One Voter's Great Eight for the Baseball Hall of Fame
By Bill Peterson
The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) announced the results of the Hall of Fame balloting last week, resulting in next summer's induction of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr.
Though the BBWAA doesn't announce how individual voters decided, individuals are allowed to tell how they voted. Herewith is the result of my ballot, naming only the players receiving votes, along with reasons when necessary.
Albert Belle: An utterly foul human being whose large charitable contributions argue for the disingenuousness of philanthropy, Bell hit the ball like no one in his era. A degenerative hip condition limited him to 12 seasons and 381 career homers with a .295 career batting average.
Like all the media, this voter is no friend of Belle, who refused an interview when I went to Cleveland just to do a story about him. But such animosity must be forgotten in a decision like this.
Like all players of the 1990s, Belle walks under the steroid cloud, and there's no question that he corked bats. The vote here wasn't so much to put him into the Hall of Fame as to keep his name alive after he received only 7.7 percent of the votes in 2006. But this vote was joined by only 18 others in 2007, and Belle now is off the ballot forever.
Bert Blyleven: This Dutch master threw the most remarkable three-to-nine curveball in memory during the early stages of his career, helping him to 287 career victories.
Not knowing the exact numbers, be assured that Blyleven lost a staggering and disproportionate number of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 games for a Minnesota Twins club that lacked in the early 1970s the thunder that made their 1960s so successful. With a little run support, Blyleven would have easily crossed 300 wins. For his career, he finished fifth in strikeouts (3,701), ninth in starts (685), ninth in shutouts (60), seventh in innings pitched (4,970) and only 25th in wins (287).
Admittedly, the arguments against him aren't terrible. He hung around for 22 years to pile up those numbers and never finished higher than third in his league's Cy Young voting.
Dave Concepcion: Voting Concepcion for the Hall of Fame is a bit like voting for the dinosaur as the king of the animals. The dinosaur once mattered, but the world changed around him and he's extinct. Similarly, Concepcion pioneered shortstop in the world of Astroturf with his deep positioning and long, one-hop throws to first base that took away hits to short left field.
Astroturf is gone, thankfully, so Concepcion's contribution didn't last. But he won five Gold Gloves and made six All-Star teams in the 1970s, batting .267 during an era when shortstops tended to hit around .200. Shortly after his retirement, we started seeing excellent offensive shortstops like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra.
One by one, turf fields made way for grass and the memory of Concepcion faded. But he was the best in his league at his position when he played, though Philadelphia fans argue for Larry Bowa.
Eric Davis: As the 1987 season began, Sports Illustrated touted Davis as the next Willie Mays. Twenty years later, no one was about to put Davis into the Hall of Fame, but he certainly had his moments, he's a good man and somebody should have voted for him. Only two other writers checked his name, so he'll appear on no more ballots. This voter is happy to have made the vote while the chance was there.
From the time Davis entered the Cincinnati Reds lineup fulltime on May 15, 1986, until the end of May 1987, he hit 42 homers with 80 stolen bases at a time when 30 homers and 30 steals constituted an incredible season. Meanwhile, Davis took away four home runs as a center fielder leaping over the fence. If any player can show a more productive body of overall work through a period of roughly one year, bring forth the evidence.
Rich Gossage: Today's relief closer is a mechanism managers use to evade responsibility for losing games in the ninth inning. The manager will use his closer only in the ninth inning, and only at home or when ahead on the road. The one-inning save with a two-run lead has become such a farce that many fans no longer take saves seriously.
But Gossage frequently pitched two or three innings to finish games. Of all the free agents the New York Yankees signed in the late 1970s, few were more valuable than Gossage, who horsed up 134 innings with 10 wins and 27 saves to lead the American League in 1978. He finished his career with 310 saves, which is only 10th on the all-time list, but he also notched 124 wins.
Tony Gwynn: No explanation necessary. But he batted a career .338 with eight batting titles, matching Honus Wagner for the most in National League history. Gwynn made 15 All-Star teams, ending his career with 3,141 hits.
Jim Rice: Here's a case in which reality and institutional memory have very different stories to tell.
In reality, Rice was absolutely the most punishing right-handed hitter in the American League during his career. And people viewed him that way. He won the AL Most Valuable Player award once and finished in the top five of the voting five other times. Following is a list of all retired players who finished in the top five of their league's MVP voting six times or more: Willie Mays (nine), Mickey Mantle (nine), Ted Williams (nine), Stan Musial (nine), Lou Gehrig (eight), Henry Aaron (eight), Rice (six), Frank Robinson (six), Harmon Killebrew (six) and Joe DiMaggio (six). That's it. All of those players are in the Hall except Rice.
Cal Ripken Jr.: No explanation necessary. He played in 2,632 consecutive games to the enduring gratitude of working stiffs everywhere who show up for work every day like they're supposed to.
With 3,184 hits and 431 homers, Ripken is one of only eight players to get 400 homers and 3,000 hits. And he made 19 consecutive All-Star teams during his 21-year career. When the major leagues returned from the strike that cancelled the 1994 World Series, Ripken led the way just by showing up.