The very first sports story I ever got paid to write was called “Future Hall of Famers,” and it appeared in the March 1986 edition of a magazine called Beckett Baseball Card Monthly. I wrote it when I was 18 years old and had absolutely no idea what I was doing or what I was talking about. I was paid three cents per word.
I was overpaid.
There’s something in that article that I still think about from time to time. Let me show you the American League players I put “on the doorstep,” meaning they were near the ends of their careers and were sure Hall of Famers.
And, yes, eventually we are getting to Buster Posey.
On the Doorstep
— Rod Carew (first ballot)
— Reggie Jackson (first ballot)
— Phil Niekro (fifth ballot)
— Tom Seaver (first ballot)
— Don Sutton (fifth ballot)
I show you these five not to tell you that I was right — though I guess I do take a little bit of pride in predicting Niekro and Sutton would definitely get elected — but because I was wrong. There was a sixth On the Doorstep guy and I didn’t recognize it.
The sixth was Carlton Fisk.
I did write about Fisk a bit later in the article and said that I thought he would get elected … but I wasn’t 100 percent sure. The reason I wasn’t sure is that Fisk was already 37 years old, he had 1,666 career hits and 267 home runs — and those numbers seemed really light. I obviously had no idea that he would play for another EIGHT seasons. Who could have known the guy was indestructible?
Then, looking back, Carlton Fisk was already a thoroughly compelling Hall of Fame candidate when I wrote the article. He had been the American League’s best catcher for more than a decade. He was a nine-time All-Star and had put up three or four MVP-type seasons. He was Rookie of the Year and a Gold Glove winner. He hit, perhaps, the most famous home run in baseball history.
I’m just not sure why I thought he needed a few hundred more hits tacked on to his record in order to be worthy of Cooperstown.
Well, actually, I am sure why I thought that — because lots of us think that, lots of us need to see the career numbers that look meaty enough for Hall of Fame consideration, whether that’s wins or saves or hits or home runs or wins above replacement. I often go back to the baseball writers’ decision in 2006 to elect reliever Bruce Sutter while contemporary Dan Quisenberry got only 18 votes in his one year on the ballot. Quiz was every bit the pitcher that Sutter was, but Sutter had 300 saves and Quiz had just 244.
Sutter picked up almost all of those extra saves as a closer in Atlanta when he was really not good at all (10-11, 4.55 ERA, 40 saves, 1.352 WHIP).
That is a story that repeats often in Hall of Fame voting — players are really helped by having those average or below-average years at the ends of their careers so that they make their stats look more Cooperstown worthy.
A 35-year-old Craig Biggio was 35.8 Wins Above Average, and I’m not sure how many people saw him as a Hall of Famer.
A 41-year-old Craig Biggio was 29 Wins Above Average — he’d been almost seven wins below average over six seasons — and he was a dead lock for the Hall because he’d reached 3,000 hits.
And finally, we come to Buster Posey.
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