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Friday, July 29, 2005

More HOF Fun    

I think yesterday's and today's Page 2 columns, while generally on the mark regarding the whys and why-nots of near-future HOF elections, are giving a little too much credit to young players.  Things happen to young players far too easily.  After all, fifteen years ago Rafael Palmeiro was a singles hitter, while Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were among the most feared players in the National League.  So discussing the Cooperstown potential of young-to-youngish players like Miguel Cabrera, Vlad Guerrero, Miguel Tejada and Albert Pujols is irrelevant.  Today's additions to the discussion (including David Wright, Hank Blalock, Mark Prior, Roy Oswalt, Andruw Jones, Johan Santana and Joe Mauer) are equally unproductive, and that's without having any idea who picks 33 through 36 are as of this writing, thanks to a Page 2 goof.  I mean, come on... there's no need to pick 40 if you're gonna include more than 10 guys who haven't even approached the point where you can talk about it.  Not even Mr. Pooholes comes close, so why bother?

Anyway, armchair editing aside, I'm somewhat undecided about three of the older candidates:

1. John Smoltz
Great pitcher, not a HOFer.  You can say he played in Glavine and Maddux's shadows, but that's as accurate a summary of his Hall credentials as anything: he was never a true peer of theirs.  Between injuries and flakiness, he has far too many minuses on his record to warrant real discussion.  If you haven't got numbers, or health, or an extended period of utter dominance to look back upon, you're in trouble.  He didn't close for a long-enough period, and he didn't have enough 20-win seasons as a starter.  His numbers may compare favorably to Dennis Eckersley's, but Eck changed the game... Smoltz just plays it.

2. Curt Schilling
I think he's one of the great borderline cases of all-time.  He tests the reputation-over-numbers theory more than anyone else... even more than Raffy, after some reflection.  Schilling has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since 1993, and certainly has his share of memorabilia to contribute to the Hall, but he has been healthy, start to finish, for seven of his sixteen full seasons.  However, if you look at his numbers for those seven seasons, you will find that the lowest IP total is 226.1 (only 26 starts out of 42 games), and the highest is a gaudy 268.2!  He broke down so frequently because he was pitching his guts out, and for crappy Phillies teams no less.  He deserves some credit for that, and if he gets in I wouldn't complain too much... after all, he won Boston a You Know What, and there's plenty of less-deserving pitchers in the Hall.  But when you do the John Wayne tough-guy thing, putting your health on the line to win ballgames out of principle, Cooperstown is one of the things that you sacrifice.  Besides, if Schilling got elected, his speech would go on for three weeks.  So I'm kinda undecided on him, but I lean towards leaving him to the Veterans Committee.

3. Manny Ramirez
Manny will be the weirdest addition to Cooperstown ever.  He's definitely in... the only thing left to discuss is which hat he wears, Indians or Red Sox.  But boy... it doesn't seem right, does it?  In many ways he's a more dominant version of Raffy, where you don't really think about him as being great until you notice he's hit 418 home runs at age 33.  But in other ways, he's the player that Jose Canseco could have been.  Baseball was so miraculously easy for Canseco (for several reasons) that he became the most self-indulgent superstar since Mickey Mantle (pretty much).  But he took it too far, and lost his place in history as a result.   Manny has that same impish spirit in him, as well as the same ease with baseball, and has never taken anything baseball-related that serious.  Yet because he never fell into the same traps and addictions that Canseco and Mantle suffered from, he has managed to play his entire career the way he wanted to play, having fun and taking it easy.  There's something to admire about how dominant he has been, without ever really trying.  Isn't that an odd legacy?  How hard he didn't play?  What an impression to leave behind.

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