The votes are in for the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame class. Congratulations to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas, who will join Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre (who were all unanimously voted in by the Veterans Committee) as his years inductees. That means Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, and Curt Schilling, all of whom I think belong in the Hall, will have to wait until next year. As will player I’m on the fence about like Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa. This the last year on he ballot for Jack Morris, who I wrote about last month, and he did not make the cut. His fate now lies with the Veterans Committee. As always, there are arguments for and against players, and plenty to criticize the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) for, so now it’s my turn.
With La Russa, Cox, and Torre, the Hall of Fame is now opening its doors to three of the greatest managers in history. The three have combined for seven World Series titles. La Russa managed the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and St. Louis Cardinals, and won World Series titles in 1989 (Oakland), 2006, and 2011 (St. Louis). Torre, a .297 career hitter who was a nine time All-Star and the 1971 National League MVP, set a record for participating in more Major League games than any other player, coach, or manager without reaching the World Series. He finally got there in 1996, and won it. He won it again in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and reached the World Series two more times in 2001 and 2003, all with the New York Yankees. He managed the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s fitting that Cox, Maddux, and Glavine are going in together. They were the three most important people for he 90s Atlanta Braves teams that were playing every October. Cox managed the team to 14 consecutive division championships, and Maddux and Glavine were his two aces in the starting rotation. Also on those Braves teams were John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, and Fred McGriff, who should all get into Cooperstown in the future. That team should have won more than one World Series, but their accomplishments are still very impressive. Bobby Cox was their leader. He retired as the fourth winningest MLB manager in history, behind Connie Mack, John McGraw, and Tony La Russa, and ahead of Joe Torre. He also broke John McGraw’s longstanding record for most ejections as a manager, despite not having an explosive reputation like McGraw did.
Greg Maddux, nicknamed “The Professor,” had some ridiculous career statistics that put him on the short list of the “greatest pitcher of all time” discussion. He compiled 355 career wins in a career that started with the Chicago Cubs in 1986 to and ended with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008, and included an eleven year run with the Atlanta Braves in the prime of his career. Warren Spahn is the only pitcher in the Live Ball Era (anytime after 1920) with more wins than Maddux. He struck out 3,371 batters, and only walked 999 (and even then, 177 of those were intentional). He was an eight time All Star, a four time National League Cy Young Award winner, led the National League in wins three times, led the National League in earned run average (ERA) four times, and won an unprecedented 18 Gold Golve Awards. Inducting Maddux on the first ballot was obviously the right thing to do.
Tom Glavine, a mild mannered lefty from Billerica, Massachusetts, who was once also a hockey prospect, played his first 16 Major League seasons with the Atlanta Braves, before signing with the New York Mets in 2003. In 2008, he returned to the Braves to finish his career. Glavine was the MVP of the 1995 World Series, the Braves only World Series title since moving to Atlanta from Milwaukee to date (I have a theory that the Braves cannot win the World Series again until they move again. They have won the World Series three times: once in Boston, once in Milwaukee, and once in Atlanta. I’m still waiting to be proven wrong.). He compiled 305 career wins in his 22 years in the majors. Voting Glavine in on the first ballot was another easy decision for the BBWAA.
Frank Thomas was playing for the Chicago White Sox in the first Major League game I ever went to at Fenway Park in 1998. The Big Hurt was one of the most feared hitters in baseball for the duration of his career. That last sentence does not do him justice. Frank Thomas was an absolute force to be reckoned with at the plate. Thomas originally went to Auburn University on a football scholarship, but decided to pursue a career in baseball instead. Auburn was also Bo Jackson’s alma mater, which made it easy to draw comparisons to the two dual-sport stars. In the Major Leagues, Thomas was a .301 career hitter with 521 career home runs. He’s best known for his 16 seasons with the White Sox where he was the face of the franchise, a two time American League MVP, and the American League Batting Champion in 1997. In his last season with the White Sox, they won their first World Series since 1917. Thomas was not actually on the White Sox’ playoff roster in 2005 because of an injury, but he did get to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in their first playoff game against the Red Sox. After Chicago, he had a stint with the Toronto Blue Jays, and two stints with the Oakland Athletics. After he retired, the White Sox retired his number 35 and put up a statue of him at U.S. Cellular Field. Only five hitters in history have had both more career home runs and a higher career batting average than The Big Hurt: Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Willie Mays, and Manny Ramirez (Ted Williams had a higher batting average and the same number of home runs as Thomas). You might have heard of them. 83.71% of the BBWAA rightfully voted for Frank Thomas in his first year of eligibility.
One thing that irks me about the Hall of Fame voting is the emphasis on how many ballots it takes to get in. I understand that not all Hall of Fame careers are created equal, but right now it seems that the BBWAA is trying to spite the players who played in the Steroid Era. Roger Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers of all time and should be in Cooperstown already, but they want to rewrite his legacy by taking longer to get him into the Hall. The same is true of Barry Bonds. The Baseball Writer feel duped by the Era because they were the ones reporting on baseball and they didn’t do their jobs well enough. Cheating has been part of baseball as long as baseball has been played. Whether it’s pitchers doctoring the ball or putting pine tar on the bat, there have been numerous Hall of Famers who crossed the line for an edge. Major League Baseball took a long time to define the line with steroids because they needed home run milestones and other previously insurmountable records to be broken just to get people interested in the game again, after the players and owners nearly killed it with the 1994 strike. Now the writers who praised Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds without realizing they were juicing are out to punish them for being the best players in an era where everyone was dirty.
What is most annoying about this practice is that the BBWAA thinks they can pick and choose who did and who did not use performance enhancing drugs after they did such a good job of reporting that as it was going on in the 90s and early 2000s. Bonds and Clemens are dirty because they were caught, but Thomas, Maddux, and Glavine are clean? I don’t care if those guys used steroids or not, but I want to see a Hall of Fame where the best players from every era are admitted. Who are they to pick and choose who was dirty and who was clean when they turned a blind eye to the issue while records were being broken. Barry Bonds should be in already. As should Roger Clemens. As should Curt Schilling. The Hall of Fame and the BBWAA lose a little more integrity every year they are left out.