The baseball awards season is upon us, and it got under way somewhat comically when the American League Gold Glove winners were announced. From this point of view it’s a tough call on what is funnier… the masturbating bear on the Conan O’Brien show or the righteous indignation folks put on display when someone like Derek Jeter wins a fifth Gold Glove.
It’s easy to understand why the masturbating bear is funny. That’s pretty obvious. However, the call on Jeter and the furor over certain award choices is only slightly more subtle than that poor, sadistic bear. Sure, we all know that Jeter is no wizard at shortstop and might be less worthy of a Gold Glove Award than Rafael Palmiero was in 1999 when he played just 28 games at first base, but really, who cares? These awards are nothing more than some coaches, managers, players and writers patting each other on the back.
Worse, sometimes the players get a little extra cash for just placing in the voting for some awards. If that doesn’t smack of a conflict of interests, there’s a not-so-subtle bear act you can check out on basic cable.
Still, guys like me watch the process with lots of interest. Mostly, perhaps, that intrigue comes from the idea that the voting and the results somehow validate or debunk the way a person views the game. The truth is nothing could be further from the truth. As a non-voting member of the writing baseball press, there is as much validity in simply casting a ballot that won’t be counted in a story or a blog post. Baseball is subjective like that—just because a shadowy consensus says Derek Jeter is a great fielder it doesn’t mean anyone has to believe it.
Better yet, no injustice has beset a better fielding shortstop in the American League. A fraudulent process validates nothing.
Nevertheless, the Veteran Committee voting process to elect new Hall of Famers at the Winter Meetings in December will begin a new, interesting process. Rather than a Historical Overview Committee and a ballot with players whose career began in 1943 or later and were no longer eligible for BBWAA election, the Veterans Committee streamlined the voting. Beginning this year Hall-of-Fame candidates are classified into three different eras from which their career sprouted. The Pre-Integration (1871–1946), the Golden (1947–1972) and Expansion (1973 and later) eras will rotate voting beginning this year with guys from the not-so distant past going first.
To be elected into the Hall of Fame, the potential inductees need to get 75 percent of the vote, and since there are 16 on the voting committee, 12 votes are needed to get in. As such, Hall of Famers, Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Pérez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Ozzie Smith; executives Bill Giles, David Glass, Andy MacPhail, Jerry Reinsdorf; and media folks Bob Elliott, Tim Kurkjian, Ross Newhan and Tom Verducci will determine who (if anyone) will go to Cooperstown in 2011.
Of course, the committee just can’t vote for any old ballplayer or executive. Pete Rose, as we know, is on the ineligible list and cannot be on the ballot. However, the BBWAA formed yet another committee, this one called the Historical Oversight Committee to come up with a list of 12 guys to place on the ballot. After the committee met, adjourned and probably went to a dark and depressing bar to talk about how the modern era of baseball writing is nothing like it was in the old days, the list of 12 was sent to the good folks at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, who issued a press release of those up for election.
The names on the list/release:
Vida Blue, won the MVP and the Cy Young in 1971. Won 20 games and the World Series three times with the Oakland A’s.
Dave Concepcion, slick-fielding shortstop for the Reds and the longest tenured member of the Big Red Machine.
Steve Garvey, clutch hitter for the Dodgers and Padres and MVP of NL in 1974. c
Pat Gillick, longtime general manager with Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia.
Ron Guidry, helped the Yankees win the World Series twice and went 25-3 in ’78 to win the Cy Young Award.
Tommy John, pitched 26 seasons in the majors and won 288 games.
Billy Martin, Yankees second baseman and manager of several teams. Mickey Mantles’ best friend and often a public nuisance.
Marvin Miller, longtime head of the MLBPA.
Al Oliver, perennial .300 hitter with the Pirates, Rangers and Expos.
Ted Simmons, perennial All-Star catcher in the same era with Bench, Fisk and Carter.
Rusty Staub, lefty hitter with Mets, Houston, Expos and Rangers. A great pinch-hitter late in his career
George Steinbrenner, owner of the Yankees
Obviously, it’s a pretty good list with a handful of guys who slipped through the cracks of the initial balloting by the writers for one reason or another. However, it’s pretty weird to see the Veterans Committee list filled with ballplayers that I actually recall watching play. Of course some of those guys were at the end of the line, like Staub, who had that strange upright lefty batting stance and a body that didn’t quite fit into the ‘70s style uniforms of expansion teams like Houston, Montreal and the Mets.
Nevertheless, this is a tough ballot and here’s why…
Tommy John unquestionable impact
Now, before we get started my criteria for what makes a Hall of Famer might not mesh with the conventional wisdom. For me, the greater variable is the impact the man had over statistics. Of course some stats cannot be ignored, like 500 homers, 3,000 hits or 300 wins. Still, I give points for guys who were the league's best players at their position for a bunch of years in a row. I also give kudos to players who have remarkable seasons/performances, etc. In that vein, though most of his career was underwhelming, Roger Maris would get my vote largely because of his 1961 season.
And that’s why Tommy John would get my vote.
John’s career mark was nothing to look past… far from it. He won 288 games, went to the World Series three times with the Dodgers and Yankees, has the eighth most starts (700) in big league history, and topped 200 innings in 12 different seasons. In fact, he piled on five straight 200-plus innings seasons and seven of them in the nine seasons after he underwent a revolutionary surgery to replace the ligament in his left elbow with a tendon from somewhere else in the body.
They call it Tommy John surgery.
These days it’s tougher to find a pitcher who hasn’t undergone Tommy John surgery than those without that severe-looking scar on the elbow. However, when Dr. Frank Jobe performed the first surgery on John, he was given a 1 in 100 chance at a return to his career. At age 31 when he went under the knife, John spent 18 months in rehabilitation, skipped the 1975 season, and then pitched until the age of 46.
Now, a player has a better than 90 percent chance to return from Tommy John surgery and often a pitcher returns from the surgery with a fastball that has a few extra ticks on the speedometer. So for a solid statistical ledger and for contributions to the game, John is in.
The same goes for the longtime director of the MLBPA, Marvin Miller. Actually, it’s a travesty that Miller hasn’t been inducted yet. Truth is, Miller has had more impact on baseball than any man in the history of the game. Ask any ballplayer who came into the game during the 1970s and after what Miller meant to the players. If they tell you they don’t know who he is or what he did, then they should return their paycheck, four-star accommodations on the road, chartered flights, right to test free agency, and more the generous pension. Those ungrateful slobs don’t deserve it.
The big debate
There are a lot of close calls, but because we don’t want to go making votes willy-nilly, it’s very difficult to decide on catcher Ted Simmons, first baseman Steve Garvey, lefty Ron Guidry, or the smooth, left-handed hitting Al Oliver. After all, it’s not Simmons’ fault that he was overshadowed by better-known catchers Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and then later, Gary Carter.
But from a statistical view, if Carter is in then Simmons should be, too.
Garvey had a penchant for clutch hits, like that homer he hit in Game 4 of the 1984 NLCS. He also had the longest consecutive games streak since Lou Gehrig until that Ripken dude came around. Garvey also got 200 hits in a season six times, went to the All-Star Game 10 times, won an MVP Award in 1974, and appeared in the World Series five times with two different teams. Five times Garvey’s teams got to the playoffs and all five times they advanced to the World Series with ol’ Popeye arms getting 11 homers and a .338 average in 55 postseason games.
If Garvey gets in, then Oliver should, too. Largely for the Pirates and Rangers, Oliver batted over .300 11 times, went to the All-Star Game seven times and won the National League batting title with the Expos when he was 36.
How does one judge Ron Guidry? In his first full season he went 16-7 and helped the Yankees win the World Series. He did that again the next season, only he went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA in 273 innings to win the Cy Young Award. Better yet, in an era where specialization was coming to the fore, Guidry completed nearly 30 percent of his starts, including 21 in 1983.
So if Guidry is Hall worthy, then so too is Blue. After all, if we’re talking about an impact on the game, Blue took it by storm in 1971 when he won 24 games in his first full season to win the AL MVP and the Cy Young Award. Actually, Blue’s impact went beyond baseball to the point that he accompanied Bob Hope on a USO tour of Vietnam. Later, however, his career became a cautionary tale for unfilled potential and wasted talent as he battled a drug problem. In 1985 he was part of the Pittsburgh cocaine trial with other major leaguers like Dave Parker, Willie Wilson, Keith Hernandez, Tim Raines and Jeffrey Leonard, among others.
The flat-out nays on the list go to Davey Concepcion, Billy Martin, Rusty Staub and George Steinbrenner. This is not to belittle their careers in any way, however, Concepcion was rather innovative as a shortstop and had crazy range, but he wasn’t anything to be frightened of at the plate.
Martin, while popular and talented, often wasted his talent and alienated his teams. Even though his teams were always close to the top of the standings, he won the World Series just once. His overall winning percentage (.553) and the number of pennants exactly matches that of one of his former players, Charlie Manuel.
So we have Tommy John and Marvin Miller as sure things, along with general manager Pat Gillick.
Oh yes, Pat Gillick is a Hall of Famer. It wasn’t too difficult to see that when he was running the Phillies, taking them to the playoffs twice in three years while capturing the franchise’s second World Series title. The fact is Gillick won everywhere he went and had the uncanny ability to find the one missing piece his teams needed.
Gillick as the best ever?
As a Hall of Famer himself, writer Peter Gammons, calls Gillick the best ever at his job. That’s debatable, of course, like anything else. Branch Rickey was pretty darned good. So was Frank Cashen, who built those great Orioles’ teams in the 1960s and ‘70s and then put together the ’86 Mets. Still, Gillick did it under different circumstances and in both leagues with an emphasis on scouting, player make up and an eye for talent. Even more impressively, Gillick’s first head GM gig was with the expansion Blue Jays where it took him less than a decade to build them up from scratch and get them to the playoffs.
By the early ‘90s, the Jays were a powerhouse and won the World Series back-to-back in ’92 and ’93.
Oddly, teams are never as good after Gillick departs. Toronto hasn’t been to the postseason since Joe Carter hit the homer to beat the Phillies in 1993. Meanwhile, the Orioles haven’t even had a winning season since 1997 when they won 98 games. The Mariners won an incredible 116 games in 2001 with Gillick in charge, won 93 in 2002 and 2003 in his last seasons there, but have had just one winning season since.
Only the Phillies have been able to survive the post-Gillick swoon… so far.
So here’s hoping John, Miller and Gillick get the call. But while we’re at it, let’s offer up the names Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, Roberto Alomar, Tim Raines, Larry Walker and Jeff Bagwell.
That is if we’re really sure about Bagwell.