I want to talk here for a bit about memory, specifically as it pertains to sports.
It’s no lie to suggest that we grow up around sports, that they are imbued in our national consciousness from an early age. As we grow, we attend gym class, which at the time is something that we’re pretty sure is engineered to destroy the self-esteem of nerds and fat kids everywhere. Football becomes a religious experience on Saturdays and Sundays for many of us, and Opening Day and Spring Training hold equal power as we emerge from the bleak midwinter. Gentlemen on skates hoisting a giant, silver bucket over their heads becomes a sight worth crying over. Sometimes, the stars of a given sport leak over into our Bugs Bunny cartoons, saving the earth from alien monsters, yet dooming us to have to watch “Space Jam” every now and then.
Sports funnel our growth. They teach us lessons about teamwork, about selfishness, about loss and sacrifice. They teach us about what it means to not always get what you want (unless you’re a Yankees fan, in which case, go back to living in your shining city, it’ll all come crashing down one of these days!). They shape our memories. We can usually not remember what happens in a given year once that year is five years out (without extreme recall), yet for sports fans (or other major movie events), the ability to remember exactly where we were when something happened is a magical gift. By framing that moment in our consciousness, we grow older with our sports, and share our collective consciousness with our friends and family who are there to experience the transcendent joy that is a grown-ass man hitting a tiny white ball with a wooden stick.
My first memory isn’t really a memory, so much as it is a hazy, half-formed recollection of something going on. I was 1 and 1/2 years old, and had an erratic sleep schedule, to say the least. (I was 1 1/2!) During the 1988 World Series, my mom had sat up with me, watching the game. The Oakland A’s were up on the LA Dodgers 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th, and were one out away from winning the game. Up to the plate steps pinch-hitter Kirk Gibson, MVP of the regular season, and with two hurt legs. On a 3-2 count, he hammered a back door slider into the bleachers, and the rest is history. It might be that I remember my mom screaming and jumping up and down more than anything, but my first memory is a baseball memory.
Which is why you get to read about it now!
My point with memory is this: looking over the candidates for the Hall of Fame as they start to creep onto the ballot, I realize that I grew up watching these men play baseball. They are the heroes (and occasionally irrelevancies) of my youth, and now they’ve been retired for five years, and I am getting old. Think about it: five years ago (minimum length required for retirement) I was 21, turning 22. A ten to fifteen year career means that these players would have come up when I was somewhere between 6 to 11. And that’s not even counting if they had a 20 year career! These men have been playing baseball my entire life, and are the blokes whom I remember for various encounters.
Thus, an experiment.
In addition to breaking down their stats and analyzing their chances of getting into the Hall of Fame, I’m going to highlight several moments which made an indelible impact on me. For many of these players, this is their only appearance on the ballot. Some will disappear without even a vote being cast in their name. This is an attempt to show how their memories can potentially live on, even though they weren’t the cream of the crop as far as players go. (I realize this won’t work for everybody, but BEAR WITH ME.)
Given that there’s nearly twenty players here, I think it’s best that we get started.
|1990, ’92-98, 2000-08||1942||7037||1109||2134||421||39||332||1287||106||737||894||.303||.369||.516|
(As always, stats are provided by baseballhall.org, which also has a rather wonderful set of candidate bios for your further perusal.)
Whenever any announcer, color man, or play by play buy talked about him, Alou was always listed as being part of a long baseball tradition through his family. The son of Felipe Alou, and nephew to brothers Matty and Jesus, it could be argued that by the time he was finished, Moises bettered the careers of his father and uncle combined. He was famous for stating that he “peed on his hands to toughen the callouses” and for regularly being hurt (he missed two complete seasons to injury). When he was healthy, though, he could be a beast, though he never won an MVP – many hitters have that problem when they played in the NL in the shadow of Bonds. Rate-wise, he was a good hitter, but not extraordinary, and the Hall asks for extraordinary.
My chief memory of Alou, however, was his lapse into a baseball twilight zone, with which I’m sure any Chicago resident is all too familiar. During the 2003 NLCS against the Florida Marlins, Alou was playing for the Cubs and drifting towards the 3rd base side bleachers to catch a foul ball. A fan near the railing reached up to catch the ball, something any drunk Cubs fan has been trained to do since birth. However, it appeared that Alou might have had a chance to catch the ball. Alas, we’ll never know, because the Bartman ball rolled away. Soon after, pitcher Mark Prior melted down, and the Cubs gave up 8 runs, ending their chance of trying to clinch a World Series berth that night. (They went on to blow Game 7 as well) For Alou, this was upsetting, though he had already won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997. However, whenever I think of Moises, I’ll always think of his indignant hop of shame in left field on that night so long ago.
Verdict: He’ll get votes, but not many.
…I mean, they have to put some guys on the ballot.
Remember yesterday when I talked about what it would take to be a Hall of Fame relief pitcher? Benitez fits none of those qualities. He was a good closer, made it to the playoffs a couple times, and even garnered a few MVP votes (finishing 23rd in 2004). He was also known for being a little whiny and pouty from time to time. Regardless, when he closed, more often than not, the game was over, so there’s something good to be said for him.
Verdict: If anyone votes for him, I need to see their membership card.
Sean Casey was a Reds institution, known for being overly friendly, for his philanthropic efforts in the community, and for never shutting up. He earned his nickname because of his propensity to initiate conversation with base runners while covering first base. Not relevant conversation, either. Casey would talk about anything under the sun. “Hey, how’s your kid doing?” “Hey, you see the new Star Wars movie?” “Hey, what’s for dinner tonight?” I know this because of one time I snuck down to sit behind first base. You could hear him talking about the most inane shit from twenty feet away. The guy had a non-stop mouth, yet you couldn’t hate him, because he was just that friendly. There’s a reason he’s a baseball analyst now. The guy could make Barbara Walters look stoic.
As far as playing goes, he had a fine career, though he didn’t hit for power as much as you’d like a first baseman to. Typically hit for average, with several doubles, and a few RBI here and there. I was much saddened when he was traded, though it really didn’t hurt the team that much beyond losing their moral center. Which, for the 2000 Reds, isn’t saying much.
Verdict: I hope someone votes for him, but he’s not sticking around.
I usually remember Ray Durham from the book Moneyball, specifically as the player who refused to capitulate to Beane’s system, stealing bases against orders because…that’s what Ray Durham did! He could steal bases and hit for a bit of power, though he would never quite blow you away. As a leadoff hitter, he was quality, scoring 100 runs in six straight seasons – which is probably what drew Billy Beane to him in the first place.
His was a nice career, and I’m sure he was beloved by White Sox fans, though I can’t remember anyone ever getting that excited about Ray Durham.
Gagne’s 82 consecutive save record was amazing when it happened, not least because his pitches did things that were just downright unfair. They would break in filthy, disgusting ways, looking like a Tyco RC car that could fly, only the pilot was this crazy Canadian with goggles and a goatee that was just unfortunate. He struck out hitters and just flat out embarrassed them. Like I mentioned, his stuff was unfair.
Which turned out to be true. Gagne showed up in the Mitchell report as a PED user. Shortly after his mega-save seasons, he fell apart and never became an impact player again. Which is kind of sad. On the plus side, his record is fairly untouchable, so there’s that going for him.
Back in 2003, Tom Glavine was in danger of leaving the Braves, a free agent who was able to sign anywhere he wanted. The Braves, on the heels of winning something like 50 straight division titles, were beginning to bulk up on their payroll – keeping their Big Three together was starting to become something of an impossibility. Thus, the team looked as though it would let him go. My mother, a huge Tommy Glavine fan, wrote out a long, detailed email discussing his 222 wins for the Braves and his trademark durability that could not be replaced. To the organization’s credit, they actually wrote back a personalized response, outlining their payroll constraints that come with wanting to field a continued competitive team. Ever since then, I’ve always regarded the Braves as a class organization.
Glavine was one of the best lefthanders of the modern era. Anytime a pitcher actually wins 300 games, especially in the Steroid Era, it transcends rate statistics, showcasing durability, sustained excellence, and the central importance of the pitcher to your team’s success. Other pitchers might have been overshadowed by his certain teammate who we’ll be discussing shortly. Glavine, however, while not necessarily an equal, was nearly as good. And that’s saying something. There’s no question of whether or not he deserves to be in – he does. The real question is if he’ll get enough support to join Maddux and their former manager Bobby Cox on the Cooperstown stage. There’s a bit of silver lining to the ballots, though – if he doesn’t make it in this year, he might make it in with fellow rotation mate John Smoltz next year.
Verdict: Barely in, or barely out. Either way, he deserves it.
The 2001 World Series came on the heels of 9/11. It was the one year everyone was supposed to root for the Yankees, because it meant rooting for New York.
I missed the memo. Everyone must have gotten it wrong. Surely we weren’t supposed to root for the Yankees. That was like rooting for the terrorists! There was football for New York, and hockey, and the Knicks! Shoot, even the Mets. Not the Yankees. They were evil. Pure evil, in pinstripe incarnate.
By the end of Game 7, it looked inevitable. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling had pitched the Series of their lives, but it all seemed to be in vain in the wake of the Yankee dynasty. Sure enough, Mariano Rivera took the mound in the 9th, looking to close out another World Championship.
And then it all fell apart, climaxed when Luis Gonzalez drove in Jay Bell as the winning run, romping around the bases with his arms raised. I promptly went nuts, doing push-ups because nothing else made sense at the time as I watched in our downstairs family room. I went out and bought a Diamondbacks hat, because the team had defeated evil. All was right with the world.
Gonzo had a nice career, even hitting 50 home runs in 2001 (the Year of Barry and 73), and on any other ballot, he might warrant a little bit of discussion. This year, however, I feel he’ll go the route of Steve Finley and fall off the ballot, disappearing forever. Shame for Gonzo.
Verdict: Sadly, nope.
Holy shit, you guys! Jacque Jones is on the Hall of Fame ballot!
He was always consistent for the Twins during their run in the first half of the oughts. And that’s nice. But ask any Twins fan about how they feel about Jacque Jones and you’ll draw a blank stare. I mean, when your claim to fame is leading the AL in putouts (that’s catches for outs, for the record) in 2002, you’ve got a stretch of a case.
Well, he’s got the moustache covered.
He’s the closer the Tigers have wanted for years, but never had because he retired a while ago. His career is interested because he started out as a fairly dominant closer before he took a left turn into middle relief purgatory, finally becoming a closer in the twilight of his days as an MLB player. And that’s the story of Todd Jones, Moustache Man.
Ah, Jeff Kent, the man who dared fight Barry Bonds at the peak of his powers. Also the man who broke a wrist popping wheelies on his motorcycle outside his suburban home and tried to cover it up. Also the greatest hitting second baseman of all time – arguably.
Kent is actually a good argument for the Hall of Fame, if only because his career falls into so many spectrums. He was unlikable – yet he was a quality teammate. He hit home runs – yet never completely rounded out his stats. He had so many RBI’s – because he batted behind Barry Bonds at the peak of his career. He couldn’t play defense to save his life – yet when you can hit like that, does it matter?
Personally, I think he belongs in the Hall, if only because he was one of the best hitters of his era. Holding the record for most home runs by a 2B is also something to be proud of, and no small change when it comes to historical relevancy. It might take him a while to make it in – between his defense and general personality (something like a cross between a warthog and an alligator), he’ll wait longer than Roberto Alomar. Probably a five year wait, give or take.
Verdict: He belongs, but won’t make it this year.
Paul Lo Duca
I never got the fuss about Paul Lo Duca. Was it because he was Italian? Because he looked good in a catcher’s helmet? Someone explain this to me!
Well, he showed up in the Mitchell Report, so that was that.
Every few years, a candidate comes along with such universal acclaim that the question is whether or not he’ll go in unanimously. This is a silly question – of course he won’t! There’s 500 people voting for this thing, and SOMEBODY will say nay. (The classic argument is that Babe Ruth didn’t go in unanimously. The response to that is “go fuck yourself” because who cares? Cal Ripkin Jr. and Greg Maddux deserve unanimous votes but won’t get it because a bunch of dead guys didn’t vote all for one for one dead guy? Go screw.)
That being said, Mad Dog Maddux deserves to go in unanimously. Most consecutive 15 win seasons. Biggest inspiration to kids who can’t throw hard. A run in the 90’s where he was the Greatest Pitcher on the Planet. No, he supersedes that, becoming one of the Greatest Pitchers OF ALL TIME. It’s impossible to describe just how good Maddux is.
Whenever the Braves would play the Reds, Maddux would inevitably pitch. There were always three pitchers I was afraid of the Reds facing because I was SURE we would lose: Randy Johnson, Roy Oswalt, and Maddux. (If Maddux didn’t beat them, Glavine or Smoltz would. That’s just how that went.) I grew to hate Maddux, and then love him. Call it admiration of brilliant pitching, call it Stockholm Syndrome, the man was good.
It wasn’t a question of overpowering stuff. It was a question of overpowering knowledge, where Maddux would outsmart everyone on the team, the bench, and in the right field bleachers, just because he could. One of my favorite Maddux stories is that he would be sitting in the dugout while teammates were batting. He would then call out, without warning, “He’s gonna foul it in here.” Four times in his career he said that. Four times, the hitter would subsequently drive a foul ball into the dugout. The man was a genius.
Verdict: It’s not a question of “Will he make it?” but “Which mooks won’t vote for him?” Yes, yes, a hundred times yes.
Mike Mussina had a brilliant career, which was unfortunately timed to come amidst the Steroid Era, as well as continually being surrounded by amazing pitchers. Martinez, Johnson, Clemens, Maddux, Glavine, all of them pitching at the same time, occasionally even on the same staff. When you’re pitching alongside Clemens, David Wells, and whatever nutjob Steinbrenner’s run in, you’re going to be overshadowed. Mussina (or “Moose”, a nickname I loved above all others) pitched most (all) of his career in the slugger heavy AL East, which makes his lifetime ERA of 3.68 all the more impressive. 270 wins is downright unachievable by modern standards – C.C. Sabathia has the best chance, and I just don’t think that’s going to happen too soon.
Poor Moose. I can’t tell you how many games I watched at the end of the year, wondering if he would finally win 20, only for it to be pulled away cruelly at the last second. For whatever reason, the man could not win 20 games. Derek Lowe could do it on a whim, but not Moose, one of the best pitchers in the league. There’s really no luster that comes with a 20 win season – it’s just one of those round numbers that baseball irrationally loves. Yet, in September of 2008, I still cheered when Moose finally won his 20th game in a year. It was exciting. It was riveting. You could tell how much it meant to him.
And then the bastard retired. With 300 wins potentially in view. He just knew when it was time to hang ’em up.
I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He was too good for too long not to belong. His numbers don’t pop like a Glavine or a Smoltz, but he was their equal. He belongs. It might take a few years, though, but hopefully not too long.
Verdict: Yes, but after a brief wait.
Nomo was the first major Japanese import, which sounds cruel and racist, but I’ve read that so many times over the last few weeks that it’s soaked into my brain. He had a decent career, and even threw two no-hitters, which is pretty impressive. It’s a career anyone should be proud of…but it’s not Hall of Fame worthy.
My chief memory is of trying to imitate his pitching motion…and nearly throwing my shoulder out. Kids, do not try this at home.
Many people look at “The Gambler” as the pinnacle of his career, yet choose to overwrite this as a “song you’ve heard so much, it’s old hat”. This erases the brilliance of the song itself. It’s a masterpiece of minimalist construction, and well representative of Rogers overall career.
Oops. This is the guy we wanted.
Sorry. Won’t happen again.
Kenny Rogers had a good career, though not quite Hall of Fame worthy. (People are in uproar because Jack Morris’ 3.90 ERA would be the highest in the hall. Oh yeah? How about Mr. Rogers and his 4.27?!) I mean, he threw a perfect game, which until about three years ago didn’t happen very much, so nobody can take that away from him. Mostly, I remember him for punching a cameraman, and for “cheating” during Detroit’s 2006 playoff run. A colorful character, but not a Hall of Fame player.
There was a time when Richie Sexson was a premier power hitter in the NL. He was the perennial All-Star for the Brewers, before tanking utterly and completely with the Mariners. He hit 45 home runs more often than Hank Aaron did. He’s one of 126 players to have hit 300 home runs.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
When your claim to baseball glory is that you’ve won the Gold Glove at 1B 6 times, you know you have problems with your career. He never did hit much, drove in a few runs, couldn’t steal, but man, could he play 1B.
And then there’s the time during the 2002 World Series. J.T. Snow had already broken for home on a Kenny Lofton triple when he noticed 3 year old Darren Baker, son of manager Dusty, walking to the plate to collect Lofton’s bat. Knowing that David Bell was directly behind him and not likely to stop, JT Snow prevented the collision that would have broken a hundred hearts, grabbing Darren and swooping him aloft, out of danger. It was an utterly endearing and humanizing moment, one that led to an age restriction on bat boys. It’s a nice memory, one of the few that Giants fans have of that Series. And it’ll have to do for the quaint career of JT Snow.
Frank Thomas scared me.
I mean, I knew he was an athlete, who played in a city far away from me, who I would never ever encounter in my life. Yet something about the Big Hurt always made me uneasy. Maybe it was because he was nicknamed the Big Hurt. Who could say? All I know is he scared me.
A few fun facts:
- Thomas is one of seven players in history to retire with a golden ratio: a .300 batting average, .400 OBP, and .500 slugging in 10,000 plate appearances (at bats plus walks plus hit by pitches, etc.)
- Thomas walked more than he struck out for his career.
- He walked 100 or more times 10 times, striking out 100 or more times in only three seasons.
- He played tight end for an Auburn team that finished 6th in 1986, winning the Citrus Bowl.
- From 1993 to 1997, he ate planets
I made that last one up.
What also must be said is that Thomas is a longtime outspoken advocate of testing for PED’s, dating as far back as 1995. When other players wanted to bury their heads in the sand, Thomas was calling for an open door policy. He – and a handful of teammates – refused to participate in the 2003 anonymous survey not because of guilt, but because of a desire that mandatory testing would be established. If anyone has suspicions about Thomas, they are certainly ill-founded, if not unfounded. With that in mind, as well as a career that rivals Ted Williams, Thomas is a no-doubt Hall of Famer.
And then there’s this guy.
You make up your own minds on him.
In the meantime, I’ll regale you with stories of the 2004 Red Sox.
He pitched for them at some points. I do remember his name. I also remember that when he came up that year, other hitters tended to get out.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
There you have it. The newcomers to the ballot. To review, the ones to which I said “yays” to are:
- Tom Glavine
- Jeff Kent
- Greg Maddux
- Mike Mussina
- Frank Thomas
That’s five players, added to the backlog on the ballot already.
What does this mean?
I’ll explain in my next column. Until then, cheers.