Page 2 columnist
Before we get to my plan to save the Baseball Hall of Fame -- a plan that includes a replica of an Egyptian pyramid, no less -- allow me to explain why I'm writing this column in the first place:
The Baseball Hall of Fame officially "jumped the shark" for me in 1998, the year Don Sutton and Jim Rice headed the ballot. Had the Dodgers offered to trade Sutton straight-up for Rice during their respective athletic primes, Red Sox management would have giggled and hung up on them.So who was voted in that year? You guessed it ... Don Sutton. It didn't matter that Rice was the finest power hitter in baseball for an entire decade, averaging .305 with 33 home runs and 106 RBI from 1975 to 1986 (gaudy numbers for that era). Nope. Voters were much more impressed by the ageless Sutton, who hung around for 23 years and finished with 324 wins. Who cared if Sutton only finished with one 20-win season, or that he only topped 15 wins once over his final 12 years? If you're very good -- not great, very good -- for an extended period of time, that's enough to make the Baseball Hall of Fame. So Sutton made the cut. As for Rice, he excelled for a shorter period of time -- just 12 seasons -- failing to notch 2,500 hits and 400 home runs for his career. And since he was renowned for being unfriendly to reporters during his career, the choice was easy. Jim Rice was out. That's baseball. They even have a screwed-up Hall of Fame. And it's not just Rice. Gary Carter's stats are nearly identical to Johnny Bench's stats, save for the fact that Bench hit about 60 more homers and was considered a better defensive catcher (although Carter was no slouch). Jack Morris was the dominant pitcher of the '80s and served as the ace for three championship teams. Goose Gossage was the most unhittable reliever of my childhood, ending up with two rings, 310 saves and a memorable three-inning save in the transcendent '78 playoff game between the Red Sox and Yankees. And yet those guys are still sitting on the Hall of Fame ballot.
There's a reason I take this so personally: I was there. Carter, Rice, Morris and Gossage were the best players at their respective positions (or at least among the best) when I was growing up. Shouldn't that be what the Hall of Fame represents? Excellence over a reasonably long period of time?The problems don't end there. Remember how your grandparents refused to use the TV remote control and insisted on getting up and changing the channels manually? If there were a sports equivalent of that phenomenon, it would be the Baseball Hall of Fame, where the prevailing theme is, "That's the way they did it back then, so that's the way we'll do it now." Not to turn into Chandler Bing here, but could the entire process be more dumb? Could it be less fan-friendly? Could it be any less thought-provoking? Ask yourself this question: Did you argue about the Hall of Fame selections with anyone this week? Of course not ... you probably don't care. And why should you? It's like arguing about the Grammy Awards: You know they don't accurately reflect excellence in music. If they did, Toto wouldn't have won four Grammys in 1982. And that's why none of us really care about the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the only people who do care -- ancient baseball writers -- will be dead soon, anyway. It's almost a lost cause. Almost.
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Ground floor of The Pyramid ... designated for marginal guys who were considered "Borderline Hall of Famers," either because of the Rice Factor (great career, not long enough) or the Sutton Factor (very good for a long time, rarely great) ... anyone voted in simply because they reached a benchmark (400 homers, 300 wins, etc.) would be thrown in here ... you could even include players who broke significant individual records (Don Larsen, Roger Maris, Johnny Vander Meer, etc. -- though, personally, I say no).
Second floor of The Pyramid ... not quite as cluttered, not as much space ... reserved for guys who were definitely Hall of Famers, but didn't quite possess a Level 3 résumé for one or more of the following reasons:
- Their team never won a World Series.
- Something was missing from their career totals.
- They never enjoyed an outrageously good single season.
- Somebody else played their position during their time who was better.
- Their career was shortened by injury and/or rapidly declining skills.
Reserved for the "No-Doubt-About-It" Hall of Famers ... these guys were undoubtedly the best at their position for years and years, with all the requisite "résumé" stats to match ... unfortunately, there's a distinct, crucial difference between Level 3 and Level 4 (explanation coming).
These are basically "L3" guys, only there's something just inherently "greater" about them. Some possible indications:
- Do you have to consider them in any "best of all-time" discussions?
- Did they have transcendent games or memorable moments?
- Did they hit 500 homers, get 3,000 hits or win 300 games?
- Were they just dominant at times?
- Will you always remember watching them play, even when you're 80 years old and peeing on yourself?
Take a deep breath. Level 5 is the top of the pyramid, literally and figuratively. You can rattle the L5 guys off the top of your head: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Grover Alexander, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner.
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Ozzie Smith: Yes
Forget the "Best defensive shortstop" stuff ... he was the best defensive player of my lifetime. Nobody had a bigger impact defensively and nobody played their position with more flair. Just a remarkable talent, and not only because he spruced up every episode of "This Week In Baseball" during his Padres years in the late-'70s (you could count on an Ozzie highlight every week). He was an underrated offensive player during the second part of his career ('85 to '93), as well as a clutch playoff guy for some accomplished Cardinals teams (three pennants, one title). And he was durable as hell. You could actually make the case that, in retrospect, Ozzie was the most valuable everyday player of the '80s.
You can't vote in Puckett last January, then claim that Rice isn't a Hall of Famer because he lacked longevity. Come on. Puckett's career was cut short because of glaucoma; Rice's career was cut short because he lost his bat speed in a mysterious "X-Files"-type accident (even Kathleen Turner didn't slip that fast). What's the difference? Rice was definitely a Level 1 guy. As for Murphy, his numbers were awesome during that eight-year run from '80 to '87, but I don't remember him ever reaching that vaunted "Holy Crap" level that Rice reached from '77 to '79. His numbers (398 homers, four seasons with an OPS above .900) make him intriguing, but I can't recall the last time I said to myself, "Man, I miss seeing Dale Murphy play baseball." I mean, Jim Rice broke his bat once on a checked swing. A checked swing! (Note: Don't underestimate the post-Murphy era bitterness on my part. With four of Murphy's rookie cards in my possession from the thousands and thousands of baseball cards I purchased in 1978, it was like holding four winning lottery tickets as Murphy's career bloomed in the mid-'80s. Now those cards are used as coasters in the Sports Guy Mansion. Damn it all.)
Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey and Keith Hernandez: No, no and no
Hey, I enjoyed the cheesy 'stache and the Bird-esque Indiana roots as much as anyone, but I can't imagine any way that Donnie Baseball makes it, when his career tailed off in the late-'80s faster than Anthony Michael Hall and Andrew McCarthy combined. He's not even remotely close, and that's before we even mention the obvious Ewing Theory ramifications here -- the Yanks promptly rolled off four championships after he retired).
How did these guys even sneak on the ballot? I love the fact that Mike Greenwell made the cut. High comedy. Apparently, Carlos Quintana was knocked off at the last minute. Bert Blyleven and Tommy John: No and no
Blyleven seems to be gaining steam because of the Sutton Factor (22 years, 287 wins, 3.34 ERA and a startling 3702 K's), his infamous Uncle Charlie, one of the memorable beards of the '80s, and one of Chris Berman's best nicknames (Bert "Be Home" Blyleven). I wouldn't be outraged if he made the cut. On the other hand, I can't remember coming home from school and having my father say to me, "Let's go to Fenway and scalp tickets -- Bert Blyleven's in town!" He's out. John's résumé was pretty similar to Blyleven (26 seasons, 288 wins, 3.31 ERA, not nearly as many K's), and he was a Red Sox killer who personified the term "crafty southpaw." Frankly, I was terrified of him. But he wasn't quite a Hall of Famer -- like Blyleven, he was never a clear-cut "This guy's one of the best pitchers alive right now" guy. Plus, he played for the Yankees. He's out. Frank Viola, Jim Kaat, Ron Guidry: No, no and no
Frankie V's inclusion on the ballot made me say, "Hey, Frankie V.!", but that's about it. If the Twins hadn't run him into the ground early in his career, he's probably still a fifth starter somewhere and closing in on 300 wins. Too bad. As for Kaat, he pitched before my time, but he works for the Yankees now -- that's good enough to knock him off my list. And Guidry didn't even win 175 games. I can't imagine how he even gets considered here. (By the way, Guidry's career stats, relatively short prime, history of arm problems, notoriously skinny body and sudden decline reminds me just enough of Pedro Martinez that I just threw up in my mouth.) Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter: Yes and no
If you needed six outs from 1977-1984, Gossage was The Guy. That has to count for something, right? Nobody was more intimidating than the Goose, one of a handful of truly memorable players from my childhood. As an added bonus, he was a solid Level 1 guy who had a surprisingly long career (23 years). And the nickname pushes him over the top. Whatever happened to great baseball nicknames like "The Goose"? Anyway, he's in. Sutter lasted 10 years less than Gossage and wasn't quite as overpowering, although his '77 season was the greatest whatifsports.com season of all-time: 109 innings, 127 K's, 69 hits, 23 walks, 31 saves, 1.34 ERA. Good God almighty. And the fact that he invented/perfected the split-finger counts for something. But Sutter wasn't great for long enough, even if the Amish beard was a fun touch. He's out. Barely. Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker: No and no
Both of them made me at least say, "Hmmmmmmmm." Trammell anchored some nice Tigers teams in the mid-'80s and was a fantasy draft staple at short -- let the record show that he went ahead of Cal Ripken in my draft just about every year in the '80s and early-'90s (and he was just as good defensively). But a .285 average, 185 homers, one ring, four Gold Gloves, one World Series MVP ... in the words of Joel Goodson's alumni interview in "Risky Business," "Your record is very impressive, but it's just not Princeton material, is it?" He's out. Sweet Lou's argument was pretty similar: Best second baseman in the American League during his time, a consistent ".280/20/75" guy for more than a decade, finished with respectable numbers (.276, 244 HRs, .789 OPS, three Gold Gloves). Not quite enough. He's out. By the way, it's a little-known rule that any baseball star named Lou has to be referred to as "Sweet Lou." It's in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Dave Parker: No
And it's his own damned fault. If it's any consolation, he makes my All-Cocaine team, which is not to be confused with the '86 Mets.
I loved Carlton Fisk as much as anyone, but for an entire decade (1977 to 1986), Gary Carter was the best catcher in baseball. It's not even up for discussion. And given that he anchored those Mets staffs in the mid-'80s and started the game-winning rally against Calvin Schiraldi in That Game (ugh), he's a no-brainer for Level 1. Forget that he was an annoying phony and that Marcia Clark bought her hairstyle on E-Bay from him. Andre Dawson: No
The Hawk! Sixteen quality seasons in a 20-year career, 438 homers, one Rookie of the Year, eight Gold Gloves, one MVP, consistently a .285/30/95 guy, one of the two best right fielders of his era (along with Dave Winfield), a guy who battled knee problems during the majority of his career and still produced every season, and he even had a cup of coffee with the Red Sox. But other than his '87 season with the Cubs, I can't remember ever thinking to myself, "Man, it doesn't get any better than Andre Dawson!" And don't forget, as my buddy Dan McLaughlin points out, the Hawk had a couple of chances to push playoff teams over the top (Cubs in '89, Expos in '81) and batted just .128 in his two NLCS appearances. No way he makes it on the first ballot. Sorry. Jack Morris, Luis Tiant: Yes and yes
I'd even vote Morris in as an "L2" -- that 10-inning, complete-game shutout in Game 7 of the '91 Series was the best "big-game" pitching performance I've ever seen. It really ticks me off that Morris probably won't make the Hall of Fame for some reason. He also won 162 games in the '80s, which speaks for itself. And remember, Morris once dismissed female sportswriters by saying, "The only time I want to talk to a woman when I'm naked is if I'm on top of them or they're on top of me," which might be one of the five or six funniest high-school yearbook quotes of all-time. Throw in that cool handlebar 'stache and he's in. As for Luis, I think he deserves a little leeway because he defected from Cuba in his late-20s -- nobody knows exactly how old he was -- yet he pitched at a high level for 16 seasons, won 221 games and earned the reputation as one of the finest big-game pitchers of the '70s. And he was the most charismatic starter of that entire decade. Let's say Luis was 29 years old when he made his major-league debut in 1964, which seems like a fair guess. He rolled off an 81-52 record from 1973 through 1976, winning at least 20 games in three of those four seasons, and he was probably 41 years old in 1976. Amazing. Throw in those 221 career wins, and Luis gets my vote for Level 1. (Looooooo-ie! Loooooo-ie! Looooooo-ie!) Until next year ... Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.
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