiant and most of his contemporaries in all the categories I examined).

I don’t think those pitchers were all better than Tiant, but 17 of Tiant’s contemporaries are in the Hall of Fame. I’ve argued that Ron Guidry and Tommy John should be there, too. Guidry probably won’t make it, but John probably will. And you could make about a strong a case for Mickey Lolich (not as strong as for Tiant, I think, but similar).

Tiant pitched in an era of great pitchers, and maybe a few more will make it. Red Sox tend to fare well in Hall of Fame selection, but Tiant never got more than 31 percent of the writers’ vote. I wouldn’t be surprised if he never makes it to Cooperstown.

But man, I enjoyed watching him pitch, and I’ll cheer him on if a Golden Era or Expansion Era Committee ever lets him in. The dividing line between the eras is 1973, about halfway through Tiant’s career. The Golden Era Committee rejected him last year.

(I’ll deal with Tiant again next week in a post about racial discrimination in Hall of Fame elections.)

Jim Kaat

Here’s a fun fact: Since Kaat pitched parts of two seasons for the Yankees in his 40s, the three post-19th-century pitchers with the most wins who aren’t in the Hall of Fame were all Yankees. Roger Clemens won 354 (I don’t have to explain again why he’s not in the Hall of Fame, do I?). Tommy John, who, of course, belongs in Cooperstown, won 288. And Kaat is next at 283.

Add three 20-win seasons for Kaat and 16 Gold Gloves (a record broken by Greg Maddux) and Kaat has a strong case, but the Golden Era Committee rejected him along with Tiant last year anyway. Two of his 20-win seasons came in 1974-75, so he could possibly get Expansion Era consideration, too.

Another fun fact: Kaat’s career spanned four decades, starting in 1959 with the Washington Senators and ending in 1983 with the Cardinals. Tiant’s whole career fit within Kaat’s. I won’t try to figure out how many more Hall of Famers he overlapped with than Tiant, but Early Wynn comes to mind.

I value peak performance more than longevity, so I’d favor Tiant if only one of them ever makes the Hall of Fame. Voters favor longevity, though, so I think Kaat might have the better shot.

Both men are long shots for the Hall of Fame. Here’s how I’d order the chances of the men in this post for making Cooperstown:

  1. Mussina
  2. Kaat
  3. Tiant
  4. Pettitte
  5. Cone

All are better than some in the Hall of Fame, and anti-Yankee bias is probably no factor in Kaat and Tiant’s cases. But I’ll be surprised if more than one or two make the Hall of Fame, shocked if they all do.

Also in this series

Other posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this series of blog posts over several months, mostly late at night while unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.