I gather most of the baseball fans out there have heard about the four Hall of Fame inductees elected yesterday, all of them no-brainers – Chipper Jones, Jim Thome (both on their first ballot), Vlad Guerrero (his second) and Trevor (yawn) Hoffman (third ballot.) I’m a little surprised that Chipper did so well (about 95% of the vote) and that he did better than Thome (about 89%.) I knew Jones was good, I didn’t think he was THAT good. But he had a lot of extra kickers, like being a switch-hitter with power and speed, playing for that great Braves dynasty and being such a good defender, whereas Thome was slow and not much with the glove. Then again, Jimbo hit 612 home runs with no trace of juice. And he’s one of five players ever to hit at least 500 homers with over 1,500 runs, 1,600 RBI and 1,700 walks. The others in this exclusive club are Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds. ‘Nuff said
I was delighted about Vlad Guerrero, who in his prime was just lethal – with the bat, the legs, the arm, you name it. And with a strike zone from his eyes to his shoelaces, he was awfully fun to watch. Mike Murley and I saw him play a game with the Orioles against the Jays in 2011, his last season. He could still hit but his knees were shot, it was painful just watching him try to walk. We had great seats right next to the Oriole dugout and Guerrero was on second when somebody hit a long single to right. He huffed and puffed around third and scored just ahead of the throw, totally out of gas. As he hobbled to the dugout his Oriole teammates were all standing up to welcome him with a razzing tribute – wheezing and limping around on invisible canes or shaking and coughing up a lung. It was hilarious and Vlad laughed his ass off along with everybody else. An unexpected and nice up-close memory to file away.
As for Trevor Hoffman, with over 600 saves he’s obviously much more than qualified, but it’s hard to get excited about a guy who spent most of his career closing meaningless games for those ultimate also-rans, the San Diego Padres….zzzzz He had maybe the least important great career ever. The Ralph Kiner of relievers.
The real mystery is why Larry Walker didn’t make it yesterday, or long before now for that matter. He’s been passed over eight times and only has two years of eligibility left and isn’t real close. Yesterday he got 144 votes, 173 shy of what he needs. I know playing so much in hitter-friendly Coors Field helped him and all, but only 52% of his plate appearances came there so that’s been over-exaggerated.
But look, it’s simple……baseball folk are always raving about playing the percentages and Walker was one of the best percentage players in the history of the game. His career slugging average of .565 is the 12th-highest EVER. His OBP is .400 – bingo, again – so his OPS of .965 is 16th ALL-TIME.
But there’s more. He won three batting titles – in 1998 (.363), 1999 (.379) and 2001 (.350.) He just missed a fourth in 1997 when he hit .366 with 49 homers and won the MVP. But he wasn’t just a hitter, he won 7 Gold Gloves and stole 230 bases, a lot for a big corner outfielder. And Scott Rolen, a respected veteran who saw an awful lot of baseball, has said Walker was the greatest teammate he ever had. What else do they want from him?
He missed significant time – about 400 games or so – to injuries in five different seasons, which brought his raw totals down. So, the voters are arguing what here? That he hit “just” 383 homers, a “mere” 471 doubles, that he had a “measly” 1,311 RBI and “only” scored 1,355 runs?“ That’s absurd. The HOF voters won’t put steroid cheaters in – and amen to that – but at the same time their power-number criteria and expectations have been wildly inflated by…….. those same cheaters. So a clean guy like Walker hits 383 bombs, which used to be almost a guarantee of getting in, but even with all his other great numbers that’s suddenly no longer enough? What gives here?
Baseball Reference.com lists his “average” 162-game season as looking like this: .313, 31 HR, 38 2B, 107 RBI, 110 R and 19 SB. He had about 12 or 13 seasons like that – if that’s not a HOF career, I don’t know what is. What are they waiting for? By the way, none of my advocacy on his behalf has anything to do with him being a Canadian, I don’t care about that. I just think he’s getting stiffed and I don’t get it.
Joining this year’s inductees are pitcher Jack Morris and shortstop Alan Trammell, Tiger teammates for many years, each selected by the Veterans’ Committee a few months ago. The total of six makes this the largest HOF class since five immortals were elected to open Cooperstown in 1939.
It’s nice they found a way to put Morris in after he failed ten times to get through the front door. A lot of his pitching numbers weren’t prepossessing, but for about 15 years there he was the very embodiment of an ace and he spearheaded World Series wins for three different teams – the Tigers, Twins, and Blue Jays. How many pitchers with pretty ERAs and multiple Cy Young Awards can say that? Not Clayton Kershaw, I can tell you that. And not John Smoltz, Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux either, so good on Captain Jack.
That’s enough for now, I feel better. Sorry for the indulgence and thanks for the forbearance, although a hint of baseball in January is not the worst thing. Think of it as a welcome harbinger of better and warmer things to come.
© 2018, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.