Cooperstown Calling

Hours before the announcement, I was pretty certain of only one no-questions-asked Hall of Fame selection coming forth last Monday. My certainty was certainly satisfied, but I had, still, ambivalence enough about the second Baseball Writers Association of America selection as the news approached and, at last, arrived. As regards this year's Hall of Fame voting, then, a few observations:


I would have felt a lot better if Rickey Henderson — whose career stolen base record is probably one of those records that's going to be difficult if not impossible to break, by the way — had quit while he was really ahead. Specifically, when he finished 2001 with precisely 3,000 hits; no more, no less. Can you think of a kinder way to go to Cooperstown than in Roberto Clemente's company as the only two men in baseball history to have finished their Show careers with exactly 3,000? For his final few seasons, alas, Henderson was the Steve Carlton of position players, hanging on desperately enough, no matter how foolish or even sad he looked doing so.

Notwithstanding, the Man of Steal made long-term, consistent reality out of what Bobby Bonds showed in theory, at least until the booze and the bitterness ate first the credibility and then the talent: that a devastating power-speed combination at the top of the lineup was no fantasy. He was the best in the business at it, ever, over a long enough career spread, though you may care also to note that, on the Bill James-created Hall of Fame monitor for batters, Henderson pulls in with a 183.5 — 83.5 points higher than that with which the average Hall of Famer pulls in. He also meets 53 percent of the James-measured Hall of Fame batting standards, making him a slightly higher than average Hall of Famer.

He wasn't exactly the perfect citizen over his long career. Seek and ye can find, still, stories aplenty about his habit of wondering loud and long whether he wasn't being underpaid within just a few months of his new deals; about his periodic and maddening clubhouse antics (they only begin with the card-playing in the Mets' clubhouse during a postseason series); about whether the foregoing, and one or two other factors, didn't equal keeping his teams from winning at least as often as he helped them win.

But Henderson wasn't exactly the worst individual in the game, either. You can point to teams who unloaded him when they had the opportunity, for various reasons, but you can see quite a few of them willing to have him back, for however long, when they had that opportunity, as well. If nothing else, Henderson further accomplished something in those final, sad hanging-on seasons that many may have thought impossible — he showed, at long enough last, that he really did love the game deeply, and that it wasn't merely a case of learning to say hello when it was time to say goodbye.

Here is what you do remember about the 1993 World Series, for the most part: Mitch Williams throwing Joe Carter a slide whose sole legitimate destination, bottom of the ninth, two on and one out, was the far side of the left field fence. Here is what you may not remember: that was the Man of Steal starting the fateful inning by drawing a four-pitch walk. Williams in the years since has shown at least a shipload of class recalling that inning and his contribution thereto. Because Paul Molitor happened to have set the second duck on the pond for Carter with a one-out single, after midday Monday the Wild Thing earned bragging rights that his murder, and Philadelphia, was achieved by two future Hall of Famers in a four-batter, one-out inning, and there are lesser ways to be waxed than those.


As a personal matter, I like seeing Jim Rice going to Cooperstown, even if you cannot put someone there merely to make up for the brutality with which he was treated often enough in Boston, during his prime seasons, any more than you could ignore a) that still ghastly-enough home-road split (I wish to God I could arrange his statistics to make him look that much less like a cliched Fenway hitter); or, b) that he let himself lapse into a shufflefoot small-base hitter even by the time the 1986 World Series rolled around, and that includes accounting for his injuries. (One remembers painfully enough the wondrous rookie who was unable to play in the incandescent 1975 World Series thanks to injury.)

Even sadder is that Rice may also have turned into a clubhouse cancer over his final few seasons, if you consider the following:

There was a feeling of hopelessness before [the 1987 season] began. The team was far from full strength and too many principals were haunted by the memory of the 10th inning at Shea ... There was tension between [Don] Baylor and Rice, and Baylor later said he wanted to fight Rice after "Captain Jim" was discovered in street clothes when he was needed to pinch hit in Anaheim. [Bill] Buckner was released in July, Baylor and [Dave] Henderson were traded for virtually nothing in August and September, and Rice became a lead-footed singles hitter. It was over before it was over...

...One of the reasons [manager John] McNamara wasn't fired earlier in 1988 was because the Sox felt there was no top replacement available. [Successor Joe] Morgan [not to be confused with the Hall of Fame second baseman and radio/television commentator] was simply the handy choice to ride out a lost season...

There is no logical explanation for what happened in the first three weeks of the Joe Morgan administration, but it can be stated without argument that Morgan got off to the most successful start in managerial history. The Red Sox won 12 straight, 19 of 20, and closed a nine-game gap, tying for first [in the American League East] on August 4. The 12-game streak was Boston's longest since 1948, and the Red Sox also broke an American League record by winning 24 straight at Fenway. Twenty-four. The embarrassing "search" for a manager was called off after the first six wins, and Morgan had a contract for 1989 before the streak was over. He also gained the respect of millions of fans by standing up to Jim Rice. The slumping, grumping Rice was insulted when Morgan sent Spike Owen up to hit for him (bunt situation) and pulled Morgan into the dugout runway. An ex-hockey player, Morgan was ready to go at it with the muscular Rice, but players intervened. Morgan emerged from the runway stating, "I'm the manager of this nine."

— Dan Shaughnessy, in The Curse of the Bambino (New York: Dutton, 1990)


Team unity never existed from what I saw around the Sox clubhouse. Much of this problem results from the many years of the Jim Rice reign of the clubhouse. Rice is an evil, envious, jealous person. You can see it in his eyes, all you have to do is walk past him, and you can tell he is thinking nasty thoughts, and if you look back when you pass him, you see him whispering things behind your back to one of his allies. Rice's locker mate in 1986 was Don Baylor, and it didn't take Baylor long to figure out what kind of guy Rice actually was, because by the end of the season, it was obvious the two didn't care for each other. Rice was so hateful of Baylor, because the short period [Baylor] was there, everybody on the team befriended him, and sought advice from him. It was kind of a mockery of Rice, for what he represented by being captain, because nobody had ever dared approach him for anything, because of his mood swings. Rice's personality contributed immensely to team dissension, but he was not the only one responsible.

— Jack Burke, Red Sox batboy and clubhouse worker, during the mid-to-late 1980s, to Shaughnessy, for The Curse of the Bambino

If the foregoing commentary is true you can make something of a case that Jim Rice might have done enough to keep his teams from winning even while he was doing enough of what he could to help them win.

But if Rice really was the most feared hitter of his time, how reconcile the point — isolated by Fox Sports's Joe Posnanski — that he drew 77 intentional walks in his entire major league career, including 72 in his best seasons, 1975-86? Think about that: This is the guy who was supposed to have put the fear of God into pitching staffs the league over, but Chris Chambliss, Warren Cromartie, Bill Madlock, and even Chris Speier received more intentional walks over the same span than the Great Intimidator.

Now, it wasn't Rice's fault that he had good hitters hitting behind him, and the intentional walk is hardly the only or even the best way to gauge the level of respect/fear players and managers had for a player. Rice's Hall of Fame case does not hinge on his menace —as numerous people have pointed out, the man did lead his league in any number of categories from 1975 through '86, including homers, RBIs, and runs scored. He has a strong case, and I feel certain he will go in this year. But I don't think the intentional walk thing is insignificant. I think much of the aura surrounding Jim Rice has built up in more recent years, as memories grow nostalgic.

— Joe Posnanski

I concur, with regret. It all shook out to Jim Rice being borderline, barely, and as the news of the writers' Hall of Fame vote approached it seemed a shame. I couldn't know for certain until the news arrived whether Rice would be right there with Henderson, though I did know for certain it was Rice's final year of BBWAA eligibility, leaving him to the mercies, prospectively, of the Veterans Committee apparatus from Monday forward if denied. I could not really convince myself he deserved the honor but neither could I convince myself, entirely, that he did not.

But Jim Rice — who was far less the brooding man of silence in his heyday than his reputation has allowed (Peter Gammons has written well that you could get Rice to talk your ears off about baseball itself, on the sole condition that you showed him respect as a mere man) — does not disgrace the Hall of Fame by being elected.


What of the rest of the men who stood for election or at least remained in the thoughts of those who continue to care about the game and its penultimate honor? Here was where I stood approaching the news and where I remain standing now that the news is past:

HAROLD BAINES — He is the argument that failed to fly against Paul Molitor and probably will (and should) fail to fly against Edgar Martinez: a) Baines did play enough defense in the first two-fifths of his career to show you evidence aplenty why the only way he could stay in Major League Baseball was his bat; b) He had a better-than-average career as a hitter, and he was better than useful in several postseasons, but he came up as Martinez does not — too far short of the Jamesian Hall of Fame batting standards and batting monitor to be considered seriously.

JAY BELL — He was an above-average defensive shortstop, but not far enough above to make him a Hall of Fame case by his glove alone.

BERT BLYLEVEN — He should have been a Hall of Famer already. Hurt too much by his home parks, a case I have made since, oh, 2002-03, but I think that if the Dutchman could have pitched even one additional season in even a neutral park, beyond the very few such seasons he actually did get to work in a neutral or pitchers' park as his home park, he would have been a 300-game winner and an unignorable Cooperstown candidate, however much you prefer to think that 300 wins as an absolute benchmark is foolish compared to looking at a pitcher's entire game.

Blyleven in one way is Warren Spahn without the Cy Young Award or the run of 20-win seasons, granting that Blyleven pitched at a time when 20-win seasons became more difficult to compile than Spahn's era had been: Spahn's career looks far, far more like a no-questions-asked Hall of Fame career when you examine its depth (career value) than it does when you examine its height (peak value). Blyleven's career looks the same way.

Did you realize how deadly Bert Blyleven was in the postseason? He's 5-1/2.47 ERA lifetime in the postseason, and that includes a 2-1/2.35 jacket for the World Series. There are a lot of Hall of Famers who wish they looked that good in October. By the way, Blyleven had just about the third most monstrous curve ball I have seen in a lifetime of baseball watching, behind Sandy Koufax and Dwight Gooden, and in that order. That Blyleven enjoyed such a long career throwing that pitch is remarkable enough in its own right.

ANDRE DAWSON — He was a great player and an exemplary man, but can we really ignore that rock-bottom on-base percentage, even allowing him as primarily a power hitter; or, that extremely dubious Most Valuable Player award he did win in 1987, the mere three top-10 MVP finishes he had otherwise, or the point that twice he finished second in the voting and couldn't be said to have deserved it more than the men (Mike Schimdt, Dale Murphy) who did win those two awards?

One day, I think no, you can't; however, the next day, I think, well, maybe, somehow ... if Andre Dawson doesn't end up as the most on-the-fence-inspiring Hall of Fame candidate of his time (perhaps of all time), I think I might be surprised only slightly more than he might be.

While examining his record yet again I noted that the Hawk's nearest statistical comp is Billy Williams, a Hall of Famer to whom he has more than a surface resemblance as a player overall. About the only thing these two have in common is:

a) Three top-10 MVP finishes out of about eight or nine seasons in which they were thought to be MVP candidates. Sweet Swingin' Billy never did win the award, but then you don't have to reconcile a chance of him winning one that he didn't exactly deserve, either.

b) Dawson per 162 games, lifetime: 183 runs produced, 27 home runs, 98 runs batted in, 37 non-homer extra base hits, grounded into 13 double plays. Williams per 162, lifetime: 188 runs produced, 28 bombs, 96 runs batted in, 34 non-bomb extra base hits, grounded into 13 double plays.

That is not to make the disreputable enough case of "If this guy's in then that guy should be in, too" here. But consider that Williams finished his career with 6.5 runs created per game, compared to 5.4 per game for Dawson. That's really a slight edge for Williams, who also pulls in 4.5 points higher on the Hall of Fame batting monitor and about 4.2 higher for meeting the Hall of Fame batting standards.

Williams never got to play in the postseason (and it wasn't his fault when his teams didn't quite make it there, despite a few very memorable pennant races, 1969 in particular) until he was just about finished, and then he was barely a presence, playing three games, but going 0-for-7 for the 1975 Oakland Athletics. But Andre Dawson did get to the postseason, when he still had life enough and then some in him, with the 1981 Montreal Expos and the 1989 Chicago Cubs. And he didn't look very good at all: he has 11 postseason hits in 15 games lifetime, all but two of them singles; he has 3 runs scored and 3 driven in (all three in 1989), but only once does any of his postseason on-base percentages beat his career OBP (the 1981 division series, strike-season version, in which he compiled a whopping .333).

Dawson was a great outfielder before the injuries finally ground him down; he didn't win 10 Gold Gloves by casting them in his basement. He was a wonderful all-around player, and he was the kind of person you'd want on your team whether he was playing well or playing barely his weight. One minute I think he doesn't quite make the Hall of Fame cut, the next minute I do. It is not entirely an unattractive dilemma.

MARK GRACE — If the Cubs had been smart enough to bat people where there hitting skills and not their field positions mandated (and, in fairness, they are hardly the only organization that lacks this vision), Grace might have been an obvious Hall of Famer; at least, he might well have piled up a few more statistics that would have pushed him no questions asked into the realm of the average Hall of Famer. He had the skills of a number two hitter ... but he played first base, which got him plugged into the number three spot. (Come to think of it, imagine Ryne Sandberg's final statistics if he, with the skills of a number three or four hitter, hadn't been batted second in the lineup because he was a second baseman.)

Grace was a charming personality and a terrific player, not to mention a genuine team player. And will Arizona Diamondbacks fans (who now get to enjoy the witty Grace as a broadcaster) ever forget the night he took one for the team (September 2, 2002), went out and pitched the top of the ninth — on a night the Los Angeles Dodgers were obliterating the Snakes — surrendering one run (on a bomb, by Cody Ross; said Grace, "His first major league home run and he gets it off Mark Grace — I feel sorry for that kid"); getting three fly outs, regardless, including to spare part Tyler Houston (I've known Tyler Houston awhile, and I have bragging rights on him forever); and, having the Dodgers (including their legendary announcer Vin Scully) rollicking with the rest of the BOB [as it was then known] mob, when he uncorked a dead-on impersonation of ancient reliever Mike Koplove's troll-like sign-reading visage and posture that had even Koplove himself in tears laughing...

TOMMY JOHN — He belongs in Cooperstown, as a pioneer as much as a pitcher. (As a pitcher, he comps to Jim Kaat, who also belongs.) It's Tommy John who first agreed to the surgery that has long since borne his name; it's Tommy John who went on to prove the surgery's viability, and career preservation prospect, by enjoying a long enough life as an excellent pitcher following his recovery.

I suspect a lot of the view, too, falls along a line such as this: Tommy John (who was a three-time 20-game winner) looks dubious falling 12 wins short of 300 in a 26-season career. But did you know that T.J. has a better winning percentage than Nolan Ryan, who pitched one season longer, has more than twice the strikeouts, and all those no-hitters in the bargain? I'm not about to say that if Nolan Ryan is in, Tommy John should be in, even if I think Nolan Ryan may be the most overrated pitcher in the Hall of Fame (calm down, it doesn't mean he doesn't belong there), and I'm pretty certain that there may be those remembering how they pondered the subterfuge prospects in matchups between John and Gaylord Perry, but I think T.J. belongs in his own right.

SPEAKING OF KITTY — Jim Kaat should be a Hall of Famer, too, but Bill James has him pegged right: he doesn't resemble a Hall of Famer until you rearrange his best seasons a trifle. You don't exactly resemble a great pitcher when your best seasons coincide with the monster seasons other guys happen to be having. In Kitty's case, they only begin with his being the best pitcher in the American League in the year Sandy Koufax was going out with a 27-game-winning, 312-strikeout, 1.73 ERA bang, and taking the third and last of the one-across-the-board Cy Young Awards.

... Kaat had many quality seasons in his career between 1962, when he went 18-14 and led the American League with 5 shutouts, and 1975, when he won 20 games for the third and final time. His best years are spread out, and lose some of their impact because of that.

Kaat has basically the same career record as Robin Roberts. He won 16 Gold Gloves, and is now a fine broadcaster. I think he should be in the Hall of Fame, and I think he will get there sooner or later.

— Bill James, in The Politics of Glory: How the Hall of Fame Really Works (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994; republished as Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? Baseball, Cooperstown, and the Politics of Glory, New York: Fireside Books, 1995)

The problem now is that Kaat belongs in the hands of the Veterans Committee apparatus. Perhaps they will redress his place where the BBWAA couldn't and didn't.

DON MATTINGLY — He's Dale Murphy as a first baseman, though his home-road differential is far better. His injuries buried him well enough to have kept him out of solid Hall of Fame contention, but he was the best all-around first baseman in the American League until the injuries began chipping away at him in earnest.

DALE MURPHY — He's Jim Rice without the reputed attitude problems: he has too wide a home-road split, with the home park in his peak seasons being a too-yummy hitters' park, to allow you to look at him without reservation as that great a hitter, and he was likewise curtailed by injuries at a peak near enough to when Rice was curtailed. But if you were picking Hall of Famers according to character alone, though, Murphy would have been a Hall of Famer in his first eligible year.

MARK McGWIRE — Yes, he has been punished enough, for the evidence of things not seen. For the evidence of things seen, we might try to remember:

a) That actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances have not, really, been proven to enhance much more, if anything, than muscle mass, which is not by itself equal to no-questions-asked intergalactic long-ball power.

b) That androstendione — which McGwire by his own admission used primarily for muscle replenishment (you'd think muscle replenishment was of itself a crime, sometimes), rather the way earlier baseball generations popped the greenies for stamina replenishment — was not illegal when he was using the substance, which use he did, after all, cease and desist after it was first revealed.

Did we really forget McGwire was a murderous bombardier before 1998? We sure did (and still do) forget that he actually could do a few other things well. (You want to carp on his strikeouts? Tell that to Reggie Jackson.) Before his injuries began to chip away at him, McGwire was actually a good first baseman who might have bagged more than one Gold Glove (quick: how does such a mono-dimensional lug bag even one?) if Don Mattingly hadn't all but owned the American League's franchise on the prize in seasons for which McGwire could well enough have won.

Well, I suppose, why not? Say what you will about Barry Bonds, but one of the easiest things to forget about him was that he did have tape-measure home run power from his collegiate days. It was his power-speed combination that deked baseball people into thinking him the second, superior coming of his old man; it was the Pittsburgh Pirates' foolish insistence on seeing the combine and assuming "Bobby, Jr." that got the younger Bonds locked up in a leadoff role that didn't even begin to exploit the depth of his talent, keeping Bonds from displaying his prodigious offense — until he all but badgered them into letting him in the middle of the order — long enough before he did or didn't think about any kind of medicinal enhancements.

You want to continue the nonsense about tainted records? First, you should rebuke a source in impeccable position to know — Kevin Maris, one of Roger Maris's sons, who once said he believed baseball should investigate actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances whole-hogger. The younger Maris (who thinks Bonds remains the legitimate single-season home run king: "You've still got to put the bat on the ball") has told former Boston Globe writer Gordon Edes there is no resentment, whatsoever, about McGwire smashing the record that nearly smashed his father.

I saw a little more talk about McGwire being made to apologize before he'll get anything more than a continuing Hall of Fame snub. Apologize for what? For using a substance that was lawful when he used it? For being accused without trial or conviction of a chemical regimen that may or may not have done a blessed thing for him in the long run? For taking perhaps the absolute wrong legal advice as he delivered that sickening performance to the House Committee on Sending Swell Messages to Kids? (Thank you again, Mr. Will?) All without a shred of evidence such as a positive test to proclaim him once and for all a chemical production? Is this about cleaning baseball up, for real; or, is this comparable to those legendarily abusive police officers who seemed more interested in beating their prisoners senseless than in actually getting valuable or productive information out of them regarding their accomplices or masterminds?

Nobody — I mean, nobody, not even his worst enemy, not even Jose Canseco himself (whose credibility is so shot to pieces, anyway), has ever accused Big Mac of being clubhouse cancer. Nobody ever took a baseball bat to his locker-mounted boom box; nobody ever wanted to fight him in the clubhouse, after repeated loafing on the field, only to discover not one of their teammates would back him up; nobody has ever emerged from the bowels of any clubhouse from which McGwire ever emerged to say he wishes death upon the slugger who now lives in self-imposed exile in southern California, perhaps praying for an absolution that he shouldn't have to grovel to receive.


He's about as genuine a guy as you'll ever meet. People talk about the other stuff, but everybody makes a bad choice at times, but that doesn't take away the type of person he truly is. One bad choice shouldn't scar you forever.

— Kevin Maris

If the choice to which Maris alludes was andro, bear in mind that it was not necessarily thought to be a steroid precursor until after McGwire was discovered to have used it, several years after the first rumours of a steroid presence in baseball wafted forth. If the choice was McGwire's incredible shrinking Capitol Hill performance, it's well past time to quit holding against him that his legal counsel was a step above Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel without being half as funny.

McGwire in exile has not walked around, groaning to anyone who will listen, that he's baseball's wronged man. Unlike others of which one can think who actually did break baseball rules at the time they were, actually, rules. Or, some others who decided to blow the whistle believing they were baseball's wronged men, only to blow with enough off-key tones as to call their credibility into question however right they were that baseball had a serious problem with actual or alleged PEDs.

JACK MORRIS — I'm still on the fence here, too. I still can't really reconcile Morris's reputation as a big-game pitcher to his actuality as a pitcher who may well have pitched to the score preponderantly enough, leaving his wins to reflect his teammates' as much if not slightly more than his own performances. And yet ... and yet ... Morris right now is the Andre Dawson of pitchers, without Dawson's reputation for wonderfulness: one minute you think no, the next you think yes, and the dilemma is not unattractive.

The classic dumb move of Morris's career: going on a kind of tour to feel out his market, at the onset of the first collusion, and meeting the Minnesota Twins in a rather expensive-looking winter fur. On the other hand, it wasn't even half as stupid as the day Lou Whitaker showed up for a bargaining session during the 1994 strike in a stretch limousine. Jack Morris may have behaved like a mercenary over the final half of his career, but he wasn't that dim.

And though I think the world of his surreal 10-inning, Game 7, 1991 World Series-winning shutout, I know where I saw one better — Sandy Koufax's nine-inning, Game 7, 1965 World Series-winning shutout — and I'll tell you what made Koufax's game just that much better:

a) With his usually surreal curve ball a dead issue by that point of the season, and an arthritically compromised arm tired enough to make gripping a forkball (his periodic change-of-pace offering) problematic, Koufax worked with nothing left but a fastball that only mimicked its infamous self.

b) He worked on two days' rest for the second time in just over a week, having pitched the pennant clincher on two days' rest.

c) He was medicated heavily enough to leave him a little bit high and enough at the mercy of a line drive back up the pipe to take his head off if he couldn't and didn't react with customary swiftness.

It is no disgrace to Jack Morris to say he wasn't quite in Sandy Koufax's league.

DAVE PARKER — Cocaine use and injuries sapped him from solidifying a Hall of Fame case; he was certainly on the proper route before those matters occurred. But if you want to found a Hall of Fame for good people who really do learn from their foolishness, Parker would probably go in the inaugural class, with Tim Raines right by his side. Parker cleaned up and once again became clubhouse class, strong-arm division, especially on one of those late-1980s Oakland Athletics teams.

Where is Dave Parker when you need a clubhouse enforcer? The A's always knew, sooner or later, they'd need Big Dave to quell a cellblock riot, just as the '77 Reds desperately missed Tony Perez after they traded him. In '88 [Jose] Canseco popped off about beating the Dodgers in five games. The Dodgers won in five. In '89 Parker promised to clean, stuff, and mount Jose if he spoke above a whisper. The A's swept. Now Dave's gone, Jose predicted a sweep. General manager Sandy Alderson makes a lot of good moves, but saving money on Parker may have cost him a world title.

— Thomas Boswell, Washington Post, October 22, 1990; republished as part of "1990: Hubris, The Sequel," in Cracking the Show (New York: Doubleday, 1994)

TIM RAINES — Don't knock the Rock. You may want to murder me for what I am going to write here, but Allen Barra (in Clearing the Bases) was absolutely right: Raines's 15 best seasons shake out as being better than the 15 best of a should-be Hall of Fame player who was practically his match, a switch-hitter with a little power who extorted his way on base and hit early in the lineup.

The player is Pete Rose.

Barra cited Total Baseball's estimate of the 15 best seasons by Rose and Raines and shook them out thus: it took Rose 204 games more to reach base 34 more times a season than Raines in the career shakeouts, and to produce 9.3 more runs per season.

... That Rose had to play in 204 more games to do that convinces me that Raines was, perhaps, more skilled than Rose in the art of producing runs. The question is, does Rose's durability automatically make him more valuable? After all, he did accumulate more total runs.

Actually, the question is a great deal more complex than that. First of all, although he played alongside some fine hitters as Gary Carter and Andre Dawson, Raines had nothing like the career-long quality of teammates that was afforded to Pete Rose. Rose played nearly all his best years on the Reds with ... teammates such as Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, and Dave Concepcion, and on the Phillies, he batted in front of Mike Schimdt and Greg Luzinski. Given Raines's greater home run total and far superior speed, I think if he batted in front of the same hitters Rose had, he would have produced not only more runs, but significantly more runs per season — and, remember, that's in 200 fewer games. Second, think of how many fewer outs Raines would have used up to produce those runs, and how many more runs those outs would have produced spread around the lineup.

This isn't even beginning to consider the point that Raines probably hung up an uncounted extra parcel of runs by his more consistent ability to go first to third or second and even first to home on base hits, an ability Rose didn't always have despite his reputation as diving Charlie Hustle.

The Rock's big problem is that he didn't leave a glaring statistical benchmark by which to judge him, not even the 200-hit season. On the other hand ... so what of it? Do you think a decade of 200-hit seasons equals an automatic, no-questions-asked great hitter? Then why would you consider as mediocre hitters one Hall of Famer who had measly six 200-hit seasons; a second Hall of Famer who had three such seasons; a pair of Hall of Famers who had exactly one such season; and another pair of Hall of Famers who had exactly no such seasons? Now, tell me you plan to argue that Pete Rose was a greater hitter than Stan Musial (the six), Babe Ruth (the three), Willie Mays (one), Frank Robinson (one, too), Ted Williams (never), or Mickey Mantle (neither did he).

Better, still, tell me why you would think Pete Rose was a better hitter than a guy who was his near-equal skill-set player but, over their fifteen best seasons each, reached base more often, used less outs to get there (ponder, too, that Raines was so good at wringing out walks he wouldn't have put up 3,000 hits even without losing so much time to cocaine addiction — to which he copped and sought treatment on his own — and lupus), hit with a little more power, produced quite a few more runs, and had hugely superior speed?

"Simply put," Barra concluded, "all the indications are that under the same conditions and in the same situations, Tim Raines would have produced at least as many and probably more runs than Pete Rose. That's not going to make him as hot an item on the autograph circuit as Pete Rose, but it ought to be good enough to get Tim Raines a plaque at Cooperstown..."

Indeed it ought. But you don't have to make such a might-have-been case for Raines. What was should be enough.

LEE SMITH — Yes, he was dominant for a long enough time, but there were reasons why teams couldn't wait to unload him at the first available opportunity. You probably don't remember that the Cubs, with whom he first established his rep, swapped him to the Boston Red Sox for ... Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper, two pitchers who had spent 1987 trying to shake off their respective strafings in the 1986 World Series. The deal inspired Frank Robinson to crack, "The Cubs traded a horse and they came away with two ponies."

Why were the Cubs shopping perhaps the best closer in the National League, or at least one of the top three; and, why would they have taken a deal like that, for a pair of shell-shocked pitchers — one still a youngster, one a veteran — whose major league careers ended up finished, comparatively, before they really began? Dan Shaughnessy cited Jim Frey, the Cubs' general manager who made the deal, as saying the Cubs had come to question Smith's health and attitude: "You get tired of hearing him say [12-letter compound euphemism for "maternal fornicator"] every time you walk into the clubhouse."

Smith may also be hurt among the voters by a long career in which he turned up in the postseason only twice, got into two games each, saved one but lost two others, and shook out with a cumulative 8.44 ERA for his effort — both within the first nine years of his career — without ever appearing in the postseason again. That isn't Smith's fault by any means — the dilemma of a great closer is that his team has to get the game his way in the first place — but it may be a factor. I note him inching a little higher in the Hall voting each year, though...

ALAN TRAMMELL — Long, excellent career, photo-finish Hall of Fame case. I am not entirely convinced you can cross him safely over the border, but neither am I convinced that you cannot.

THE VAUGHNTED — Greg Vaughn? Too single-dimensional despite his gaudy power numbers. And those numbers are not really enough to make him Cooperstown material. Cousin Mo? He might have forged a Hall case, if he hadn't eaten and injured himself out of baseball (and, perhaps, in that order) when he was still, arguably enough, at peak power.

MATT WILLIAMS — Comes up far too short, for all his talent and all of what he did do on the field and at the plate. By the way, if you think Andre Dawson has a perception problem thanks to his low on-base percentage, just have a gander at Williams's...


JOE GORDON — He had a Hall of Fame case long before the current configuration of the Veterans Committee apparatus voted him in for 2009. You could debate whether Gordon was the absolute best player not in the Hall, among those to whom only a Veterans Committee vote now applied, but now that Gordon is going in there may be little enough argument that Ron Santo — who, like Bert Blyleven, should have been a Hall of Famer already — is the absolute best all-around player among Veterans Committee candidates who still isn't in.

Offensively, and adjusting for one man's wide enough home-road split (and both men's losing a couple of prime seasons to World War II), Gordon was the same player as Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr (who also needed the Veterans Committee to bring him in), with equivalent fielding skills (Doerr's probably remembered more as a dangerous hitter than as a swift and rangy second baseman) and numbers; and, with diametrically opposite home-road splits — Doerr (Fenway Park) has a hugely better home hitting record, while Gordon (Yankee Stadium, Cleveland's Memorial Stadium) hit better when he got away from his two home parks.

"The voters," James has written, "weren't sophisticated enough to see through the statistical illusions created by the fact that Doerr played in Fenway Park. They let the stats fool them."


In the event that there might be those, as usually, ready to shoot their little arrows of irrelevancy with his name attached thereto, let us get it out of the way right now: Pete Rose does not belong in any Hall of Fame discussion, whatsoever, period-dot-period, until or unless the Hall of Fame changes its 1990-91 ruling that no player on baseball's ineligible list can be considered eligible for Hall of Fame candidacy.

The Hall of Fame passed that rule because there was a very real chance of the BBWAA of 1990-91 electing Pete Rose to the Hall of Fame in spite of his being banned from baseball, an election that would have traduced a long-standing tradition (it was never a formal rule but it was honored among generations of voting baseball writers) that those on baseball's ineligible list wouldn't be elected to the Hall of Fame assuming they had the records to justify their election. (I can think of at least two such players prior to Rose, both teammates on the infamous 1919 White Sox, who would have been no-questions-asked Hall of Famers but for the scandal: Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte.)

Do you really want to explain why someone who isn't eligible to wear a uniform or hold any job in organized baseball anywhere, for anyone, or who needs special dispensation just to show up in a ballpark, should be eligible to receive the highest known honor in the game, even if the Hall of Fame is not in and of itself a division or branch of formally organized professional baseball?

Should Rose be in the Hall of Fame? Of course he should. His overall record supports it, even if I happen to believe that there but for the grace of breaking Ty Cobb's lifetime hits record should he have waited a couple of years past year one to get in. He has a Hall of Fame record but, absent Cobb, I'm not completely convinced he would have been or should have been a first-ballot pick. Second, perhaps? Third, surely.

But should Rose be in the Hall of Fame in spite of being banished from baseball still? No way.

"Pete Rose isn't banned from baseball because he's a bad person. He's banned because he broke the rules," James has written. "As Tom Heitz says, the problem with Pete Rose isn't that he gambled. The problem is that he broke the rule against gambling ... [y]ou don't begin the rehabilitation of [Pete Rose] by putting him in the Hall of Fame. That's where you end it."

That's where you hope the discussion might have ended a long enough time ago, too.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site