The 5 best designated hitters in Yankee history

13 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positionsToday: designated hitter.

The Yankees have never settled on a DH for a long stretch. A guy would hold the position for a year or two, or multiple players will share it during a year. Lots of great Yankees have played DH, but not for long.

1, Don Baylor

Don Baylor was a pretty easy choice to top this list. He won Silver Sluggers two of his three years at DH for the Yankees. His DH seasons for the Yankees weren’t great — no 30-homer seasons, no 100-RBI seasons, only one .300 season. But each year was solid: 21 HR, 85 RBI, .303 in 1983; 27, 89, .262 in ’84 and 23, 91, .231 in ’85. And he led the league in being hit by pitches with 23 in ’84 and 24 in ’85.

Perhaps most important (because, after all, it’s my blog), I got to see him hit grand slams live twice for the Yankees (against the White Sox in the 12th inning of a 1983 game and against the Royals in ’85).

I couldn’t find a YouTube video of Baylor as a Yankee, but I thought another grand slam would be appropriate here.

2, Hideki Matsui

Hideki Matsui was the Yankees’ primary DH for only 2008 and 2009. But he was the World Series MVP in ’09 as DH (he didn’t even play in the field in Philadelphia, pinch-hitting all three games there). No other Yankee DH has been a World Series MVP, so that was a pretty easy call.

3, Danny Tartabull

Danny Tartabull never topped 100 games at DH in a season. But he hit there 88 games in 1993 and 78 in ’94. And he was solid both years, hitting 20 of his 31 homers and driving in 70 of his 102 runs in ’93 as DH. The next year, he hit 13 of his 20 homers as DH. And he got a guest shot on Seinfeld.

I actually did find some Yankee videos of Tartabull, but decided to go with a game when he was a Royal that I saw with my son Tom.

4, Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez has played third base most of his career for the Yankees, but he was the DH in 2015 (and will be this year), hitting 33 homers and driving in 86 runs. He had one previous season with more than a dozen games at DH.

A-Rod, Matsui and Babe Ruth are the only Yankees on two of these lists. Babe is No. 1 in both left and right field. Matsui is No. 4 in left field. A-Rod is No. 1 at third base.

5, Raúl Ibañez

Given how no one sticks around as the Yankees’ DH, I’m giving the last slot to a guy who didn’t have a full single year at DH or even play a little DH for a few years (the best of the rest of the Yankee DH’s fall in one of those categories). I decided instead to go with a DH with a couple great post-season moments: Raúl Ibañez. He played for the Yankees only in 2012, and DH’ed in only 28 games. But in Game Three of the Division Series that year, Ibañez homered with one out in the ninth inning, tying the game, 2-2. He was pinch-hitting for Rodriguez, who was the DH, and Ibañez stayed in the game at DH. Then he homered again, leading off the bottom of the 12th, to win the game.

Without another DH who had a great year at DH, I’ll go with the one who provided the best post-season memories.

The rest

Jason Giambi never played more than 70 games a year at DH for the Yankees. But he played more than 60 games at DH in four years. He hit 21 homers as a DH in 2006, and probably belongs on the list ahead of Ibañez, but I dropped Giambi off the list because of the combination of Ibañez’s clutch homers, Giambi’s drug use and that DH was his primary position only in one season.

Jack Clark DH’d for the Yankees in 1988 at age 32, hitting 27 homers and driving in 93 runs. That one season nearly got him on this list. He was a rare Yankee to DH for more than 100 games in a season (112).

Chili Davis, one of the best DH’s ever, finished his career with the Yankees in 1998 and ’99, but he didn’t have much left, injured most of ’98 and hitting only 19 homers in ’99.

Rubén Sierra played parts of four seasons at DH for the Yankees, but his peak in DH homers for the Yankees was 13 in 2004.

Steve Balboni was the Yankees’ primary DH for 1989 and ’90 (a two-year run has been rare). With 17 homers each year, and because I was fond of Bonesy in his Royal years, I almost wanted to put him on the list, but he hit only .192 in ’90.

Cecil Fielder played less than two years as the Yankees’ DH, and was well past his prime.

I kind of wanted to include Ron Blomberg on the list, since he was the first DH in major-league history, but he played less than 150 games at DH for the Yankees and wasn’t that good.

Lots of great and good Yankee hitters played a handful of games at DH for a year or a few years, but I didn’t see any of them play long enough or well enough to move onto the list:

  • Reggie Jackson played 135 DH games spread over five seasons. His only season with double figures in homers as a DH was 1980, with 11 homers in 46 games.
  • Dave Winfield, a better fielder than Jackson, never reached even 10 games at DH in a season.
  • Derek Jeter had 73 career games at DH.
  • Don Mattingly played 75 career games at DH.
  • Bernie Williams played 129 career games at DH.
  • Darryl Strawberry played 143 games for the Yankees at DH, spread across five seasons.

Best DH tradition

The Yankees probably don’t rank even in the top half of American League teams in terms of a DH tradition. The White Sox may have the best, with Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, likely Hall of Famer Jim ThomeHarold Baines and Greg Luzinski all DH’ing well for at least a few seasons, many of them prime years.

The Red Sox have perhaps the best DH ever, David Ortiz, plus some pretty good ones: Hall of Famers Carl YastrzemskiJim Rice, Orlando Cepeda and Andre Dawson at the ends of their careers and one to three years each of Baylor, Clark, Manny Ramirez, Jose Canseco and Mike Easler. Without studying closely, I’d guess the White Sox had more prime years from top DH’s, but I wouldn’t argue with someone who thinks the Red Sox are stronger here, based on Big Papi’s longevity and the number of Hall of Famers (even if they were past their primes).

Other teams with DH standouts playing longer than any Yankee DH include at least the Mariners (Edgar Martinez), Royals (Hal McRae), and Indians (Travis Hafner). The Yankees probably aren’t higher than sixth here, and they might be lower.

Ranking criteria

I explained my criteria in the post on first basemen, so if this seems familiar, it’s because I cut and pasted that explanation here, then adapted it for DH’s.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame or belongs there, that carries considerable weight with me, but that’s not a factor with Yankee DH’s who played any substantial time.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. Baylor wins on both counts.

Few ballplayers actually matter in the broader culture beyond baseball, but Tartabull’s “Seinfeld” turn helped him out here.

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, but the Yankees didn’t have anyone play DH for a long stretch.

Time at the position is important, too. I can’t rank Jackson or Winfield high based on their overall greatness, because they didn’t play enough DH.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. Both factors were big for Matsui.

If two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. For instance, A-Rod’s overall career will probably move him ahead of Tartabull sometime this year, presuming he pulls even as a Yankee DH.

Special moments matter, too. They put Ibañez on this list.

Your turn

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Second base

Shortstop

Third base

Left field

Center field

Right field

Relief pitcher

Manager

Source note

Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.





The 5 best first basemen in Yankee history

4 04 2016

Last year I wrote a series about Yankee starting pitchers that included a ranking of the top 50 starting pitchers.

That series was interrupted by the death of Yogi Berra, which prompted a post on the Yankees having a far greater tradition at catcher than any other team (I didn’t actually rank the top Yankee catchers initially, but I’ve added a ranking to make the post fit into this series).

So I thought then I should open this baseball season (Yankees open this afternoon against the Astros) by going around the diamond, reviewing the Yankees’ tradition at each position and ranking the top five Yankees. I’ll review the top five, then review where Yankees rank among other teams in our tradition at that position (catcher’s not the only one where the Yankees are the best). Then I’ll explain my ranking criteria. Today: first base.

1, Lou Gehrig

The best first baseman in Yankee history is an easy call: Lou Gehrig, probably the best first baseman in baseball history.

Gehrig leads all Yankee first basemen in career homers, RBI, hits, runs, batting, slugging and nearly every important statistical category, and has the best single-season totals in several categories, too. He’s the only first baseman in the Hall of Fame who was primarily a Yankee. He’s the only Yankee first baseman to win a Triple Crown. And then there’s the consecutive-game streak. He led his league more times in homers (three times) and RBI (five) than all the other Yankee first basemen combined. And on and on. This is an easy call.

2, Don Mattingly

Don Mattingly is clear choice for No. 2 on this list. With 13 years as the Yankees’ starting first baseman, he’s second only to Gehrig and second in most career or single-season offensive categories, too. He’s the only Yankee first baseman other than Gehrig to win an MVP award or lead the league in batting, RBI or hits. In baseball history, only Keith Hernandez has more Gold Gloves at first base than Mattingly’s nine. Though not primarily a home run hitter, Mattingly holds or shares the records for most grand slams in a season and most consecutive games with a homer.

As I’ve noted before, Mattingly was superior to most of his contemporaries who are in the Hall of Fame. Only the Hall of Fame voters’ biases in favor of longevity and against Yankees are keeping him out of Cooperstown.

3, Tino Martinez

Here’s where the choices get a little murkier. Tino Martinez, Chris Chambliss, Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira each played the position for the Yankees for seven years, and Moose Skowron played it for nine. Skowron has the most All-Star selections for the Yankees (5), Giambi the most homers (209), Teixeira the most Gold Gloves (three) and Chambliss hit the walk-off homer that made the Yankees American League champions in 1976 after a post-season absence of 12 years.

But I go here with Martinez, who led the group with Yankee RBI (739) and stacks up well with the rest in most other hitting numbers. Only Skowron could match Tino’s four world championships with the Yankees. Only Teixeira, with league-leading totals of 39 homers and 122 RBI in 2009, almost matched Martinez’s best season (44 homers and 141 RBI in 1997). Both Teixeira and Martinez finished second in MVP voting their best Yankee years.

And Martinez had some pretty special post-season homers, too.

4, Moose Skowron

Skowron’s regular-season stats don’t stand out among the other competitors here. But damn, he hit eight World Series homers (tied for seventh all-time) and drove in 29 RBI (sixth). Championship performance means a lot to me.

5, Mark Teixeira

I give Teixeira the nod here, based on that 2009 season (and his role in returning the Yankees to championship status that year). Chambliss won two world championships with the Yankees and Giambi had a nice run without any World Series titles. But Tex is a little better than either of them in my view. Plus he’s still playing, with plenty of opportunity to move up to third or fourth on this list.

The rest

My autographed Joe Pepitone card

My autographed Joe Pepitone card

Joe Pepitone, who played eight years at first for the Yankees and was a three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, and Wally Pipp, who played 11 years before losing his job to Gehrig, are the best Yankee first basemen I haven’t mentioned yet.

Joe Collins started at first base for the Yankees of the 1950s, but was never an All-Star, never hit 20 homers or drove in 100 runs (or even 60) and never hit .300. He contributed to five Yankee championships, but hit only .163 in World Series play. I’m not sure I’d include him on a list of 10 best Yankee first basemen.

Several Yankee first basemen had their best years with other teams: Hall of Famer Johnny Mize, Felipe Alou, Bob Watson and Giambi. Center fielder Mickey Mantle spent his final two years at first base.

Hal Chase’s SABR biography by Martin Kohout calls him the “most notoriously corrupt player in baseball history,” so I’m not going to dwell on him here. He was also a New York Highlander (before they became the Yankees), and I’m ranking the best Yankees.

Grand slams

You don’t want to face a Yankee first baseman with the bases loaded.

Gehrig held the career record for grand slams with 23, until he was finally passed by Alex Rodriguez (who, I should note, has played first base for the Yankees in two games). Giambi, with 14 grand slams, makes the top 20 all-time. Martinez, with 11, and Teixeira, with 10, are also on the all-time leaders list.

As noted before, Mattingly shares the record of six grand slams in a season with Travis Hafner (an Indian most of his career, including when he set the record, but he finished as a Yankee, exclusively as a DH).

Martinez, Pepitone and Skowron all hit World Series grand slams.

Who has the best first-base tradition?

While the Yankees likely have the best first baseman ever, I don’t think I can claim they have the best tradition of any team at first base. The best tradition would probably be the Giants or Cardinals.

Johnny Mize's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

Johnny Mize’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

The Giants have had six Hall of Fame first basemen: Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Bill Terry, Johnny Mize, George Kelly and Roger Connor. The Cardinals have had four Hall of Fame first basemen: Cepeda, Mize, Jim Bottomley and Stan Musial (who mostly played outfield, but played more than 1,000 games at first, more than at any outfield position, and he played primarily at first in his 1946 MVP season). Add certain Hall of Famer Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire, who had Hall of Fame numbers but is being kept out of Cooperstown because he used performance-enhancing drugs. Each team also had some pretty good first basemen in the Skowron-Martinez range who won’t make the Hall of Fame: Hernandez, Bill White and Jack Clark for the Cardinals (Clark played longer for the Giants, but was an outfielder then), Will Clark and J.T. Snow for the Giants, to name a few.

Even if you concede my point that Mattingly belongs in the Hall of Fame, and count Bottomley and Kelly as among those marginal players from the 20s who don’t belong in the Hall, both the Giants and Cardinals were the clear leaders here. I’d probably give the edge to the Cardinals, but I could go either way here. The Yankees are contending for third place with the A’s, Tigers and Cubs.

Ranking criteria

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Gehrig) or should be (Mattingly), that carries considerable weight with me.

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, so Gehrig and Mattingly stand out not just for their great careers, but because all their time was spent with the Yankees.

Cepeda and Mize both made it to Cooperstown and had Hall of Fame seasons for both the Giants and Cardinals, so they count heavily for both teams, but not as heavily as Gehrig and Mattingly, who spent their whole careers for one team, or McCovey, who had all his great seasons as a Giant, though he didn’t finish up in San Francisco. Mize doesn’t get as much credit in Yankee rankings for being in the Hall of Fame, because he didn’t play like a Hall of Famer for the Yankees.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. If Martinez, Skowron and Teixeira had played as long at first base for the Yankees as Mattingly, his MVP award and league titles in batting, RBI, hits and doubles still would have given him the second spot on this list.

Few ballplayers actually matter in the broader culture beyond baseball, but Gehrig did and that counted for him, too. C’mon, Gary Cooper played him in a classic movie, “Pride of the Yankees,” and the disease that killed him is known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Time at the position is important, too. Musial played great years at first base. Mantle didn’t. A-Rod doesn’t get consideration based on just two games at first.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. I should add that I don’t consider those to be the same thing. Martinez and Skowron both contributed to four Yankee World Series championships, so they’re dead even in the first level of championship contributions. But Skowron also contributed to three American League champions who didn’t win the World Series and Martinez played on one, so Moose gets a bit of an advantage there. Skowron also hit eight homers in the World Series, to just three for Martinez. But I still credit Martinez for his nine total post-season homers. I give Skowron the edge in post-season play, since he didn’t have the opportunity to play extra rounds. If Martinez didn’t have a sizable advantage in regular-season play (five 100-RBI season to none for Moose), Skowron would have moved ahead of him based on championship contributions and post-season play. But championship contributions and post-season play were sizable advantages that pushed Moose ahead of Teixeira, Giambi and Chambliss.

This factor didn’t play into any of these decisions, but if two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. For instance, Teixeira’s great seasons with the Rangers (or Giambi’s with the A’s) would be a tie-breaker if either had been tied with another player based on Yankee years.

Scandals are a secondary factor here. I didn’t eliminate Giambi from consideration because of his use of performance-enhancing drugs. But if I were ranking a top 10, the combination of Giambi’s drug use and Chambliss’ clutch homer would have offset Giambi’s stronger regular-season performance, so Chambliss would be sixth.

Special moments matter, too. If Chambliss were dead-even with someone based on other criteria, that 1976 pennant-winning homer would push him ahead. Look for Bucky Dent to rank a notch or two higher than he otherwise might when I rank the shortstops.

How would you rank them?

The free version of Polldaddy doesn’t let me ask you to rank them. I’ll be surprised if anyone seriously disagrees with me on the first pick. But I thought I’d do a poll with each post in this series, so tell me whether you agree with the Gehrig poll or prefer someone else:

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

Second base

Shortstop

Third base

Left field

Center field

Right field

Designated hitter

Other rankings of Yankee first basemen

Steve Goldman of Bleacher Report

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Source note

Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

 





Scoundrels Committee: A way to recognize shamed players in the Baseball Hall of Fame

7 01 2016


Ken Griffey Jr., of course, was an automatic Hall of Famer, elected Wednesday by the Baseball Writers Association of America in his first year of eligibility. (Mike Piazza also was elected; more on him later).

But two players who had even greater careers, Barry Bonds (44 percent of the vote) and Roger Clemens (45 percent) got nowhere near the 75-percent election threshold. Neither of them got even half of Griffey’s record 99.3  percent of the writers’ votes (three idiots left him off their ballots).

Bonds’ and Clemens’ fourth year being rejected by the baseball writers comes a few weeks after Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred upheld the suspension from baseball (and Hall of Fame consideration) of the all-time hit king, Pete Rose.

A fourth all-time great, who’s still playing but bound to face a similar unofficial ban from the Hall of Fame, Alex Rodriguez, paired with Rose in the Fox outfield studio during the World Series, a bizarre illustration of how tainted many of baseball’s greatest players have become.

Rather than tolerating this continuing failure to deal with disgraced players, I think the Baseball Hall of Fame needs to formally address the discouraging but growing number of great players known as much for shame as for glory.

Sure, Rose, Bonds and Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame and A-Rod will someday, too, based on achievements. But their disgrace was as profound, or nearly so, as their outstanding play. And they have plenty of company in Cooperstown’s official and de facto Hall of Shame: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Rafael Palmeiro …

Rose and Jackson are barred officially from Cooperstown for gambling offenses. Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro are unofficially barred because of suspicion that they used performance-enhancing drugs. A-Rod certainly will join them once he retires and waits the five years everyone has to wait before getting on the Hall of Fame ballot.

The Baseball Hall of Fame needs a Scoundrels Committee to decide how to handle great players who have brought shame to themselves and the game.

Manfred hinted at such a need in his statement affirming Rose’s ban from baseball:

It is not part of my authority or responsibility here to make any determination concerning Mr. Rose’s eligibility as a candidate for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame …In my view, the considerations that should drive a decision on whether an individual should be allowed to work in Baseball are not the same as those that should drive a decision on Hall of Fame eligibility. … Any debate over Mr. Rose’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame is one that must take place in a different forum.

As various Veterans Committees have given second chances to players passed over by the Baseball Writers Association of America, and a Negro Leagues Committee gave Cooperstown honors to stars kept out of the “major” leagues by segregation, a special committee should consider how to handle shamed players.

How a Scoundrels Committee would work

I will address the players barred (officially or un) from the Hall of Fame shortly, but first some thoughts on how the committee might work:

I envision a committee that would decide which players had shamed the game, how long they would be barred from the Hall of Fame, whether they eventually would be honored and how their combination of achievement and misconduct would be noted in the Cooperstown museum.

I don’t know whether the committee would function as one unit or would have separate subcommittees to handle investigations, punishments and eventual elections.

The committee could decide matters case by case or could set up a framework that would be strictly enforced (or from which exceptions could be granted when situations warrant). For instance, if the committee decided that involvement in gambling brought a lifetime ban from the Hall of Fame, Jackson would be eligible for consideration now, but Rose would not be eligible until after his death. Or, if the committee decided gambling merited a 25-year wait after banishment, both would be eligible now.

Or maybe the committee would give varying levels of punishment for gambling offenses, perhaps something like this:

  • An eternal ban for throwing a game (which some of Jackson’s Black Sox teammates did) or betting against your own team.
  • A lifetime ban for accepting gamblers’ money but still playing hard, as every “Field of Dreams” fan knows Jackson did.
  • A 25-year ban for giving inside information to gamblers or betting for your own team (which tells the bookies when you have confidence and when you don’t, unless you bet every day, and might influence managing decisions or risks you’d take in a game).
  • A 15-year ban on betting only on games involving other teams.

The committee might also extend a ban for a player, such as Rose, who continues gambling, or reduce a ban for a player who does some sort of service to the game or community, such as speaking to players at spring training about how he became involved in gambling and how it hurts the game.

Keep in mind that Paul Hornung and Alex Karras both were suspended for a full year for gambling during their NFL playing careers, but weren’t barred from the Hall of Fame. (Hornung is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but I was surprised to see that Karras never made it.)

I can also see a range of penalties for use of performance-enhancing drugs:

  • Maybe the committee would impose a 10-year wait after retirement (as opposed to the normal five-year wait) for players judged to be minimal offenders: perhaps David Ortiz, who failed a single drug test, or Andy Pettitte, who readily admitted use of PED’s once when recovering from an injury. Maybe everyone named in the Mitchell Report gets at least the minimum sentence, with longer sentences for multiple offenses, failed drug tests and so on.
  • Maybe egregious cases such as A-Rod, Ryan Braun or Rafael Palmeiro would get a maximum sentence, such as 20 or 25 years. (At age 31, Braun is well short of Hall of Fame standards, but certainly could have a shot at reaching them. Palmeiro and A-Rod would be automatic selections based on performance alone.) A-Rod’s double offenses, Braun’s defamation of the person who collected his urine specimen and Palmeiro’s finger-pointing denial to Congress (shortly before failing a drug test) elevate them, at least in the public mind, beyond the average drug cheat.
  • I see gambling as a worse offense than cheating, and wouldn’t favor a lifetime ban for using drugs. But I wouldn’t argue if the committee applied one in extreme cases, perhaps if a player was convicted of drug-related crimes.

The committee might decide to respect court decisions, freeing Clemens and Bonds from punishment because they were cleared of drug-related perjury charges in court. Or it might enforce a lower standard of proof than the reasonable-doubt standard of criminal courts. The committee could decide to believe its eyes about the phenomenal physical growth of Bonds or decide to believe Pettitte’s initial testimony that Clemens told him about using PED’s, rather than his later testimony that he might have misunderstood. I could argue minimal penalty, no penalty or heavy penalty for either Bonds or Clemens, but I’d like to see a more formal baseball investigation and decision than the current unofficial ban based on suspicion.

Once a player has served his ban from Hall of Fame consideration, the Scoundrels Committee would decide whether he’s worthy of induction. Jason Giambi and Brady Anderson clearly fell short of Hall of Fame standards. Soon after becoming eligible, they would be dismissed as unworthy, simply on their merits. Pettitte would clearly be borderline, which might mean he never makes it or might mean he makes it after several years of consideration.

Perhaps the Scoundrels Committee would investigate players such as Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza, who faced some level of suspicion because their power numbers were achieved during the steroid era, though neither was named in the Mitchell Report. Piazza joined Griffey in winning election this year, his fourth year on the ballot. Bagwell, if his sixth year on the ballot, crept almost to the election threshold at 72 percent.

Maybe if an investigation officially cleared such players of drug use, they would get earlier fair consideration by the writers. But I wouldn’t count on it; as this blog has noted again and again, the writers’ choices are consistently inconsistent.

Other offenses

While gambling and drug cheats have been baseball’s biggest scandals, I suppose the Scoundrels Committee could address other matters of misconduct. I don’t favor any of these suggestions below, but the committee could consider:

  • Doctoring balls, corking bats or other types of cheating seen as less sinister than drugs, might carry shorter sentences. Maybe Sosa would get a couple more years added to his sentence for corking his bat.
  • Recreational drug use. Great players, primarily from the 1980s, who pissed away their talent on cocaine and other drugs, generally ended their careers falling short of Hall of Fame standards, despite their amazing talent. I see Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Dave Parker, Vida Blue, Willie Wilson and Keith Hernandez all falling short based on accomplishments, or borderline at best, but I wouldn’t object if a Scoundrels Committee wanted to formally address their cases and other players whose reputations are harmed but past or future use of recreational drugs.

Here are my thoughts on some of baseball’s scoundrels and whether they belong in the Hall of Fame.

Pete Rose


Ah, Pete Rose. A friend recently included an aside in a newspaper column that was mostly about journalism, noting that Rose belonged in the Hall of Fame. I differed with him good-naturedly on the Rose point, while mostly praising the column, on Facebook. I was interested by how many journalist friends sided with him on the question of Rose. I’m quite confident that these same journalists would be comfortable with — and probably enforce, if they are in a position to hire — journalism’s unofficial but mostly consistent lifetime ban for journalists who are publicly caught plagiarizing, fabricating or doctoring photo content. Some offenses are so grave and so directly related to integrity that the professional sentence is and should be a lifetime ban.

I’m completely comfortable with that, in journalism and in baseball. Pete Rose accepted that penalty, rather than formally fighting the position of the Dowd Report. He did informally fight it for years before admitting that its central conclusion — that he bet on baseball — was true.

Hey, a 26-year ban is pretty harsh, too, but Manfred detailed how shameful Rose’s behavior was and is, and why his ban must continue. Whether the Hall of Fame decides to do something different, he doesn’t belong in baseball. Hell, he bailed on that embarrassing Fox outfield studio gig because he needed to go sign autographs at a casino.

I think that integrity is worth a lifetime ban, and I don’t think Rose has done anything to deserve an exception. His records are legit, even if he was overrated. (He has the most hits ever, but he’s not really the greatest anything: lead-off hitter, switch hitter, contact hitter. He just played a long time, with a lot of great players, and swung the bat a lot and got a lot of hits.) But he dishonored the game, and I see no reason for the game to honor him. At least not during his life.

Ron Santo was a borderline Hall of Famer. I wouldn’t have been outraged if he had never made it to Cooperstown, and I can think of easily half a dozen Yankees with better cases for enshrinement. But I was outraged that Santo was kept out of the Hall of Fame for decades, then admitted to Cooperstown the year after he died. If he was a Hall of Famer, he belonged in the Hall of Fame, and they should have voted him in while he was alive to enjoy it. He was an exuberant man. No one would have enjoyed it more.

I view Rose differently. He accepted and deserved a lifetime ban. He knew that was the punishment every time he placed a bet. If Manfred or some other commissioner or a Hall of Fame Scoundrels Committee wants to cave to the fans who still love Pete Rose and disagree about how important integrity is to baseball, I think they should cave the year after Rose dies. Santo deserved his moment on the green in Cooperstown. Rose doesn’t.

Shoeless Joe Jackson


I loved Field of Dreams. But let’s be honest: Jackson shamed the game even more profoundly and deliberately than Rose. Colluding with gamblers endangers the very integrity of the game, and I don’t minimize his offense. I’m fine with Jackson getting to play ball in an Iowa cornfield (I’ve played there myself), but I think Jackson probably doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.

But he’s been dead 64 years. If a Scoundrels Committee decided to allow posthumous election of players with great careers who were involved with gamblers, I would not complain. Jackson’s offense was not as grave as his teammates who actually threw games.

Bonds and Clemens


On performance alone, setting aside enhancement suspicions, Clemens and Bonds would be automatic Hall of Famers.

They are among the best ever for their full careers (Bonds the only seven-time MVP and Clemens the only seven-time Cy Young winner). And both were multiple winners playing at a Hall of Fame level before they appeared to start enhancing their performance. Once they served their sentences, the Scoundrels Committee probably would and should elect them.

A-Rod probably falls in the same category, whenever he becomes eligible.

Did drugs make the difference?

The Scoundrels Committee might need to decide whether players such as McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield might face a second layer of punishment: After they serve a punishment and become eligible, are they elected based on their achievements? Or does the committee speculate whether they would have reached Hall of Fame achievements without chemical enhancement? These players would be automatic choices based just on their stats, but you could argue in all cases that they wouldn’t have reached Hall of Fame level, or would have just been borderline, without enhancement. I’d be OK with speculative choices if the committee is consistent in its speculation.

McGwire got 12 percent of the vote this year, his 10th on the ballot, and will no longer be considered by the writers (the term on the writers’ ballot has been reduced from 15 years to 10). Sheffield also got 12 percent of the vote his second year on the ballot and Sosa got 7 percent in his fourth year. Palmeiro was on the ballot four years, dropping below the 5 percent threshold to stay on the ballot in 2014. Ramirez will be on the ballot for the first time next year.

Ivan Rodriguez, who also will be on the ballot next year for the first time, might make the Hall of Fame based on his longevity and defense, even if the speculative approach heavily discounted his offensive achievements (which would be fair).

Minor cases

Is there such a thing as a minor case of drug-cheating? Should players such as Ortiz or Pettitte, both of whom were much admired before and after their drug use became known, get a lesser punishment? I could see a Scoundrels Committee deciding various levels of punishment depending on the details of the offense. I think Ortiz would have a better chance of election than Pettitte, but both face second levels of prejudice: the Hall of Fame voters’ demonstrated and consistent biases against designated hitters and Yankees.

Plaques should note shame

Anyway, the Scoundrels Committee would decide penalties and who gets banned from the normal Hall of Fame ballot. Then, after you’ve served your term, the Scoundrels Committee decides whether your on-the-field achievements merited Hall of Fame selection.

And the plaque in Cooperstown should note both the player’s achievements and how he shamed the game.

Personal note

My year-end post on my journalism blog, The Buttry Diary, discussed how medical treatment the past year affected all of my blogs, including Hated Yankees.