HOF Candidates: 70-66
Continuing with your votes for the 100 best Hall of Fame candidates.
No. 70: Frank White Score: 34.38 When Bill Mazeroski was elected into the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee in 2001, many baseball fans groaned. Yes, there was substantial support for Maz before that year; he did get 42.3% of the BBWAA vote in his final year. Still, the general consensus was that Maz, while arguably the greatest defensive second baseman ever (and certainly the greatest at turning the double play), fell just shy of the Hall of Fame.
Then -- with Joe L. Brown, the Pirates GM in Maz's time, leading the way -- the veterans committee voted Mazeroski in, and there was an uproar. You might remember, that was the reason the Hall of Fame changed the way the veterans committee operated. Many fans took issue.
But not Kansas City Royals fans.
From the outside looking in, it's hard to separate the careers of Frank White and Bill Mazeroski. True, no two players are identical, and nobody would ever mistake Maz's game for White's, or vice versa. But in a nutshell:
-- Their careers were of almost identical length.
-- They were both breathtaking defensive second basemen.
-- They were both limited hitters who didn't walk.
-- They both were hometown icons.
-- They both had key postseason achievements. Mazeroski's Game 7 homer is obviously the most famous of these. But White became the first second baseman to hit cleanup in a World Series, and he was the first American League Championship Series MVP.
-- They both changed the game, at least slightly. Maz took turning the double play to a new level. White helped pioneer a new way to play defense on turf.
You could argue endlessly which one was better or more worthy of the Hall, but unless you're a particular fan of one or the other, you probably wouldn't make that argument at all. Instead, you would say neither one is quite a Hall of Famer. But when Maz was elected, Frank White fans had every reason to stand up and say, "Hey, wait a minute!" Even Bill James admitted that he was a bit excited to see Maz get elected because of what it might mean for Frank White.
So far, it has not meant anything for Frank ... and it probably won't. I don't think the Hall of Fame works quite that way. This year, Harold Baines was elected in a controversial veterans committee vote, but that's unlikely to mean anything for dozens of players who compare favorably to Baines. Going back to Frank White: With a lifetime 34.8 WAR and so many notable second basemen not in the Hall (Lou Whitaker, Jeff Kent, Bobby Grich, Willie Randolph, etc.), I suspect White's name will never make another Hall of Fame ballot.
On the bright side, few players are as beloved and cherished by their hometown. His number is retired, his memory cherished in Kansas City.
No. 69: Ron Guidry Score: 34.41 In 1979 or 1980, I read the book Ron Guidry, Louisiana Lightning. I read it because (for some reason) it showed up in the impossibly small "Sports Biography" section they had at the University Heights Public Library at Cedar Center, just a couple of blocks from our home.
I do not know the inner workings of the University Heights Public Library -- or any other library -- so I remain unclear about how they make such eclectic book choices. But I can tell you that I read every sports biography that came through. I read a biography of hockey goalie Bernie Parent called, if I remember correctly, Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!
I read a biography of Pele, read one about Wilt Chamberlain, read one about Peggy Fleming. My favorite was a paperback called The Signal Callers, written by Bill Gutman, that featured Steve Bartkowski, Brian Sipe, Joe Ferguson and Ron Jaworski. It's funny, that's the only one that I remember vividly, undoubtedly because my hero Brian Sipe was featured. I still remember Gutman's description of the last two minutes of a game doing for Sipe what spinach did for Popeye.* I often list off the writers who inspired me. Honestly, it began with Alfred Slote and Bill Gutman.
*After I wrote this, I ordered a copy of The Signal Callers, to see if my memory served. It did ... sort of. Gutman himself did not actually write the Popeye line, but he quoted a Cleveland sportswriter who wrote: "Telling Brian Sipe there's two minutes to go in a game is like Popeye grabbing a can of spinach, Captain Marvel saying 'Shazam,' or giving Frankenstein a couple of electrical charges behind the ears." And to think my love of sportswriting began here.
In any case, I was thrilled to read Ron Guidry, Louisiana Lightning. I remember it having a huge impact on me, though the only thing I seem to remember about it was Guidry talking about gumbo. I had never heard of gumbo. But I can tell you that the first time I had gumbo in New Orleans, I thought about Ron Guidry.
The Guidry Hall of Fame argument is that he was basically a 1970s-'80s Whitey Ford. There are definite similarities:
-- They were each Yankees lefties who had some postseason glory.
-- Both led the American League in ERA twice, in complete games once, and each won one Cy Young award.
-- Whitey Ford had a 3.26 FIP and Guidry had a 3.27 FIP.
-- Ford led the league in wins three times, Guidry two ... but Guidry led the league in FIP three times and Ford did it once. Ford led the league in winning percentage three times to Guidry's two, but Guidry led the league in WHIP twice to Ford's once.
Ford pitched about 800 more innings, which is a lot, and as such he has about five more WAR than Guidry, though their Wins Above Average is closer (Ford with the slight lead, 28.6 to 26.6).
In the end, the decisive dividing point seems to be that Ford was as good as Guidry for longer, and while Guidry had his October moments, Ford was a World Series legend. Ford was the MVP of the 1961 World Series, and he would have been the MVP in 1960 too, had Mazeroski not hit the home run -- Whitey pitched twice in that Series and threw two shutouts.
Then again, Whitey Ford was also famous for cutting the baseball; he readily admitted cheating. But that's a story for another time.
No. 68: Maury Wills Score: 35.26 Maury Willis is one of that special handful of players who aren't in the Hall of Fame but many baseball fans (most, even?) think ARE in the Hall of Fame. I would say that list includes Tony Oliva, Minnie Minoso, maybe Jim Kaat and Gil Hodges, Luis Tiant, Steve Garvey ...
Wills struggled through the minor leagues for eight brutal seasons. The Dodgers thought he was never going to hit. You probably know that while he was in the minor leagues, he was helped by a man named Bobby Bragan -- who had his own extraordinary relationship with Jackie Robinson -- and Bragan refused to give up on Wills' potential. Another former Dodgers' star, Pete Reiser, was like that too: They just kept believing in Wills, even when he (as he admits) lost faith in himself. Bragan, in particular, helped Wills develop his switch-hitting, and he became Wills' No. 1 cheerleader in the organization.
In 1959, after so many frustrating years, Willis hit .313 in Class AAA Spokane and was called up to the big leagues.
[caption id="attachment_24391" align="aligncenter" width="423"] Wills won the MVP in '62 with a record 104 stolen bases.[/caption]
In 1960, he became the Dodgers' every-day shortstop, he worked through a couple of awful slumps and established himself as a star. He led the league in stolen bases in each of his first six seasons, and in 1962, he won the MVP award, when he hit .299 and led the league in at-bats, triples, stolen bases (104, which was the modern record) and scored 130 runs.
Did Maury Wills fundamentally change the game with his speed? The consensus is that, yes, he did: That's his big argument for going into the Hall of Fame. Bill James says no: He says the stolen base upward trend actually began while Wills was in the minors. I have mixed feelings on the point. On the one hand, yes, stolen bases were going up before Wills stole 100 bases. On the other, he was absolutely the face of the stolen base rebirth and there's a precedent (think Bruce Sutter and the split-fingered fastball) for honoring such things. There are many players I would put in the Hall of Fame before Wills, but he has gotten closer than most, and I think he just might get elected one of these times around.
No. 67: Reggie Smith Score: 35.71 Reggie Smith played his first game for the Boston Red Sox in 1965 ... this was only six years after Pumpsie Green became the first African American to play for the Red Sox. We tend to narrate history through the firsts -- first to climb Olympus, first to run the four-minute mile, first to open this world or achieve that extraordinary feat -- and that gives history the illusion of speed, the illusion that the world changes overnight.
Boston was not a very different place in the late 1960s for Reggie Smith than it was in 1959 for Green and Earl Wilson, or 1960 for Willie Tasby, or 1963 for Félix Mantilla, or 1965 for Lenny Green, or 1966 for George Scott. Time just doesn't move as fast as we remember. There wasn't a line drawn after Pumpsie Green finally made it to the big leagues. Reggie Smith dealt with a lot as Boston's first true African American star.
He had a second challenge -- he came up exactly at the time when Carl Yastrzemski had melted Boston's heart. It wasn't Yaz's fault -- he was an astonishing player from 1966 to 1970 (you could fairly argue for his 1967 season as the greatest in baseball history), and he went to high school in North Andover, and he went to Notre Dame, and he played with that silent grace that still makes him, more or less, the perfect ballplayer anywhere, and certainly the perfect Boston ballplayer
From 1970 through '73, Reggie Smith was his equal in just about every way ... but you could never really be Yaz's equal in Boston. While Yaz was beloved for always giving everything he had, Boston fans seemed to feel like Smith never gave enough. He was called an underachiever so many times that it left a permanent mark.
"I got awfully tired of people saying that I never lived up to my potential," he said when the Sox traded him to St. Louis. "Everybody expected me to be a Willie Mays or a Hank Aaron. A superstar. Why couldn't I just be Reggie Smith. ... I've played my best, and my lifetime totals are pretty good. But I guess people here didn't like to think that black athletes have good or average ability."
Smith had more than good or average ability; he was a fantastic player. He hit as high as .309, led the league in on-base percentage in 1977 for the Dodgers, hit as many as 32 homers, twice led the league in doubles, drove in 100 runs and scored 100 runs, won a Gold Glove in centerfield, was an excellent baserunner in his prime. He's not in the Hall of Fame because, like most near-Hall of Famers, his career more or less ended when he was 33.
No. 66: Steve Garvey Score: 36.26 OK, let's try an experiment. I want you to think of the 12 most famous Baseball Hall of Famers who you followed as a baseball fan. Maybe you saw them play live. Maybe you watched on TV. Maybe you followed along in the box scores. Whatever, think about the dozen best Hall of Famers -- it doesn't have to be exact, there won't be a quiz. Just jot them down and don't worry too much about the order.
And please remember: We're talking entirely about their fame. We're not talking about how good they were, though obviously the two will overlap. We're just talking about the 12 most FAMOUS Hall of Famers.
OK, you have your list?
Here's mine to compare (though I might be older or younger than you). I tried to do it in order:
1. Henry Aaron (just barely played in my lifetime) 2. Ken Griffey Jr. 3. Reggie Jackson 4. Derek Jeter 5. Cal Ripken Jr. 6. Nolan Ryan 7. Johnny Bench 8. George Brett 9. Pedro Martinez/Greg Maddux 10. David Ortiz 11 Tom Seaver 12. Carl Yastrzemski
As I look over my list, I realize that there are a lot of players I COULD Have put on there: Joe Morgan; Mike Schmidt; Ozzie Smith; Tony Gwynn; Wade Boggs; Rod Carew; Randy Johnson; Chipper Jones; Albert Pujols; John Smoltz; Mike Trout. But I'll stick with my list, it's pretty good when it comes to fame. And remember that the obvious players missing -- Mays, Mantle, Koufax, Gibson, etc -- played before I became aware of baseball.
OK, so you probably have guessed why this little quiz is in my Steve Garvey essay.
Yes, now think of the 12 most famous baseball players in your lifetime who are NOT in the Hall of Fame. Go ahead. Jot them down.'
Here's my list for comparison purposes:
1. Pete Rose 2. Barry Bonds 3. Roger Clemens 4. Manny Ramirez 5. Mark McGwire 6. Steve Garvey 7. Bo Jackson 8. Sammy Sosa 9. Dwight Gooden 10. Don Mattingly 11. Dale Murphy 12. Gary Sheffield
Again, I could have put Rafael Palmeiro in there, Mark Fidrych, Fernando Valenzuela, David Cone, Ryan Howard and any number of others.
And we end with the real question: Which list is more famous -- the list of players IN or OUT of the Hall of Fame?