Yankee greats fall short of Hall

It looks like the only Yankee headed to Cooperstown this year is Joe Torre.

According to the election rules, the eligible players must receive at least 75% of the votes to be elected to the Hall of Fame. This year, only three made the cut. Former Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine garnered 97.2% and 91.9%, respectively, and former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas earned 83.7%. Maddux and Glavine certainly were part of the dynamic Braves dynasty in the 90’s that led them to the World Series three times — the 1995 win over the Indians and the 1996 and 1999 losses to the Yankees. Both were truly outstanding, earning an unheard of number of win in the era of power-slugging with the aid of steroid and PEDs. Thomas had the unfortunate luck of being on the White Sox in a post-season slump era of the Chicago team; Thomas helped the Chicago team at least vie for October in 1993 and 2000, between his outstanding hitting (he ended his 19 year career with a .301 average) and his time at 1st base.

More rules restrict who can appear on the ballot next year. If players fail to get at least 5% of the votes or if they are on the ballot for 15 years without getting the 75% to be elected, they are automatically disqualified from future ballots. A slew of 1st year nominees are eliminated due to low voting and only one 15 year veteran nominee won’t make next year’s list (a total of 16 eliminations).

A few interesting things happened on the ballot this year. 2nd year nominee Craig Biggio (Astros) fell just .2% of the line, which is close enough to believe next year might be the year for him. And another 2nd year nominee Mike Piazza (Mets) came in with 62.2%. Piazza’s been dodging PED rumors for years, which is another interesting revelation about this year’s ballot. Most of those who were either rumored or confessed to using PEDs (like Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, and Piazza) failed once again to make the cut but still garnered enough votes to stay in the running. I think there’s some internal battle between their honest potential and great numbers during the unregulated “steroid era” and the desire to see and keep a clean game now. In the same vein of recognizing and honoring true heroes who exemplify the class and dignity and integrity of the game, I think there will be a continual struggle as more and more from that era continue to age out and retire in the days to come.

Former Yankees Roger Clemens (2nd year), Mike Mussina (1st year), and Don Mattingly (14th year) all failed to make the cut. Clemens, though officially cleared of any misdoing with PEDs, is still tainted in many people’s minds and that could ultimately keep him from the Hall. Mussina earned just 20.3% of the votes, which means he has a steep road to climb to get that 75% one day; the score was awfully low in light of Mussina’s outstanding career, but perhaps in this class with Maddux and Glavine, Mussina gets a little overshadowed. And with Mattingly, I’m guessing he will have to wait for the Veterans’ Committee Ballot one day.

It’s so easy to imagine Hall of Fame inductions for some of the recent and current Yankees, but the truth is that because there’s a voting process, nothing is certain. Sure, players like Mariano Rivera seem like a first ballot shoo-in (and most people believe he should be the first 100% ever inducted), but there’s a lot of anti-Yankee sentiment among the Baseball Writers, even for universally admired players like Rivera. Ultimately, it’s a popularity contest, and being on the “wrong team” or associated with the “wrong kind of people” or whatever could very easily leave someone out in the cold. I’m not sure how many people elected to the Hall decades ago would fare with today’s “standards” and today’s 24/7 media coverage, exposing less-than-ideal character qualities and habits in many players we, a few generations later, esteem as the “best of the best”.

Maybe there was a bit of a push in the early days of Cooperstown to fill in as many spots as possible, remembering as many people who played the game we love before they disappeared into oblivion. It seems that more recently the Hall has been more restrictive with its allowances, as if the spots were few and far between. Even now, when people talk about potential Hall of Famers, it’s spoken with due reverence but also as if it’s nearly impossible for even the greats to achieve such an honor. And as the years pass, that standard continues to be raised for every generation, every new class of nominees. But will we keep raising that bar until there is no more elections because there is no perfect player? There is a difference between excellence and perfection. No one expects perfection, but Cooperstown should always honor excellence. If they hit that eventual standard of perfection only, the Hall will undoubtedly be filled with many flawed men from days gone by and that gap between the standard that was and the standard that is will grow until we alienate current generations of little leaguers from professional ball.

Always strive for excellence, keeping that standard high and honoring it wherever you see it. You’ll know it when you see it.

Go Yankees!

Hall-of-Fame ballots out

The 2014 Hall of Fame ballot went out today for all eligible BBWAA member to submit their votes. Since I am not one, I can discuss all my opinions on here with my faithful readers. Last year, the only new members were part of the Veterans’ Ballot, a special election as voted on by a small committee composed mostly of Hall-of-Fame players, executives, and other historians.

This year 19 new names are on the ballot — Moises Alou, Armando Benitez, Sean Casey, Ray Durham, Eric Gagne, Tom Glavine, Luis Gonzalez, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones, Jeff Kent, Paul Lo Duca, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, Hideo Nomo, Kenny Rogers, Richie Sexson, J.T. Snow, Frank Thomas, and Mike Timlin. Making their second appearance on the ballot — Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa. Other repeat candidates: Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, and Larry Walker (4th year); Edgar Martinez and Fred McGriff (5th year); Tim Raines (7th year); Mark McGwire (8th year); Lee Smith (12th year); Alan Trammell (13th year); Don Mattingly (14th year); and Jack Morris (15th year).

Here’s how it works: all the candidates are then voted on by the BBWAA (Baseball Writer’s Association of America). Each voter can vote for up to 10 candidates; though this year, many may have trouble limiting their votes to just 10. Any candidate with at least 75% of the votes is then elected into the Hall of Fame; last year, the highest a candidate scored was 68.2% and thus missed the cut-off for the Hall. (Biggio is thus back on this year’s ballot.) Any candidate with less than 5% of the votes will be dropped from future voting years, unless they are deemed eligible for the Veterans’ Ballot, but they can never appear on a BBWAA ballot. A player who fails to be elected by the BBWAA within 20 years of his retirement can then be selected by the Veterans Committee.

This year the Veterans Committee has selected a variety of nominees for the Hall of Fame that will be voted on by the smaller committee — Dave Conception, Bobby Cox, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Tony La Russa, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons, George Steinbrenner, and Joe Torre.

So for Yankee fans, here’s the Yankee-related news…

Former pitcher Mike Mussina is making his first year on the ballot. Mussina has a close call career of sorts, as detailed by a recent MLB article, as runner-up for a Cy Young Award (1999), one inning short of a World Series championship, and one strike away from a perfect game (2001). Mussina split his 18 years between the Yankees and the Orioles with a career 3.68 ERA, 5-time All-Star, and 7-time Gold Glove winner. Mussina was with the Yankees for the last of his career (2001-2008), and earned his only 20 win season in 2008 with the Yankees.

Two repeat Yankee candidates certainly had very different careers. Roger Clemens, in his 2nd appearance on the ballot, certainly had the kind of career that Hall of Fame voters look for. Originally with Boston and a couple of years in Toronto, Clemens spent some key years with the Yankees (1999-2003), then a short jaunt to Houston, before heading back to finish his career with the Yankees in 2007. With a career ERA 3.12, 354 wins in 709 games, and almost 5000 innings pitched, Clemens seems like a shoo-in, except for those lingering rumors about possible PED usage. Clemens was cleared of those charges in 2012, but rumors do what rumors do best — linger, contaminate, and refuse to die.

Don Mattingly, on the other hand, is looking at his 14th year on the ballot. Donnie Baseball spent his entire career with the Yankees (1982-1995) and never earned a single World Series win. Unfortunately for him, his career landed him in the middle of the low point of the recent Yankees’ history, just a year short of that storied 1996 birth of a new dynasty. Mattingly racked up 2,153 hits, 222 home runs, 1099 RBIs, and a lifetime .307 batting average. And while he will always be beloved by Yankee fans and memorialized as part of Monument Park (#23), Hall of Fame votes can’t seem to cross that threshold to Cooperstown immortality for him. Perhaps, it’s because he’s still technically “in the game” as manager of the LA Dodgers. Or perhaps, the numbers just aren’t enough for the voters.

Here are my quick thoughts to wrap up tonight. I really don’t see them voting in Mussina this early; I’d give it a few rounds. He’s close, but with this ballot, I just don’t think he’s got it made this year. Clemens will forever be chased by those rumors because of all people baseball writers do not forgive and forget any time soon; too many of those still on the ballot have been dodging those rumors for years, and with better numbers. It’ll be a long shot for years to come. Mattingly probably won’t get voted in this year, but I could see a Veterans Committee vote sometime in the next decade. He will end up there eventually, but I’m guessing his current activity hindered him, like it did Torre for so long. Speaking of Torre, he, Steinbrenner, and Martin should all slide into the Hall via that Veterans Committee because of their enormous contributions for baseball in general, let along for the Yankees; but Steinbrenner and Martin were so polarizing, short of some objective sentimentality, it might be a stretch for some votes, who might also have trouble electing a current MLB executive like Torre.

And while I do have an opinion about many of the other candidates (and honestly, some very poignant baseball memories about a couple of them), it will be interesting to see how the voters swing. I’m guessing though, unlike last year, we’ll have about 5 or 6 new Hall-of-Fame inductees this year.

Still on my bucket list: Cooperstown.

Go Yankees!