With the baseball Hall of Fame, one and done truly means that

Following the death of former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Cuellar on Friday, I reviewed his stats and saw he appeared on just one Hall of Fame ballot. Current rules state that any player who receives less than five percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) is dropped from future ballots but can be considered after twenty years of retirement by the Veterans Committee. The one year Cuellar was on the ballot, 1983, he received no votes despite going 185-130 lifetime and winning at least 20 games four times. It may have been a tough year, as a dozen future Hall of Famers were on the ballot, plus several All Stars who have yet to make it including Gil Hodges, Maury Wills and Thurman Munson. Still, I think Cuellar deserved at least a vote.

Other good players besides Cuellar fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after one appearance. After reading a couple of good articles today, which I’ll reference in a minute, I made a list. As should be obvious, most of these players probably are not strong Cooperstown candidates, though I could lobby for a few. More on that momentarily. First, here are some notable One-and-Done players:

  • Bill Buckner (2.1 percent, 1996)
  • Ken Caminiti (0.4 percent, 2007)
  • Jose Canseco (1.1 percent, 2007)
  • Joe Carter (3.8 percent, 2004)
  • Norm Cash (1.6 percent, 1980)
  • Cesar Cedeno (0.5 percent, 1992)
  • Ron Cey (1.9 percent, 1993)
  • Will Clark (4.4 percent, 2006)
  • David Cone (3.9 percent, 2009
  • Cecil Cooper (0 percent, 1993)
  • Mike Cuellar (0 percent, 1983)
  • Darrell Evans (1.7 percent, 1995)
  • Tony Fernandez (0.7 percent, 2007)
  • Kirk Gibson (2.5 percent, 2001)
  • Dwight Gooden (3.3 percent, 2006)
  • Bobby Grich (2.6 percent, 1992)
  • Pedro Guerrero (1.3 percent, 1998)
  • Tom Henke (1.2 percent, 2001)
  • Frank Howard (1.4 percent, 1979)
  • Jimmy Key (0.6 percent , 2004)
  • Carney Lansford (0.6 percent, 1998)
  • Bill Madlock (4.5 percent, 1993)
  • Bobby Murcer (0.7 percent, 1989)
  • Milt Pappas (1.2 percent, 1979)
  • Boog Powell (1.3 percent, 1983)
  • Dan Quisenberry (3.8 percent, 1996)
  • Willie Randolph (1.1 percent, 1998)
  • Rick Reuschel (0.4 percent, 1997)
  • J.R. Richard (1.6 percent, 1986)
  • Bret Saberhagen (1.3 percent, 2007)
  • Ted Simmons (3.7 percent, 1994)
  • Dave Stieb (1.4 percent, 2004)
  • Dizzy Trout (0.5 percent, 1964)
  • Virgil Trucks (2 percent, 1964)
  • Bob Welch (0.2 percent, 2000)
  • Lou Whitaker (2.9 percent, 2001)
  • Frank White (3.8 percent, 1996)

There are many more I could list.

Looking over the names, I think two are destined for Cooperstown: Simmons and Whitaker. Both were mentioned in a Joe Posnanski piece for SI.com in December, detailing notable one-and-done players. Posnanski wrote about how Whitaker’s number one competitor at second base from his era, Ryne Sandberg, easily made the Hall of Fame; he also noted that Bill James ranked Simmons in the New Historical Abstract as the tenth best catcher of all-time. I’ve read a couple stories over the last year or two that suggest Whitaker got shorted by the writers, while the Times piece said other great catchers in Simmons’s era overshadowed him. The Veterans Committee exists to select players overlooked by the writers, and I think Whitaker and Simmons both fall into this category, strongly.

I could also make cases for Clark, Grich, Gooden, Madlock and Saberhagen, though I don’t think they’ll get into Cooperstown. Before I spell out why that is, let me offer credentials for each player, briefly. A 2008 New York Times piece makes a pitch for Grich, a power-hitting second baseman who also won four Gold Gloves. Clark and Madlock were among the best pure hitters of their respective generations with each man hitting over .300 lifetime with more than 2,000 hits; as the Times piece noted, Madlock also is the only non-Hall of Famer to win four batting titles.

Meanwhile, Saberhagen went 167-117 lifetime, won two Cy Young awards, and has the third-best career WHIP, 1.1406, among modern-era pitchers not in the Hall of Fame, not counting four active players. And I think Gooden would be a Hall of Famer had his career derailed due to injuries, like Dizzy Dean or Sandy Koufax, rather than cocaine abuse, or if he’d been like Rube Waddell and made people laugh while destroying his life. As it stands, Gooden has more career wins than any of those three.

I ranked Gooden last May among the ten best players not in the Hall of Fame and wrote a post in November predicting Grich would be among ten future Veterans Committee picks. However, they and most of the men named above have slim chances, at best. Since 1980, the Veterans Committee has enshrined 23 former big league players. Three of the honorees played before the modern era and never appeared on any writers ballots, seemingly forgotten by history. However, out of the remaining 20 honorees, all but two appeared on at least ten writer ballots. Seven men exhausted their fifteen years of eligibility.

The knock on the Veterans Committee has long been that it rewards cronies. However, looking over the players it tabbed in the past three decades, many fell just shy of being elected by the writers, including Nellie Fox and Jim Bunning who came within one percent of the 75 percent of votes needed for enshrinement. All of these players were thoroughly vetted by the writers, and this gave them time, I think, to build their future cases with the Veterans Committee.

Interestingly, ten of the Veterans Committee picks since 1980 received less than five percent of the writer vote their first time on the ballot after they retired. These men are:

  • Richie Ashburn
  • Bobby Doerr
  • Rick Ferrell
  • Joe Gordon
  • Travis Jackson
  • Chuck Klein
  • Tony Lazzeri
  • Ernie Lombardi
  • Hal Newhouser
  • Arky Vaughan

Due to Hall of Fame rules at the respective times, each man was allowed to remain on future ballots. In fact, eight of them went on to appear at least eleven times before their eventual recognition by the Veterans Committee. The one-and-dones could only wish these rules were still in effect. It’s better than the stretch in the mid-1990s to 2001 when any player with less than five percent of the vote was ruled permanently ineligible, before this was reversed. Still, I don’t think it’s better by much.

The best baseball player not in the Hall of Fame

I was combing the list of all-time best career batting averages on Baseball Reference when I noticed an unfamiliar name: Riggs Stephenson.  I had come upon a few unknowns already and saw they were men who’d played mostly before the modern era, a time I don’t take too seriously in baseball’s history.  However, a glance at Stephenson’s page revealed that he played from 1921 to 1934 with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs.  The sponsor ad on his page proclaimed, “The greatest baseball player who is NOT in the Hall of Fame!”

I don’t know if I would go that far.  If we are talking every single player in baseball history, the best man not in the Hall of Fame is Pete Rose.  The second best is Joe Jackson.  However, the equation changes if we consider that Rose and Jackson were both banished from the game for sports betting and cannot be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Among eligible players not yet in Cooperstown, Stephenson might well be the best.  He’s definitely the best player I had never heard of.  (This is why he’s not among “The 10 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame.”)

Stephenson’s credentials include a .336 lifetime batting average, 22nd all-time, better than Al Simmons, Honus Wagner or Stan Musial.  Not an everyday player until after he was traded to the Cubs in 1926 at age 28, Stephenson hit his prime thereafter, averaging .346 from 1926 to 1930.  His best year came in 1929, when he hit .362 with 17 homers and 110 runs batted in, helping the Cubs to the World Series, which they lost 4-1 to the Philadelphia Athletics.

The big knock against Stephenson could be the shortness of his career.  He played at least parts of fourteen seasons but only had four years with at least 500 plate appearances (though he had nine years with at least 300.)  Overall, he had just 1,515 hits in 4,508 at bats.  Stephenson also played in the greatest age for hitters in baseball history, aside perhaps from the Steroid Era.  I could have hit .300 in 1930.

Still, it’s a little surprising that Stephenson never got more than 1.5% of the Hall of Fame vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America, dropping off the ballot after his fourth try in 1962.  He certainly appears better, on paper, than a lot of the players in Cooperstown now.  As he died in 1985, at 87, he wouldn’t make a bad posthumous pick for the Veterans Committee.

The 10 best Veterans Committee selections for the Hall of Fame

There are two ways to get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  The first is to receive at least 75% of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America.  Players get a maximum of 15 years on the ballot before they’re no longer eligible, and even with that wide of a margin, getting in is sometimes no easy feat.  Joe DiMaggio needed three years to garner enough votes; 300-game winners Don Sutton and Phil Niekro each needed five.  And Bert Blyleven has just two tries remaining.

But those who miss the vote have a wide net to catch them:  The Veterans Committee.

I’ve said it before on this site, but it bears repeating.  Late, great Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray once wrote, “To get into the Baseball Writers’ wing of the Hall of Fame, you better be Babe Ruth.  Or better.  To get in the veterans’ wing, all you have to be is a crony.”

It seems like if the Veterans wing of the Hall of Fame were to disappear tomorrow, there wouldn’t be a huge number of worthy players left out of Cooperstown.  If the Writers wing is home to guys like DiMaggio, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, the Veterans section champions the Joe Gordons and Jim Bunnings of the sport– good players, sure, maybe nice guys too.  Gordon is even from my hometown of Sacramento.  But to say that he, Bunning and others belong in the same Hall of Fame as some of the game’s immortals makes it seem like less of a Hall of Fame to me.

The official task for the committee is to find players overlooked by the writers, and definitely, it has succeeded admirably there at times.  Especially in the early years of the Hall of Fame, when selecting from a huge number of players was a daunting task, the committee helped find forgotten players.

Here are the ten best players selected by the Veterans Committee:

1. Sam Crawford (1957): Arguably the best player the committee has put in the Hall of Fame.  In a career that took place entirely in the Deadball Era, Crawford had 2,961 hits, a .309 lifetime batting average and an all-time best 309 triples.

2. Tim Keefe (1964): Kind of surprising it took 25 years after the museum opened for Keefe to be inducted, as he won 342 games during his career.  He won 30 or more games six consecutive years, including 42 in 1886.

3. Sam Rice (1963): A similar player to Crawford.  In fact, I get the two players mixed up sometimes.  They both were speedy outfielders from the early part of the 20th Century with close to 3,000 hits and a batting average north of .300.  Rice is interesting in the sense that he had his first full season at age 27, following which he served in World War I. His career didn’t get going in earnest until he was 29.  Had he started sooner, he may well have gotten something close to 4,000 hits.

4. Ernie Lombardi (1986): Arguably the best hitting catcher of all-time, with two batting titles, though he had a hard time staying healthy and didn’t make the Hall of Fame in his lifetime.  There was a myth about him that he was bitter about it.

5. Addie Joss (1978): A latter-day, right-handed version of Sandy Koufax, Joss died at 31 in 1911.  As it stands, he finished 160-89 with a 1.89 career ERA.

6. Heinie Manush (1964): Hit .330 lifetime with 2,524 career hits, holding his own with contemporaries of his era like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Al Simmons.

7. Chief Bender (1953): Went 212-127 with a 2.46 ERA in his career.  Interestingly, he had a year, 1913, where he won 21 games and also had 13 saves.

8. Johnny Mize (1981): Not a terribly different player than Hank Greenberg, though it took Mize much longer after his career ended to make the Hall of Fame.  Like Greenberg, Mize rose to stardom in the 1930s and had his career interrupted by World War II.  Like Greenberg, Mize would probably have finished with close to 500 home runs if not for his service.

9. Stan Coveleski (1969): Went 215-142 with a 2.89 ERA lifetime.  Over the second half of his career when hitters ruled, beginning in 1921, he won at least 20 games twice.

10. Orlando Cepeda (1999): One of the few picks the committee has gotten right in recent years, this honored Cepeda, whose bid was delayed several years by drug problems.  Interestingly, the same thing is happening to Dave Parker right now, maybe Keith Hernandez too.

Seeing McGwire through Rose-colored glasses

I emailed one of the guys that oversees this site today, curious what he thought of my post about Mark McGwire’s admission of using steroids.  He liked what I wrote and suggested I write about how upset Pete Rose would be.

“You know he is going to come out and say you banned me but hired a cheater that lied for 10 years,” my friend said.

I had to concur about baseball’s double standards. Rose got banned in 1989 for betting on baseball, while Ty Cobb remains in the Hall of Fame, despite the fact he told his biographer late in life that he killed a man in the street in 1912.  And Cobb is far from the only unsavory character in Cooperstown.  Longtime baseball writer Fred Lieb wrote in his memoir, Baseball As I Have Known It, that Rogers Hornsby, Tris Speaker and Gabby Hartnett told him they were members of the Ku Klux Klan (Lieb figured Cobb a member as well–what didn’t that guy do?) I could list dozens of personally flawed players if I wanted to.  Nobody’s perfect, really.

I’m not sure if I quite see Rose’s cheating as being on par with McGwire’s cheating.  No one ever said Rose hit a home run or won a game by gambling on it.  But I thought of another connection between the two men.

In a 1990 postscript to his seminal bestseller and playing diary of the 1969 season, Ball Four, Jim Bouton wrote about Rose.  Bouton called the all-time hit leader’s banishment from the game “cruel and unusual punishment.”  He declared baseball’s rule against gambling “an anachronism,” a response to the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

Bouton continued:

There’s no evidence that Pete Rose ever “threw” a ballgame.  But it is pretty clear that he’s a compulsive gambler, even though he denies it.  Today we know that compulsive gambling is an addiction, just like alcohol or drug addiction, and denial is part of the illness.  Accordingly, Rose should have been treated the same as baseball’s drug users; a one-year suspension and rehabilitation with Gamblers Anonymous.

In the wake of McGwire’s announcement today, many people around the blogosphere have been unloading on the former Cardinal slugger, including yours truly.  I stand by the statements I made earlier.  It is reprehensible that McGwire lied for so many years, however nice his belated honesty is.  But I can’t condemn him.  I might not support letting him in the Hall of Fame, at least just yet, but I also don’t support continuing to ostracize him from the game.

Addiction is considered by many a disease.  And steroids can be classed with narcotics like cocaine and marijuana as a drug of abuse.  Any recovering alcoholic who used steroids, except under advice of a doctor, would need to reset their sobriety date.  There are treatment programs for steroid abuse, just as there are for drugs, alcohol or compulsive spending.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that every baseball player who ever touched steroids is a drug addict.  I’ve heard only one in six people who use drugs typically become addicted.  Some people can take them or leave them.  But McGwire said he used steroids for 10 years.  That goes far beyond the experimental stage.

Stanton Peele, a psychologist who rejects the disease model of addiction writes on his website:

Simply discovering that a drug, or alcohol, or an activity accomplishes something for a person who has emotional problems or a particularly susceptible personality does not mean that this individual will be addicted. Indeed, most people in any such category are not addicts or alcoholics. Addicts must indulge in their addictions with sufficient abandon to achieve the addicted state. In doing so, they place less value on social proprieties or on their health or on their families and other considerations that normally hold people’s behavior in check.

The wild card in all this is that McGwire told Bob Costas he only used steroids for health reasons, not to gain strength and that he’d been given a gift to hit home runs.  That logic seems dubious, since steroids have been argued to help lead to injury.  Any health benefit would only come in the short term, if at all.

Whatever the case may be, McGwire sounds like a sick man.  When I look back on the Steroid Era for baseball, I see a lot of sick men.

Matt Holliday is back with the Cardinals, Andre Dawson is in the Hall of Fame and everything is right with the world… I think

A lot’s happened in baseball in the past few days.  The annual Hall of Fame vote was announced, with Andre Dawson being the sole inductee for 2010, and Matt Holliday, the biggest name on the free agent market resigned with the St. Louis Cardinals.  The part of me that likes order and tranquility has been soothed.

I feared Holliday would wind up with the New York Yankees.  I figured St. Louis was the best home for him, but New York seems to be where everyone winds up these days.  Those that can’t become Yankees become Mets.  I was 50-50 that Holliday would have a buttload of money presented before him and that he wouldn’t resist.  I don’t blame professional athletes, necessarily.  I think it’s human to feel guilty walking away from an extra $20 million.  But is there really that much of a difference between $120 million and $140 million?

To his credit, Holliday made the right decision, I think.  His reward?  $120 million over seven years along with the opportunity to hit next to Albert Pujols.  His future Hall of Fame bid just got a lot stronger.

Speaking of Cooperstown, I like the decision to induct Dawson.  His numbers seem Hall-worthy (438 home runs, 314 stolen bases and 2774 hits) and more than that, Dawson seemed like a star of his era.  ESPN is reporting that there is some debate whether Dawson will wear a Montreal Expos or Chicago Cubs hat on his plaque.  The guess here is Cubs, but that’s just a guess.

Dawson should be joined next year by Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, who were each within ten votes of making it.  I’m surprised Barry Larkin only got 51% of the vote but that’s better than what a lot of eventual Hall of Famers got in their first year on the ballot.  Joe DiMaggio, for instance, received 44% of the vote in 1953, the first year after his retirement that he was on the ballot.

Mark McGwire: Hall of Famer?

With the results of this year’s Hall of Fame vote due to be released tomorrow, I wonder how Mark McGwire will fare.  I don’t expect him to be inducted.  Each of the last three years that McGwire has been on the ballot, he’s gotten around 20% of the vote, far short of the 75% needed.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a few more votes this year.  And down the road, he seems like a decent bet for the Veterans Committee.

Initially, McGwire seemed like the first clear casualty of the Steroid Era.  McGwire appeared before Congress in March 2005, repeatedly refusing to answer if he’d done steroids, stammering he was not there to discuss the past and seeming, as an Associated Press writer put it, like “some fidgety Mafia don.”  From a public relations standpoint, it looked worse than Richard Nixon at the 1960 Presidential Debate.  The effect on McGwire’s legacy and Hall of Fame candidacy was immediate.

“He doesn’t want to talk about the past?  Then I don’t want to consider his past,” said Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News, according to the book, Bash Brothers.

Despite having 583 home runs and a higher career on-base percentage than Hank Aaron, Willie Mays or Al Kaline, among other Hall of Fame members, McGwire received 23.5% of the vote from the writers in his first year of eligibility, with eighth players on the ballot faring better.  He also finished ninth in 2008 and 2009.  And while others like Jack Morris and Tommy John have begun to climb the ballot in the last three years, McGwire actually got ten fewer votes last year.

Here’s why I think the ice may be thawing and McGwire may have a chance at Cooperstown one day: The media has started to relax toward McGwire, and his Congressional appearance, while poison in terms of PR, actually may endear him to the baseball establishment.

Ken Rosenthal recently wrote on FoxSports.com that he voted for nine players this year, but not McGwire. He wrote:

I have yet to vote for McGwire, but I am warmer to the idea than when he first appeared on the ballot in 2007. The more we learn about the Steroid Era, the better we understand just how deeply performance-enhancing drugs were entrenched in the game’s culture. My problem with McGwire is that his candidacy is largely based on power, and there is ample reason to believe that his late-career power surge was fueled by PEDs.

That’s not great but it’s also not the “Never talk to me again, asshole” break-up letter the Baseball Writers Association of America sent McGwire a few years ago with their vote.

As more and more steroid users have been outed, McGwire doesn’t look so sinister.  We’re also quickly approaching having the first juicer in the Hall of Fame.  Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens will all be on the ballot in the next few years.  It will look ridiculous if one of them is not inducted before too long.  When that inevitably happens, it should help ease the way for McGwire.

That being said, aside from steroids, McGwire still faces many hurdles.  He struck out a lot, hit .263 lifetime and had just 1626 career hits.  McGwire also had a relatively short window of dominance, 1996 to 1999.  Granted, those years were astonishing, as he averaged over 60 home runs and 130 runs batted in.  Otherwise though, he wasn’t much more than a high class version of Dave Kingman.

I don’t see McGwire ever getting near the votes he needs from the writers.  But I think he has a shot with the Veterans Committee.  When he appeared before Congress and famously refused to discuss his past, McGwire made it sound like he was doing it, in part, for the sake of the game.

“What I will not do, however, is participate in naming names and implicating my friends and teammates,” McGwire said in a prepared statement.  “I reitred from baseball four years ago.  I live a quiet life with my wife and children.  I have always been a team player.  I have never been a player who spread rumors or said things about teammates that could hurt them.”

I’m undecided if I buy the display of gravitas, but others might.

The task for the Veterans Committee is to find players seemingly overlooked by the writers.  The committee tends to be conservative, generally favoritive toward baseball-friendly candidates.  McGwire would fit them well.

The 10 Most Overrated Hall of Famers

Several months ago, when this site was in its infancy, I wrote a post, “The 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame.” It remains my most popular post, by far, and has lead to other entries. When in doubt, I learned, the Hall of Fame makes for thought-provoking writing.

Today, I offer a new list. Let me preface this. Bill James used mathematical formulas, years ago, to make his own determinations in his book, Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? I submit no such claim and, in fact, am deliberately not including his choices. There’s no sense in trying to compete with James, and I don’t know his methodology, sabermetrics.  It is one of those things I’ve meant to pick up but haven’t, like Spanish, HTML coding and guitar.  I also am putting a few players on in the hopes of stirring debate. I considered including Joe DiMaggio, but thought better of it.

Also, the following players aren’t necessarily the worst in Cooperstown. Some are, but most are simply guys who I feel got in unjustly, for one reason or another. Consider:

Jim Rice: He got in for what others did or, moreover, what he didn’t do. Probably. If it ever comes out that Rice used steroids, Cooperstown will have problems.

Bruce Sutter: After the floodgates opened on letting relievers in, Sutter was inducted. When I think of great relievers, I think Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, and from this generation, Mariano Rivera and maybe Trevor Hoffman. That’s it. I tend to be hard on relievers, just as I am on defensive stars and designated hitters. True Hall of Famers, in my book, are multi-faceted, game-changing players, the kid I’d pick first on the playground, no question.

Rube Waddell: I love reading about Waddell in Ken Burns Baseball, hearing how the child-like star pitcher could be distracted with puppies and lured from the mound by the sound of firetrucks. If there were a Hall of Fame for storied characters in baseball history, Waddell would be a first-ballot inductee. But the facts are that he won 197 games and drank himself out of the big leagues while he was still young. This wasn’t as funny when it happened with Dwight Gooden.

Dizzy Dean: Ditto.

Lou Boudreau: As noted here before, Boudreau was an extremely similar hitter to Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera belongs in no Hall of Fame, not even the Montreal Expos team Hall of Fame (which is probably in an airport restroom somewhere.)

Gaylord Perry: So, yeah, this choice might be controversial. After all, Perry won 314 games and reinvented himself many times. Among his generation, he was one of the very few best pitchers in the game. But he did it in part by cheating, throwing a ball that had more grease on it than an engine. Had Perry played a generation later, he’d have no shot at the Hall of Fame. Just look what’s happening to Roger Clemens.

Rabbit Maranville: When in doubt, Maranville is a name for angry supporters of a player who can’t get in the Hall of Fame, as in: “Why can’t Dale Murphy get in the Hall of Fame, if Rabbit Maranville can?” For good reason, as Maranville hit .258 lifetime. Granted, he was a solid defensive shortstop, but I’m generally against recognizing these sorts of players unless they’re Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel.  Aside from all that, perhaps the biggest injustice is that the year writers voted Maranville in, 1954, they declined to induct DiMaggio.

Phil Rizzuto: As noted before, Rizzuto falls into a class of players I like to call, “If they played for the Washington Senators…” As in, if they had played for the Senators, they’d have no shot at the Hall of Fame. They can mostly be noted for holding down jobs for long stretches on hallowed clubs. Others in this class include Earle Combs, Pee Wee Reese, Tony Lazzeri, Lefty Gomez and Bill Dickey. If Gil Hodges gets in Cooperstown, he can be grouped here too. Rizzuto made his name playing shortstop for great Yankee teams in the 1940s and ’50s, in the same lineup as DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Rizzuto did an able job, seemed like a nice guy, and had a long career as a broadcaster after he retired. But he also hit .273 lifetime.

Dave Bancroft: Bancroft is in an opposite school to Rizzuto, one of those players who can mostly be noted for being the best member on really terrible teams. I don’t like this kind of recognition, just as I don’t think it’s right to have a token All Star from the Pittsburgh Pirates each year.

Tinker to Evers to Chance: I’ll group together these three– Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance– because they were a famed double play combination for the Chicago Cubs in the early twentieth century. Defensively adept though they may have been, none had more than 1,700 hits or hit .300 lifetime. Without each other, none would have made the Hall of Fame.

The shame of Marvin Miller

The 2010 Hall of Fame picks for managers, umpires and executives were announced today, and while Whitey Herzog got the call (I told you so), Marvin Miller did not. The retired Major League Baseball Players Association executive director is 92 now and has come close a few times in the past decade, but never gets quite enough votes from the Veterans Committee for induction. He received seven votes this year from the 12-person committee, two shy of what he needed. Miller had the same number of votes as Jacob Ruppert, who can be remembered for employing Babe Ruth, and one less than a former Detroit Tigers executive named John Fetzer. Who exactly is John Fetzer?

In another few years, Miller could join Dom DiMaggio and Buck O’Neil, other baseball greats overlooked by Cooperstown in their lifetimes. Such an outcome would be a travesty.

Much has been written about Miller elsewhere, so I’ll simply repeat what I read today on ESPN.com. In his sixteen years heading baseball’s labor board, starting in 1966 when the minimum salary was $6,000 a year, Miller introduced collective bargaining, did away with the Reserve Clause and helped players win the right to free agency. Coming from a labor organizing background, not an athletic one, Miller probably did more to ensure the welfare of athletes than any other person. I’ve written before that I don’t think the end of the Reserve Clause is necessarily a good thing for baseball’s mid-level teams. I’m also not predisposed to electing baseball labor executives. Donald Fehr will never be in any Hall of Fame that I champion. All the same, I have to respect Miller’s contributions to the game and having visited Cooperstown once as a kid, isn’t that what the place is all about?

With all this said, it doesn’t look good for Miller. As I’ve written before, the Veterans Committee is notoriously conservative, preferring establishment-friendly candidates. And while what Miller did was great for players, it wreaked absolute havoc for owners, introducing never before things like player’s strikes and million dollar contracts to baseball. Just as Walter O’Malley reputedly fined Brooklyn Dodgers employees a dollar for mentioning Branch Rickey’s name after he left the team, what’s being done to Miller right now can be deemed payback, pure and simple.

Committee member and Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver put it well, to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.

“I agree with the process, but I don’t agree with the result regarding Marvin,” said Seaver, who voted for Miller. “I think we probably have to have a couple more players [on the panel] to have a balance in that meeting. That’s the thing I’m going to suggest. This is not about your feeling on Marvin Miller. This is about the history of the game of baseball. It’s a no-brainer for me.”

It should be for everyone.

Pedro Martinez, Hall of Famer?

An Associated Press story on ESPN.com is reporting that Pedro Martinez is eager to pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies next season.

Martinez is no stranger to this space.  I wrote in July that any team considering signing the veteran three-time Cy Young award winner should proceed with caution. Martinez proved me wrong, going 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA in the regular season and pitching effectively in the National League Championship Series (though he went 0-2 in the World Series and helped the Phillies lose to the Yankees.)

Regardless of whether the Phillies want Martinez back — and I’m guessing they probably do — the question I’m wondering is whether Martinez has adequate credentials for the Hall of Fame.  It may be a close call, and if he does get in, I doubt it will come on the first ballot.  At 219-100 with 2.93 ERA lifetime, he has more career wins than Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax or Dizzy Dean, but then, so does David Wells (read: Not a Hall of Famer.  Sorry, Boomer.)  Most other Hall of Fame pitchers have more wins and stronger cases.

Martinez probably garners the strongest ammunition for his future candidacy with his seven-year run of dominance from 1997 to 2003.  Were I a general manager assembling a contender between those years, Martinez would be my first pitcher, if not the first player I would want.  In that span, he captured his three Cy Youngs and was pretty much a lock year in, year out to win 17-18 games, record 250 strikeouts or more and maintain a sub-2.50 ERA.  Few other pitchers in baseball history have been in a class all their own for such a stretch.  Not to mention Martinez probably accomplished everything he did at the height of the Steroid Era.

From there, Martinez’s bid gets a little murkier.  He left the Boston Red Sox after a back-to-earth year in 2004, when he went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA.  Since then, he has had just one full season and has looked mortal, broken down and just plain old.  It seemed as if no team would sign him last year, before the Phillies mercifully gave him a chance (the city of Philadelphia seems to take some kind of abject pity on unwanted veterans– look what’s happened for Allen Iverson, not to mention Michael Vick.)  Of course, Martinez is hardly the first great pitcher to follow this path.  Dean, Drysdale and Koufax were all effectively done around age 30, as was another Hall of Famer, Catfish Hunter. Even Juan Marichal did nothing special past 33.

If the 38-year-old Martinez succeeds in pitching for a couple more years and gets his career win total in the 230-250 range, he’ll probably have no problem getting inducted into Cooperstown.  That being said, I’d probably vote for him regardless, perhaps not first ballot, but at least at some point and definitely before guys like Bert Blyleven or Jack Morris.

Making the Hall of Fame: One need only hit as well as Orlando Cabrera

I was just watching an ESPN video about the retirement of New York Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard, when I noticed something interesting.  Included in the feature was the lineup card from Sheppard’s first game, between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox in 1951.  Among the Sox was Lou Boudreau, who I never realized played for Boston.  I checked out Boudreau’s stats on Baseball-Reference.com and learned something else about the Hall of Fame shortstop: The batter most similar to him, according to his career numbers, is Orlando Cabrera.

To offer a Beatles metaphor, in the baseball world, Cabrera is kind of like Ringo Starr: He has surprising longevity despite questionable talent.  A veritable journeyman, on his sixth team at 35, Cabrera boasts a .275 career batting average and has never made an All Star game.  If he’s a Hall of Famer, then so are half the active players today.

Scanning the rest of the Top 10 list of similar batters to Boudreau, there are two Hall of Fame members, Travis Jackson and Phil Rizzuto. A lifetime .273 hitter, Rizzuto was little more than Orlando Cabrera in the same lineup as Joe DiMaggio.  Had he played for the Washington Senators, Rizzuto would be an afterthought today.  Other peer hitters to Boudreau include Mark Loretta, Mark Grudzielanek and Dick Groat, more guys who probably shouldn’t lose sleep writing induction speeches.

Granted, Boudreau arrived at Cooperstown with some impressive credentials when he made it on his ninth try on the writer’s ballot in 1970.  He was a seven-time All Star, Most Valuable Player in 1948 and led American League shortstops in fielding eight times (by comparison, Cabrera has won two Gold Gloves.)  As player-manager, Boudreau also helped the Cleveland Indians capture the ’48 World Series, and he devised a fielding shift to contain Ted Williams.  There are worse things in the world beside the fact that Boudreau has a plaque hanging in Cooperstown.

That being said, Boudreau appears to be one of the more overrated Hall of Famers, and I’m a little surprised the writers selected him, as opposed to the Veteran’s Committee. It’s also interesting to consider that Boudreau only has 99 more career hits than another celebrated fielder, Dom DiMaggio who can’t make it into Cooperstown, despite the fact that Boudreau got to play through World War II, while DiMaggio lost three prime seasons to military service.

Then again, maybe I’m just not giving Orlando Cabrera his due.