Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Goooooooose! And Other Hall of Fame Notes

September 3, 1978. Yankee Stadium. Yankees vs. Seattle Mariners, then a second-year expansion team and in last place in the AL West. Yanks trying desperately to close the gap on the Red Sox in the AL East, with a big four-game series at Fenway Park coming up the following weekend.

Catfish Hunter cruises through eight innings, up 4-1. But he tires in the ninth, the M's get to 4-3, and Catfish loads the bases. Bob Lemon brings in a relief pitcher. Public-address announcer Bob Sheppard makes the announcement:

"Your attention please... ladies and gentlemen... coming in to pitch... for the Yankees... Number 54... Rich... Gossage... Number 54... "

Richard Michael Gossage, already known as the Goose, had been signed as a free agent after a pretty good first few years with the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates. He was awful earlier in the year, and while he's since settled down, Yankee Fans aren't yet comfortable with him. And this is a tough situation, and the Yankees need all the wins they can get.

Here's how Phil Rizzuto described the last pitches to the next 3 batters on Channel 11, WPIX:

"Struck him out!"

"Struck him out!"

"Struck him out! Holy cow! Unbelievable!"

The Goose strikes out the side on 12 pitches, the Stadium erupts in cheers, and Yankee Fans love him from that moment on.

The Yanks inch closer to the Red Sox, and the Goose gets the last 7 outs of the Bucky Dent Playoff game against the Red Sox, the last outs of the Pennant against the Kansas City Royals, and the last outs of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Hall of Fame is a long overdue honor for the native of Colorado Springs, who, along with Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter (both of whom got in before him), defined relief pitching in the 1970s and early 1980s.

And, with his election this year, it's possible he might be the last Yankee to receive a plaque to go into the old Monument Park, before Yankee Stadium closes in the fall. Maybe he'll even be the American League's Honorary Captain at the All-Star Game. New HOFers and home-team stars are usually so honored, and he's both.

UPDATED: He had to wait until 2014, but he has gotten his Monument Park Plaque.

*

As for the players who missed election this year... would I have voted for them?

Jim Rice: No. And not because he was a Red Sock who hit my Yankees. A guy with his power and the Green Monster to hit toward should have more than 382 career home runs. He had four great years (1977, '78, '79, '83), 10 very good years, and that was pretty much it. Put simply, from age 22 to 26, and again from 29 to 33, he was one of the scariest hitters in the game; at 27, 28, 34 and 35, he was a very good hitter; at 36 he was practically invisible, and after that he was done.

They said that all this talk about steroids makes Rice look better, because he didn't use steroids. The thing is, though, with his early burst, downgrade, then renewal of power, and then dramatic dropoff and late injuries, he actually fits the steroid profile. I'm not accusing him, just pointing out the match. As we say here in the New York Tri-State Area, "I'm just sayin'."

He also was one of the slowest runners of his time, and was, at best, an average left fielder. His teammate Dwight Evans was one of the best defensive right fielders ever, and actually ended up with more career home runs, 385. Yet where is the outcry for Evans? If Rice belongs, then so does Evans; if Evans does not, Rice is hard to justify.

One final point, then I'll move on to the others: If I had told you during the Bucky Dent Playoff game that, 30 years later, neither Rice, nor Evans, nor center fielder Fred Lynn would be in the Hall of Fame, you'd have asked me what I was smoking. Yet Rice has been denied, Evans has barely been considered, and injuries turned Lynn from a guy with Carl Yastrzemski-like stats into a guy with Shawn Green-like stats, and who supports Green for future Halldom?

UPDATE: Rice was elected in 2009.

Andre Dawson: Yes. He hit 438 homers despite playing half his career in the cavernous Montreal Olympic Stadium, collected almost 2,800 hits, and won eight Gold Gloves despite aching knees. If he'd played his whole career in Chicago, with their media spotlight, rather than just six seasons, he'd be in, just like Billy Williams, whom Baseball-Reference.com says is the player most statistically resembling Andre, and who had fewer homers and hits, and has hardly anyone questioning the justice of his election.

UPDATE: Dawson was elected in 2010.

Bert Blyleven: Yes. No contest. He was third all-time in strikeouts when he hung 'em up. He won 287 games. He won World Series games and pitched for Series winners in both leagues, the '79 Pirates and the '87 Minnesota Twins, going 5-1 in postseason play. This guy was 17-5 at age 38. Why is he not in? It is the 250 career losses? Hey, you try pitching 11 years for the Twins and five for the Cleveland Indians, and see if you make it to 287 wins! The guy went 19-7 for the '84 Tribe, for cryin' out loud! That's like going 24-4 for a good team!

So he gave up a World Series-winning homer to Mark Grace. So what? He was 39, and besides, it was just a movie! (Taking Care of Business, starring Jim Belushi and Charles Grodin, with Joe Torre as a broadcaster.) Put the Dutch Master in.

UPDATE: Blyleven was elected in 2011.

Lee Smith: No. In fact, the best reason for voting him in is no longer there: He's no longer the all-time saves leader. Maybe the home run he gave up to Steve Garvey to lose Game 4 of the 1984 NLCS is what's keeping him out. A Cub Pennant might have made the difference. Yeah, right: You wanna see the Cubs in the World Series, go rent Taking Care of Business. It's actually a good movie.

Jack Morris: Yes. The winningest pitcher of the 1980s. He won World Series with three different teams, the 1984 Detroit Tigers, the '91 Twins and the '92 Toronto Blue Jays. The guy pitched a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 in '91. Who's got the guts to pitch that today? What manager has the gets to let his pitcher try it? He had control, he had courage, and he won. What more do you want? A career ERA under 4.00? His career ERA+ was 105, so it's not like he was lesser than the league as a whole.

Tommy John: Yes. And that's not just a "Yankee Fan's pick," since he spent a good chunk of his career with the hated L.A. O'Malley Bums. He won 288 games, pitched in four World Series (though never won one), had three 20-win seasons (one at age 37) and didn't walk batters. And that's before you honor him for being willing to undergo the pioneering elbow surgery that now bears his name.

If William "Candy" Cummings is in for inventing the curveball (a possibly dubious claim), and little else (a good pitcher by the standards of the 1870s, but he was washed up at age 28), T.J. should be in for being a consistent winner from age 22 to 45.

Tim Raines: Yes. The best leadoff hitter in National League history, 800 stolen bases (only four have more), and a very good fielder. Like his teammate in the Expo outfield, Dawson, had to go to Chicago (in his case, the White Sox) to get noticed. Unlike Dawson, actually played in a World Series -- two, in fact, for the 1996 and '98 Yankees. They both belong.

And finally...

Mark McGwire: No. And we all know why. You see, Mark, there are a lot of things that baseball fans like to talk about. And, very often, we ARE here to talk about the past.

Now, if the Veterans' Committee can get around to putting in Gil Hodges...

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