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Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010

Bly Golly, This Time He Can't Be Stopped!

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Readers of this page seldom see the words "Baseball Hall of Fame" without "Bert Blyleven" close by. Frank has a Hall vote as a member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA), but Artie's the one with a passion to see the right-hander for the Twins, Pirates and Indians in the 1970s and ’80s reach Cooperstown. Blyleven fell just five votes short last year, so Artie probably will rejoice when the 2011 vote is announced next week.

Frank hasn't been heard from since Sunday's twin blizzards of East Coast snow and Packer points, but the Observers already had held their Hall of Fame discussion.

Frank: Three years ago Jim Rice was 16 votes short of the required 75% and he made it the next year. Andre Dawson was 44 short two years ago but hit the jackpot last January. Meanwhile, Blyleven gained 62 votes to reach 74% at 400. Many guys make the Hall this way, building momentum over their 15 years of BBWAA eligibility. I got on board with Blyleven a few years ago.

Artie
: Well, enough scribes better be on board this time. It's the Dutchman's next-to-last year.

Frank
: He could still get elected in the "veterans" category, but that's tougher. The living Hall of Famers have a big say in that voting, and they're mighty picky.

Artie
: Bert had 287 wins and a 3.31 ERA. He's 14th all-time in innings pitched (4,969), 10th in starts (685), ninth in shutouts (60) and freakin' fifth in strikeouts (3,701). If he were top-10 in multiple hitting categories he'd have gotten in years ago!

Frank
: Also likely to be voted in is Roberto Alomar, who was eight votes short in his first year on the ballot.

Artie
: No quarrel with Robby. A lifetime .300 hitter, more than 2,700 hits and 1,500 runs scored and a 10-time Gold Glover at second base.

Frank
: Now for the rest of the 2011 ballot
.

The New Names

Frank: There are 19 first-timers and I think 14 won't get the minimum 5% to stay on the ballot: Carlos Baerga, Bret Boone, Kevin Brown, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Al Leiter, Tino Martinez, Raul Mondesi, John Olerud, Kirk Rueter, Benito Santiago and B.J. Surhoff.

Artie
: Don't say that name Surhoff! Every time I hear it I think, "Will Clark!"

Frank
: Whom the Brewers could have taken with the overall No. 1 draft pick in ’85, but skipped in favor of Surhoff.

Artie
: Clark was a lifetime .303 hitter with the sweetest swing ever!

Frank
: B.J. wasn't exactly a bum—a .282 average with 2,326 hits and 1,153 RBI, and he played catcher, both corner infield spots and the outfield. As a Journal writer I liked B.J. a lot. He was his own worst critic, but he was always accessible and candid.

Artie
: OK, a good guy, but not a Hall of Famer.

Frank
: Agreed. The top first-time guys are Jeff Bagwell, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro and Larry Walker.

Artie
: Walker is like Clark in that if he'd stayed healthy he would have piled up awesome numbers!

Frank
: As it was, he hit .313 with more than 1,300 runs and RBI and 383 homers.

Artie
: And a terrific outfielder. But it's not the Hall of the Very, Very Good.

Frank
: He's like Don Mattingly, whom I loved but don't vote for because he just didn't last long enough.

Artie
: It's also not the Hall of Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda.

Frank
: As for Franco, I was surprised to find he has 424 saves, No. 4 all-time and the most of any left-hander. He's third all-time among pitchers with 1,119 games, but pitched only 1,245 innings.

Artie
: Which means he was a "one inning or less" guy, ain’a?

Frank
: One of those modern closers who'd almost never pitch before the ninth and almost never come in with men on base.

Artie
: The criticism that "old school" closer Goose Gossage raised long enough that he finally got into the Hall.

Frank
: Bagwell and Gonzalez are matching sluggers, and Dawson provides some context. Dawson had 9,927 at-bats, 2,774 hits, 438 homers, 1,591 RBI and a .279 average but only .323 on-base percentage. Bagwell had more than 2,000 fewer at-bats but more homers (449), almost as many RBI (1,529), 2,314 hits, batted .297 and had a gaudy .408 on-base mark. Gonzalez had only 6,556 ABs but 434 homers, 1,404 RBI, a .295 average and .343 on-base.

Artie
: But Bagwell and Gonzalez played more in the Home Run Boom, which I think devalues those numbers.

Frank
: True, and like Clark they broke down before their time. And remember, Dawson was a top defensive guy, too. So I'll pass on Bagwell and Gonzalez, at least for now.

Artie
: Let ’em percolate, like Blyleven did.



The Big Controversy

Frank: This leaves Palmeiro among the first-timers. And talking about him means talking about Mark McGwire.

Artie
: Whom you've consistently backed, unlike most voters.

Frank
: I'll go over my thinking. McGwire was long suspected of, and finally admitted, using steroids. However, this wasn't banned by Major League Baseball at the time, although it was illegal in society. The entire baseball community—MLB, owners, the players' union, the media and fans—happily ignored the evidence in favor of digging the long ball. And after Congress finally helped force the creation of a steroid-testing policy, Commissioner Selig said there would be no punishment for anyone identified in the Mitchell Report as a suspected user.

Artie
: Time to "move forward," Bud said.

Frank
: I say it's not up to the writers to police MLB's game. If guys from the steroid era are on the Hall ballot, I look at where they rank among their peers and vote accordingly. If MLB or the Hall decides to ban someone from the ballot, as was done with Pete Rose, fine. But it's their responsibility.

Artie
: We'd have no problem with the Hall putting suspected drug users in a separate area—sort of like the kids' table at Thanksgiving.

Frank
: Or stating on a guy's plaque that he was suspected of steroid use. Or in McGwire's case, admitted to it. Or in Palmeiro's case, denied it to Congress but failed a test.

Artie
: Or in Barry Bonds' and Roger Clemens' cases...

Frank
: Oy. Those will really raise some issues in a couple of years. McGwire gave a dumb defense a year ago—"Steroids didn't help my performance, they only helped me keep playing." But soon after that I was struck by Robin Yount's comments to the Journal Sentinel's Michael Hunt that he would have been tempted to use steroids if they'd been readily available to him. "Without testing in place you would've almost been forced to do it to keep up" competitively, Yount said.

Artie
: That doesn't negate the fact that lots of guys didn't juice up.

Frank
: True, but Yount illustrated that for players the most important thing is staying competitive. And if MLB wasn't setting strong boundaries...

Artie
: So you're sticking with McGwire.

Frank
: Yup, and voting for Palmeiro too. Lots of guys used steroids but only one hit 583 homers and only one surpassed both 500 homers and 3,000 hits.

Artie
: But McGwire's other numbers ain't so hot. And it's clear that Palmeiro's power numbers zoomed in the mid-’90s.

Frank
: Maybe it would be good for baseball to face the prospect of inducting McGwire and Palmeiro—and having everyone discuss their roles in the steroid era.

The Holdover Names

Frank: Now for the holdovers besides Blyleven, Alomar and McGwire. I've never voted for Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez...

Artie
: Too one-dimensional as longtime DHs.

Frank
: Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker and Tim Raines. Last year I voted for Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris and Lee Smith.

Artie
: Larkin and Trammell are a matched set as exceptional shortstops.

Frank
: With McGriff, Morris and Smith, I don't feel as strongly this year.

Artie
: Morris isn't quite Blyleven—fewer wins (254) and a higher ERA (3.90).

Frank
: My skepticism on Franco affects Smith. And my reluctance on Bagwell and Gonzalez extends to McGriff now.

Artie
: So you're voting for...

Frank
: Blyleven, Alomar, McGwire, Palmeiro, Larkin and Trammell. You can pick a maximum of 10 and last year I had nine. But every ballot offers new comparisons. This year I feel less bountiful.

Artie
: Maybe the Republican coup made you more of a Scrooge.

Frank
: I must be drinking too much tea.