Is Gil Hodges a Hall of Famer?

I took my first stab at writing an Ezine Article to promote Baseball: Past and Present. I submitted it Wednesday night, and after a brief vetting process, Ezine accepted and published it this morning. I wrote about whether Gil Hodges belongs in the Hall of Fame.

I had two goals in writing this: 1) Get a back link, since Ezine has a Google rank of 6; 2) Attract more viewers to this site– I would be happy even if it’s one or two clicks a month, though hopefully it’s more.

I’ve heard different things said about article marketing. Some people say it’s better to keep your best stuff for your own site. I decided to write a good piece of original content for a category I feel I’m strong in here, the Hall of Fame. I don’t see the point of pushing out shit around the Web with my name on it, so I spent a few hours Wednesday researching and writing.

Anyhow, it’s a big day today. I am going to an old-timers lunch in Sacramento to interview people who knew Joe Marty, particularly one man who is a wealth of information but tends to be skittish about doing in-home interviews. After the lunch, I am going to the library downtown and intend to get lost in old microfilm for the bulk of the afternoon. Marty played in San Francisco and Sacramento in the PCL and Chicago and Philadelphia in the majors. If my book is to be done right, I assume I’m going to need to look at old newspapers from all of those towns and more.

The Hall of Limited Fame: The Inaugural Class

I had my first meeting on Saturday as a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and this site came up in conversation with the group. While we waited for others to arrive for our breakfast at Lefty O’Doul’s in San Francisco, I mentioned my most popular post here, The 10 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. Our chapter president asked if I included O’Doul, and she scoffed when I said no. I understand my words could be seen as blasphemy, especially given where we were at or the fact that we’re the Lefty O’Doul Chapter, but the man isn’t a Hall of Famer in my book.

O’Doul falls into an interesting class of ballplayers: Those men who were brilliant for short stretches. Their chances for Cooperstown are slim because, as late, great Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray noted in a 1978 column, “The baseball writers are sometimes loathe to reward a guy for a single, incandescent, virtuoso performance over one season. They prefer a guy who keeps doing a predictable thing over and over again. Henry Aaron, who piled up 755 home runs, 30 to 40 at a time over 20 years, will go in the hall by acclamation. Roger Maris, who hit 61 one season, more than anyone ever hit in one  season, will never make it.” And the Veteran’s Committee won’t help much either, as it does little for modern era players besides tabbing those who fell just short with the writers.

Perhaps the answer is giving O’Doul and his cohorts a Hall of Fame of their own, a place to honor men who may not have been Cooperstown-worthy their entire careers but played like it for at least a few seasons. I think this could make a great Web site, and if anyone wants to handle design, I’d be happy to write copy. The place could be called Cooperstown II, or better yet, Mini-Cooperstown. Until that comes to be, here are ten men who could be honored:

Player Claim to fame Highest percentage of Hall of Fame vote
Dom DiMaggio
Number three on my list of the ten best players not in the Hall of Fame, DiMaggio is a member of the Hitters Hall of Fame at the Ted Williams Museum and is considered one of the greatest defensive outfielders. Williams had a pamphlet for years in his museum detailing why DiMaggio deserved Hall of Fame enshrinement. His Cooperstown bid was hurt because he played just ten full seasons, missing three years to World War II.
11.3 percent (1973, 9th ballot)
Nomar Garciaparra
Looked like a sure-bet Hall of Famer his first four full seasons, culminating with his .372 year in 2000. He missed most of the next season injured, though, and was never again the same dominant player.
Not yet eligible
Dwight Gooden
Had more wins before his 25th birthday (100) than after (94) when his career fell apart. That would seem to be a dubious record of some sort, but every pitcher on this list shares that distinction.
3.3 percent (2006, 1st ballot)
Roger Maris
His lifetime numbers of 275 home runs and a .260 batting average are pedestrian, but when Maris shined, he shined bright. American League Most Valuable Player in 1960 and again in 1961 when he hit 61 home runs. He deserves enshrinement for what he endured in the latter season alone.
43.1 percent (1988, 15th ballot)
Denny McLain
Like Gooden, won more games before 25 than after. Became the first man in 34 years to win at least 30 games, with his MVP and Cy Young season in 1968. McLain won another Cy Young in 1969 but never again had a winning season thereafter, between arm troubles and rumors he associated with gamblers and underworld figures. He was gone from the majors by 29 and later went to prison on a RICO conviction.
0.7 percent (1979, 2nd ballot)
Lefty O’Doul
Struggled as a pitcher, with a 1-1 lifetime record and 4.87 ERA, bouncing out of the big leagues at 26. Resurfaced five years later as an outfielder and, short of Babe Ruth, is probably the most successful player to make this transition. .349 lifetime average, fourth-highest all-time, with 1140 hits; hit .398 in 1929, .383 in 1930 and .368 in 1932.
16.7 (1960, 9th ballot)
Riggs Stephenson
His .336 lifetime batting average is 22nd all-time, but he was a utility player most of his career and had 500 plate appearances only four times. In those seasons, though, Stephenson hit .362, .344 and .324 (twice.) The ad on his Baseball Reference page calls him, “The greatest baseball player who is NOT in the Hall of Fame!” and I wrote a post in January exploring this.
1.5 percent (1960, 3rd ballot)
Fernando Valenzuela
One word: Fernandomania. The southpaw swept into Los Angeles and the majors with his Cy Young and Rookie of the Year season in 1981 and thrived up through a 21-11 year in 1986. However, he was never as effective thereafter. Assuming he was being truthful about his age– and there has been debate on this– Valenzuela is like McLain and Gooden: He won more games before 25 than after.
6.2 percent (2003, 1st ballot)
Maury Wills
Wills didn’t reach the majors until he was 26 and did his best work his first six full seasons. He led the National League in steals each of those years and was MVP in 1962 when he stole 104 bases and broke a record set by Ty Cobb in 1915. Jim Murray wrote in the 1978 column, “Will someone please tell me why Rabbit Maranville is in the Hall of Fame and Maury Wills isn’t?”
40.6 percent (1981, 4th ballot)
Smoky Joe Wood
Went 34-5 in 1912, and as he told Lawrence Ritter years later in The Glory of Their Times, “That was it, right then and there. My arm went bad the next year and all my dreams came tumbling down around my ears like a damn house of cards. The next five years, seems like it was nothing but one long terrible nightmare.” Wood still won 117 games in his career, all before age 25. Like O’Doul and Ruth, he later played in the outfield, albeit with more modest results.
18 percent (1947, 6th ballot)

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 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.

Mike Cuellar: A Hall of Famer in a different universe

I saw that former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Cuellar died Friday at 72 and felt motivated to look at his career numbers once again. What I saw surprised me. Cuellar didn’t have a full season in the major leagues until he was 29. In spite of this, he still proceeded to go 185-130 lifetime, winning at least 20 games four times and sharing the 1969 American League Cy Young Award with Denny McLain. His WHIP* of 1.1966 is better than Hall of Fame pitchers Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton and Dizzy Dean, and in some parallel universe, I like to think Cuellar had a full career and is in Cooperstown too.

Cuellar falls into an interesting category, pitchers who didn’t get started until later in life. I know about a few of the success stories, including two I consider among the best left-handed pitchers of all-time, Randy Johnson and Warren Spahn, as well as Dazzy Vance and even Curt Schilling who looked like a lost cause his first four years in the majors until he hit his stride at 25 with the Philadelphia Phillies (there’s a great Sports Illustrated story about Orioles manager Frank Robinson meeting with a young punk version of Schilling, years before his emergence with the Phillies and asking him, “What’s wrong with you son?”)

Aside from the well-known success tales, what I would be interested to know is how many other pitchers like Cuellar could have been Hall of Fame-worthy with even two or three more solid seasons. Cuellar’s win total is close to Jim Bunning, Rube Waddell and Vance, and he has more victories than Dean or Sandy Koufax. I’m sure there are others like him.

Cuellar has close to identical lifetime numbers to one of his teammates, Dave McNally, and interestingly, the two have inverse career trajectories. While Cuellar was just getting started at 32, McNally’s career ended ingloriously at that age, the same year he and another pitcher, Andy Messersmith, helped end the reserve clause in baseball by insisting on their right to free agency. All things considered, Cuellar and McNally are probably somewhere near who I consider to be the best players not in the Hall of Fame.


*This marks the first time I’ve referred to WHIP in this blog. Until tonight I wasn’t even sure what it meant, but I learned it’s a metric measuring walks plus hits per inning pitched. That sounds like a decent statistic, even if it’s deceptive for a guy like Carlton, the master of throwing a 12-hit shutout. No amount of statistical nonsense would inspire me to take Cuellar over him.

I could write a post about how I get annoyed reading baseball writing that uses a bunch of stats to make a point as I think obscure metrics are often used today in place of logic without adequate explanation for unsophisticated readers. I prefer a strong narrative to a shitload of metrics. Still, using them seems equivalent to reading Harry Potter: Everybody’s doing it so I might as well too. Come to think of it, I really should read those books at some point.

Time for baseball to call an amnesty on Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe

This site has been in existence for a little under a year now, and my most popular post by far remains a list I published last May, The 10 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. It gets the most visitors, the most comments, and the one time so far that I’ve received any money from this site, it was because an online casino wanted to advertise on that page. The irony, I suppose, is that the ad was a text link to a betting site in the paragraph I wrote about Pete Rose, who’s No. 1 on my list.

The Hall of Fame, I’ve learned, gets people talking, and one of the things that’s stirred some controversy among my readers is that I included banned players Rose, Joe Jackson and Hal Chase unlike other people who’ve written on this topic, such as Tom Verducci. My take is: If we’re talking about making a list of all the best players not in the Hall of Fame, the list should be just that. Cooperstown’s rules for admission shouldn’t apply, at least in my view, if all we’re doing is debating the 10 best players not enshrined. It’s not like I’m offering a list of the 10 best people not in the Hall of Fame.

With that said, I think the standards for Cooperstown eligibility should change. I think it’s time baseball call an amnesty and elect Rose and Jackson and strongly consider the merits of Chase, a great defensive first baseman from the Deadball Era. Let bygones be bygones. On talent alone, Rose and Jackson are both immortals and earned their plaques long ago. Jackson has the third highest batting average all-time, .356, and Babe Ruth is said to have modeled his swing after him. Rose meanwhile has the all-time hits mark and probably also rates as one of the 10 most competitive players in baseball history. Without either player, the Hall of Fame doesn’t seem complete, at least to me.

Granted, what either man did to qualify for banishment is morally reprehensible, with Jackson helping gamblers fix the 1919 World Series and Rose betting on games his teams played in (though he has since said he played to win.) But baseball has long been a sport of questionable characters and unabashed degenerates. Cooperstown has honored cheats like Mike “King” Kelly who used to cut from first to third on the base paths when the umpire wasn’t looking and given plaques to Rogers Hornsby, Gabby Hartnett and Tris Speaker who were in the Ku Klux Klan. Regardless of if Jackson or Rose ever gets forgiven, baseball will still be the same sport that didn’t let black players in the majors until 1947, didn’t feature a black manager until 1975 and let the Dodgers leave Brooklyn in the interim.

I understand KKK membership was once considered socially acceptable and that gambling is a huge no-no, the ultimate sin in baseball. I think the game has long since made its point with the draconian bans meted out to Jackson and Rose. After the decades-long waking nightmare that both players received for betting on the game, I’d be astonished if any player wanted to risk a similar fate. It’s been like the baseball equivalent of Scared Straight!

Baseball could do well to forgive, but definitely not forget. Imagine what an occasion such an induction ceremony would be, what Rose’s speech might sound like. I think honoring Rose and Jackson would be amazing publicity for the game. I think baseball has suffered a lot in the last 20 years, between the Steroid Era and the still-lingering effects of the 1994 strike, and that’s just the obvious stuff. Baseball has gone a long way from being America’s Pastime to a sport of petty gripes and selfishness. Forgiving a couple of sick men who were also incredible players would be a show of the sort of altruism the game should welcome.

Jackson died in 1951, and Rose turns 69 in a couple of weeks. This opportunity isn’t going to exist forever.

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 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.