The 2019 Hall of Game

Fred McGriff has never seen his own Tom Emanski commercial.

This was the big takeaway from another awesome Hall of Game induction day at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. As you probably know, every year the Negro Leagues Museum inducts a number of players in the Hall of Game, players who — and this is the only requirement — played with the “same passion, determination, flair and skill exhibited by the heroes of the Negro Leagues.”

Because the qualifications for the Hall of Fame are specifically not related to career achievements and are not a direct lane to productivity, there is a certain loose freedom about them. They are less about hard career numbers and where players rank in the pantheon and more about feelings the players evoked.

This year, four players went in, two players who will definitely never be Hall of Famers, one who has an outside shot, and one who I think will get elected very, very soon — perhaps as soon as next year.

The last of those is Fred McGriff, who I will get to in a minute.

The two players who will never be elected to Cooperstown but who were awesome just the same are Eric Davis and Dave Stewart. I don’t know that anyone in baseball history was quite as electrifying at Davis in 1986-87. His mentor and fellow Hall of Game inductee Dave Parker called him the next coming of Willie Mays, and that, in fact, is what he was — a modern version of Mays.

I gave each player his own Twitter poll. This was Davis’ poll:

Dave Stewart won 20 games four years in a row, he’s the last pitcher to do that and, let’s be honest, he’s the last pitcher who will EVER do that. In this decade, here is a complete list of all the pitchers who have won 20 games TWO years in a row:

  1. Nobody.

The thing that was so striking about Stewart is how often he started games. He is the last pitcher to start 37 games in back-to-back seasons. These days, pitchers rarely start even 35 games (only one pitcher did it last year). Stewart says that in his heyday, Tony La Russa would sometimes come up to him when he was warming up in the outfield and, “Gonna need you this series, big guy.”

“And he knew if he asked,” Stewart said, “the answer was always going to be yes.”

So I asked the Twitterati if they would like to see a return to this, a return to aces starting a few more games, even if out of order.

Dave Parker has Parkinson’s. It’s a devastating disease that has affected his body … but not his mind. He spoke slowly, but still spoke beautifully — Parker always was such a charismatic athlete. You might remember that he used to wear a Star of David, and when people asked him why he would say, “Because my name is David, and I’m a star.”

Parker has dedicated his life to raising money and awareness about Parkinson’s, so I would like to link to his foundation here.

Anyway, his poll related to the fact that for three-to-five years in the late 1970s, Parker has a pretty strong case as the best player in baseball. You could argue for Mike Schmidt or George Brett or someone else (Red Sox fans jumped in with their Jim Rice arguments; Red Sox fans do love their Jim Rice). But my point was: How long does someone need to be the best player in baseball for you to automatically say: Yes. Hall of Famer.

Some people misunderstood the poll … or I just worded it imperfectly. I wasn’t trying to say that a player HAS to be the best player in baseball to go to the Hall of Fame, not at all.* Most of the Hall of Fame is made up of players who were probably never the best in baseball, not even a for a year. I am asking: If a player IS the very best in baseball, how long does that stretch need to last for that player to be a surefire Hall of Famer?

*Though this thought did inspire a blog post that will be coming next week, and I think you’ll like it.

Let’s say Parker was the best in baseball for three years. Is that enough? So far the answer has been no … but he keeps coming back up for the vote. And maybe the feelings about him will change.

Finally, there’s McGriff, who I do believe will be elected very soon. And he should. I asked the obvious question with him: Would he be in the Hall of Fame already if, instead of 493 home runs, he had 500?

The vast majority of you think: Yes.

Assuming this is true — assuming that with seven more home runs he would have gotten 75% of the vote — I think we can all agree that is ridiculous. For one thing, seven more home runs would not change who McGriff was as a baseball player. For another, he hit 10 postseason home runs which gives him 500. For another, he had games taken away from him because of the strike and lockout, and undoubtedly would have hit seven more home runs in those.

I should say, it’s not obvious to me that it is true — not obvious to me that even with 500 homers McGriff would have been elected. But I certainly think it could be true, and if it is true, then that’s just STUPID.

I do think he will get elected very soon. I have said before: I’m not sure what impact the election of Harold Baines will have on the voting, but there’s no possible way to vote in Baines and not vote in McGriff. No possible way.

In any case, when asking questions — I couldn’t help it, I had to ask McGriff about his famous Tom Emanski commercial.

And he did three awesome things:

  1. He reenacted it for everyone, (“This instruction video will get results!”) with the point and everything.

  2. He mocked me for asking (“Even HERE I get asked about it”).

  3. He told the story of how the whole thing happened.

He was a developing young player from the Tampa area (he was actually cut from his 10th grade team) when he first met Emanski. Then when he because a a Major League star, Tom asked him to do the commercial, and he readily agreed. He had no idea the commercial would be played for the next 20 years. He had no idea the commercial would be played at all. He went to the park after a game, he was exhausted, they gave him a special jersey to wear. He did his line (I believe in one take) and never expected to hear any more about it.

Instead, the commercial was everywhere. Soon, every time he made an error, they would mock him on SportsCenter. His teammates would crush him about it all the time. And, mostly, it seemed like at least once every day — often more than once — he’d be in the clubhouse, and the television would be on, and the commercial would happen.

But McGriff insists: He’s never seen the commercial. Never.

He says that every time he would see the commercial beginning, he would quickly turn away, grab his glove, and head out onto to the field.