Tuesday, November 9, 2010

An Argument I Never Thought I'd Make

A special veterans committee is considering a dozen names from baseball's Expansion Era for Hall of Fame consideration. After some research, I've concluded that most don't belong in the Hall, but a few do. And at the top of the list is a guy I never figured I'd champion: Steve Garvey.

The longtime Dodger and Padre first baseman was certainly never a Bay Area fan favorite. Choose your reason: 1) He was a Dodger 2) He looked too smug and clean cut 3) He was a Dodger 4) He wore the Giants out.

Garvey was a .294 career hitter who won an MVP award (1974), 4 Gold Gloves, and put up some stunning postseason numbers (a .338 average, 31 RBI, and 22 extra-base hits in 55 games). And if you look at the 7-year core of Garvey's career, 1974-1980, you'll see why I now think he belongs in the Hall. Over those years, Garvey hit .311 and averaged 104 RBI a year. He was the best first baseman in the NL in that era, and I think his body of work stacks up very favorably against that of Eddie Murray, who's already in the Hall.

Why is Garvey's fate being decided by a special veterans committee and not by the Baseball Writers Association of America, whose members handle the bulk of Hall of Fame choices? Good question. Garvey never got more than 42.6% of the BBWAA vote (75% required), and some think it's because the writers found fault with Garvey's personal life (his ex-wife Cyndi alleged numerous infidelities).

Sorry, but that doesn't work for me. From Ty Cobb on down, the Hall of Fame has accepted all sorts of less-than-perfect humans who played the game well. Put Garvey in.

As for the others being considered, let's take a look:

  • Vida Blue Sorry, no. If there was a "most amazing year" wing in Cooperstown, Vida would be in for that 1971 season (24-8, 301 K's, Cy Young, MVP). But it doesn't work that way and despite 3 20-win seasons, I just don't see it for Vida (though I love the guy).
  • Ron Guidry No again. And again, that year. In his case, 1978: 25-3, 1.74 ERA, 16 complete games, Cy Young. But Guidry had a number of middling years, too, and never got more than 8.8% of the BBWAA vote.
  • Tommy John A prime example of baseball's fascination with pretty good players who hang around forever. Yes, he won 288 games, but there were only a few really strong years in there. Heck, John once gave up 287 hits in a season. It's enough that the surgery named after him has saved so many careers; leave him out of the Hall.
  • Dave Concepcion Great team (Big Red Machine), solid player. HoF? Nope. He's been on the BBWAA ballot for 15 years and maxed out at 16.2%.
  • Al Oliver At first glance, you say, "Wow!" 18 seasons and a career .303 batting average. And then you realize that "Scoop" never finished higher than 3rd in MVP voting, and only showed up once in the BBWAA voting (and with just 4.3%, at that). No.
  • Ted Simmons Sorry, but I can't see "Simba" in Cooperstown, either. Another guy with a long career (21 years) and decent numbers (.285 career BA). Simmons spent many years catching. Extra points for that, but he wasn't even the best catcher of his generation (see Bench, Johnny) and thus we have another near-miss.
  • Rusty Staub Ah, how I'd love to be able to recommend Le Grand Orange. But it's just not there. Staub did have some terrific years, but he had the misfortune of playing in an era with stars like Aaron, Clemente, McCovey, Rose, Bench and Santo (the last of whom probably should be in the Hall). Je suis desolee, mon ami, mais non.
  • Billy Martin Oh, boy. 16 years as a manager (5 teams, some more than once). 1 World Series title, another AL pennant, and three other division titles. Aggressive, hard-nosed baseball. But can you really say he's Hall of Fame-worthy? I could be convinced, but I'm leaning "no".
  • Pat Gillick They're trying to throw a bone to Canada here. No.
  • George Steinbrenner Absolutely. You may not like The Boss, but the man changed baseball (for better or worse, depending on your perspective).
  • Marvin Miller Same answer as above, only more so. Can you imagine someone touring the Hall in a hundred years and not learning about the free-agency era and the man behind it?

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