by Kent Sterling
There is no one less fun to be around at the ballpark than a health nut who insists on telling you how hot dogs are made. Snouts and peckers? I don’t want to know there are snouts and peckers in my hot dog. They are delicious with mustard and onions, so keep the dietary disclaimer to yourself.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is the toughest of all major sport halls to earn an invitation to. A player has to be named on 75% of the ballots, or he waits another year. A player gets 15 shots at being elected. Once they are exhausted, it is assumed that he is unworthy, and he’s dropped from the ballot. Then it becomes a matter for the veterans committee.
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Voters are supposed to be ten-year members of the Baseball Writers of America, but there are stories about many former employees from the Sporting News who continue to vote despite having worked as clerks and receptionists.
Even some of those who are qualified to vote are buffoons, and knowing how idiots come up with their choices is grist for the media mill every January when the announcement is made.
I don’t need to know how sausage is made, just be able to catch the smell of it on the grill before a slather grilled onions across the top.
There were 571 ballots cast, and it took 429 votes to qualify for enshrinement. Whoever voted by whatever means they voted, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas all qualified in their first year of eligibility. Rightly so.
Greg Maddux was the most consistent pitcher of the past century. Between 1988 and 2007, Maddux won at least 13 games and never more than 20. He threw a minimum of 194 innings each season during that time, won 18 Gold Gloves (more than any person at any position in baseball history), struck out more than 3,000 and walked less than 1,000 (one of two pitchers ever to do that; Ferguson Jenkins is the other). His career marks in all statistics are mind boggling.
It’s too bad there isn’t a hall of shame for baseball general managers. Former Cubs GM Larry Himes would certainly be in the inaugural class for allowing Maddux to sign with the Atlanta Braves over an amount of money that today wouldn’t keep the lights on at Wrigley for three hours. After Himes balked at re-signing Maddux, the Professor won another 245 games and three Cy Youngs.
Maddux received 555 votes in his first appearance on the ballot, which means there are 16 supposed baseball experts who declined to pencil in Maddux’s name on one of the ten available lines. There is no debating the idiocy of those 16 voters, but again, knowing what goes into the sausage shouldn’t corrupt our ability to enjoy it.
Tom Glavine was a teammate of Maddux’s for 11 years, and was nearly his equal. A winner of 305 games and three Cy Youngs, Glavine was a steady eddie who threw low and away with relentless consistency. Never overpowering, Glavine drove hitters crazy by never giving in. You either hit the pitch Glavine wanted you to hit, or waited for a mistake – and those didn’t come often.
Surprisingly, Glavine was invited to two more all-star games than Maddux.
The debate with Glavine’s candidacy was whether he deserved to be a first ballot enshrine – this was also his first time on the ballot. Because of the vagaries (arrogance) of the election process (voters), there is a hierarchy of hall of famers that includes a very special tier only available to those ordained the best of the best – those elected in their first year of eligibility. Maddux was a singular talent, while Glavine has peers, therefore the “logic” became that Glavine might have to wait for a year.
The voters did the right thing – again – by admitting a sure hall of famer without forcing him to wait needlessly.
Most hall of famers have cool nicknames – Bambino, Stan the Man, Mr. Cub, Splendid Splinter, Big Train, and Georgia Peach are all immediately identifiable with one of baseball’s all-time greats. Add “Big Hurt” to the list. Frank Thomas was the best hitter in baseball from 1991-2000. Over the 10 year span Thomas averaged 105 runs scored, 115 RBI, 34 home runs, 35 doubles, hit .320, with 114 walks and 78 Ks. He had an OPS of over 1.000 for seven of those seasons.
What Albert Pujols did from 2001-2010, Thomas did the decade prior.
And Thomas wasn’t done. Injuries reduced his ability to continue that torrid pace of statistical excellence until 2006 and 2007 when the Big Hurt reminded everyone he could flat out hit by slugging 65 homers and driving in 209 while splitting time between Oakland and Seattle.
This was also the Big Hurt’s first and only needed shot at enshrinement.
For those three, the news was good. For Craig Biggio, glee will have to wait until 2015 as his candidacy came up two votes short. The very good player with hall of fame level stats – including 3,060 hits and 1,844 runs netted only 427 votes instead of the 429 that would have represented 75% of the ballots cast.
More very bad news for Rafael Palmeiro – in fact the worst news for a Cooperstown hopeful – as his name did not appear on 5% of the ballots, so he is gone from the ballot forever. Palmeiro is among the suspected steroid users who will never be granted entry into the hallowed gates of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum despite 569 career home runs, 1,839 RBI, and 3,020 hits. Palmeiro was a Gold Glove first baseman, but made a serious error in wagging his finger defiantly at Congress when he testified that he never cheated by using performance enhancing drugs.
To be a cheat will keep you out of the hall, but to be a cheat and a dick gets you thrown off the ballot. As individuals, the voters aren’t too bright, but again, as a collective, they seem to make the right call.
Of the 36 men on the ballot, six received no votes at all, which puts an ignominious end to a dream that even a delusional father could not harbor for his son – that a mediocre ballplayer could be mistakenly voted for so many times by so many confused and inebriated members of the Baseball Writers Association of America that he would stand with three of the all-time greats to be inducted into the most exclusive club in sports.
Mike Timlin, Richie Sexson, Paul LoDuca, Todd Jones, Ray Durham, and Sean Casey will have to live with the fact that they finished one vote behind Armando Benitez, Jacque Jones, and Kenny Rogers (the pitcher, not the country singer/chicken roaster), who each impressed one addled voter enough to be mistakenly supported.
The glaring oversight was Tim Raines, who was really a damn good baseball player who should be enshrined – and will be at some point. He’s being penalized for cocaine use, and for moving heaven and earth to compel people to refer to him as “Rock” instead of Tim, which in hindsight is likely regretted by a guy whose reputation was tarnished by cocaine use. Raines finished with 46.1% of the vote, down from 52.%.