Continuing with your votes for the 100 best Hall of Fame candidates.
No. 90: Sal Bando Score: 25.86 Years ago, I remember someone called into the Larry King radio Show* and said that he had an interesting baseball opinion, but before he offered it he wanted some guarantees. He needed Larry to hear him out, something that Larry wasn't often interested in doing when callers went off the deep end.
"You have to give me a chance to explain," the caller said.
"OK," Larry King said.
"Sal Bando was the greatest player in baseball history," the caller said.
And Larry King hung up on him.
*The Peabody Award-Winning Larry King Show. That's how they always introduced it. If I ever won a Peabody, I would always make people introduce me that way, sort of the way DiMaggio made people introduce him as the Greatest Living Player.
Bando went to high school less than five miles away from where I grew up in Cleveland. And even though he went there before I was born, his legend as a high school athlete still lingered throughout my childhood. He was one of those driven athletes who did everything well. In the major leagues, he did everything well except hit for average. He led the league in doubles one year, hit as many as 31 home runs, twice walked 100 times in a season, twice drove in 100 runs, stole as many as 20 bases and played an excellent third base.
Still, he was a lifetime .254 hitter and as such has never been taken too seriously as a Hall of Fame candidate, much less the greatest player in baseball history. Everyone knows third base is an undervalued Hall of Fame position, and Sal Bando has his Hall of Fame argument. But, I suppose if the third-base floodgates ever did open, Bando would still have to stand in line behind Scott Rolen and Graig Nettles and Ken Boyer and possibly Buddy Bell, Ron Cey and Darrell Evans too. That doesn't change the basic point that Bando was pretty great.
No. 89: Luis Gonzalez Score: 26.10 Gonzalez had more than 1,000 extra-base hits in his career. Only 33 Hall of Fame-eligible players in baseball history have done that, and of those, 27 are in Cooperstown.
The six who are not:
No. 88: Darryl Strawberry Score: 27.04 Eleven of our voters selected Straw as a 100% Hall of Famer (you'll remember that the voting options were 100% HOF, 75%, 50%, and 25%). They must have done it out of pure love and a hunger for what might have been, because there's no LOGICAL reason, the way things turned out, to consider Strawberry a full-fledged Hall of Famer.
But there are emotional reasons. He was a gorgeous player to watch. Here's how aesthetically wonderful Straw was -- he was ENDLESSLY compared to Ted Williams throughout his career. The guy never hit better than .284 in any season. And yet, you saw him, and you thought: TED WILLIAMS!
In reality, he could not have been much LESS like Williams as an offensive player. He struck out a ton, and he was fast, and his sense of the strike zone, while not a weakness, was nothing like Williams' supernatural command. Of course, it was never fair to compare Strawberry (or anyone else) to probably the greatest hitter ever.
But you couldn't help it. Straw just had this beautiful presence.
[caption id="attachment_24330" align="aligncenter" width="407"] Strawberry didn't put up Hall of Fame numbers, but he sure looked good doing it.[/caption]
In 1987, he hit 39 homers and stole 36 bases, putting him in the 35-35 club. I've long thought it should be thought of as the 35-35 club and NOT the 30-30 club. There are 40 players in the 30-30 club, making that less of a club and more of a congregation.
But adjust it up to 35-35, and there are only 14 players in it. Strawberry and his lifelong friend Eric Davis did it the same year, 1987. Only one player has done it in this decade -- see if you can guess who before looking down (hint: It was not Mike Trout).
Members of the 35-35 club:
Alfonso Soriano, 3 times (2002, '03, '06)
Barry Bonds, 2 times (1996, '97)
Bobby Bonds, 2 times (1973, '77)
Willie Mays, 2 times (1956, '57)
Ken Williams, 1922
Eric Davis, 1987
Darryl Strawberry, 1987
Jose Canseco, 1988
Howard Johnson, 1989
Shawn Green, 1998
Alex Rodriguez, 1998
Vladimir Guerrero, 2002
Carlos Beltran, 2004
Matt Kemp, 2011
Yes, Virginia, there really was a time when Matt Kemp could absolutely fly.
No. 87: Bert Campaneris Score: 27.19 I always, always, always spell Campaneris wrong -- I swap the "A" and the "E," spelling it Campenaris. Then I see that it looks wrong, and I (usually) fix it.
In 1970, entirely out of nowhere, Campy hit 22 home runs. Before that season, his career high was six. After that season his best was eight.
"I've never had this many homers before," he told the press that year. "No, I don't know why I'm hitting them like this. I'm swinging the same. I have put on four pounds. I used to weigh 152. Now I weigh 156. Maybe that's it."
I can't help but wonder what kind of player Campy would be TODAY -- that is, what he would be like had he grown up with the weight training and nutrition available now. He was remarkably fast (he led the league in stolen bases six times), played a superb shortstop and hit well enough to lead the league in triples one year and hits another. But he also got the bat knocked out of his hands a lot, as most shortstops did in his time.
With more strength and training, would he be a Francisco Lindor sort of player?
No. 86: Frank Tanana Score: 27.43 So, I'll come clean -- I put Tanana on the list entirely for my friend, Howard Richman, who has been a one-man Tanana public relations machine for as long as I've known him.*
*Howard moonlights for Adrian Dantley.
But Howard is right in that there really hasn't been another career quite like Tanana's. He began as a fireballing lefty -- the lefty version of Nolan Ryan, really. They were teammates, Tanana and Ryan, and in 1975, it was Tanana who led the league in strikeouts. That was the only time between 1972 and 1979 that someone other than Ryan led the American League in K's.
In 1976, Ryan led the league in strikeouts and Tanana finished second.
And then in 1977, Tanana and Ryan finished 1-2 in the league in pitcher b-WAR. Neither won the Cy Young Award -- the writers decided to go off the board and give it to a reliever, Sparky Lyle. Tanana actually didn't get any Cy Young support because he finished 15-9.
By b-WAR, Tanana was the best pitcher in baseball from 1975 to '77, by f-WAR he trailed only Tom Seaver (he actually had a higher strikeout rate and a lower walk rate than Seaver). For those three years, he was all power, and he was a force. That guy was on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Then came the injuries, a bunch of them, mostly shoulder related, and as he recovered he realized that if he wanted to keep pitching in the big leagues, he would have to figure out a way to get outs without his Koufax-like stuff.
And he figured out a way. He had a long and successful second career slopping and nudging and teasing and working the corners. Tanana could have been one of those "might have been" stories. There are plenty of those. But there's only one Tanana. He didn't end up in the Hall of Fame, didn't end up as one of the greatest ever, but he pitched more than 4,000 big-league innings -- one of only 21 to do that since Deadball -- and he won 240 games, and he struck out more than 2,700 batters, and it was one heck of a career.