I should be excited for Teemu Selanne, the Finnish Flash. I should be excited for Dave Andreychuk, who scored 640 goals and should have gotten in years ago. I should be excited for Paul Kariya, who is the first Hall of Famer from the University of Maine. I should be excited for Mark Recchi, who won three Stanley Cups with three different teams, and who was the old man mentor on my favorite hockey team ever. I should be excited for Danielle Goyette, because I have cousins named Goyette and maybe they’re related, however distantly. Instead, I’m just annoyed that Jeremy Jacobs is going into the Hockey Hall of Fame, in the “builder” category, along with them.
Jeremy Jacobs is the worst owner of any of the Boston teams. Of the four current ownership groups in town, he is now also the only one in a Hall of Fame. Bruins hockey has always been defined by being good, by being tough, but also by not winning as much as fans want or expect. Since buying the team in 1975, Jacobs made a name for himself pinching pennies and valuing fiscal responsibility over on-ice success.
To be fair, when the NHL got a salary cap, the Bruins spent to it, rebuilt in that system, and won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and reached another Final in 2013. But also to be fair, for decades before the cap, Jacobs under-spent, took Ray Bourque and Cam Neely to salary arbitration, and was the among the driving forces in the NHL’s board of governors who locked out the players three times–even cancelling the 2004-05 season–to demand a salary cap.
The rigidity of the NHL salary cap also ended up being the Bruins’ undoing, and mismanaging it is the reason the B’s went from a President’s Trophy winning team in 2014 to out of the playoff picture the next two years. Jacobs put the well being of his fellow millionaire and billionaire owners ahead of the devoted fan base that went to his games and watched his team on TV. A seven year run after the rules changed in the favor of the owners should not undo the thirty years of frustration that led up to that era.
I was just thinking about Jacobs and the frustration he put Bruins fans through this weekend when I was working on my David Ortiz column. I thought a lot about life was like before Ortiz and Tom Brady, before winning in Boston was the norm. The lowest points came from the Celtics and Bruins, the teams with the more recent traditions of winning who had both hit low points in the mid and late 1990s. For the Celtics, Rick Pitino’s “not walking through that door” moment in 2000 was the perfect illustration of how far they had fallen. For the Bruins is was the rally in Boston in the summer of 2001 for Stanley Cup champion and fan favorite Ray Bourque… of the Colorado Avalanche. The rally was attended by thousands, paying respect for the Bruins’ former captain, but also serving as a giant middle finger to the Bruins organization by a disenfranchised region of passionate hockey fans.
In the spring of 2010, I watched the Bruins blow a 3-0 lead in a Game 7, and in doing so blew a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers in my friend Mark’s dorm room. For a long time, I was not convinced I would ever have a more joyful professional hockey watching experience than the night Ray Bourque raised the Cup with the Avs, and nights like that were why. The team, for all its endearing on-ice qualities, was run by a cheap old billionaire who was never going to change as long as fans kept going. There was no reason for the team to extend themselves. Hockey fans are loyal to a fault. There are few things better than watching a hockey game in the arena, and nothing better than playoff hockey anywhere. Even when things looked bleakest, Bruins fans knew deep down they could not quit forever.
Alvy Singer, Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall said “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” He attributed the quote to Groucho Marx and Sigmund Freud, but the sentiment is universal, or at the very least incredibly resonant within my own brain. If I were an NHL player, a Bruin or otherwise, after decades of lockouts and business as usual, I would never want to be in a Hall of Fame that would have someone like Jeremy Jacobs as an inductee. I know it’s hyperbolic, and the Hockey Hall of Fame is obviously a huge honor for any player, but there’s something particularly wrong about spending more time thinking about Jeremy Jacobs on the day of the Hall of Fame announcement than I have been about the great players who were also inducted today.
The Boston Red Sox formally closed the door on the David Ortiz Era this weekend by retiring. No Red Sox player will ever again wear #34. Maybe JetBlue overdid it by dedicating Gate 34 at Terminal C of Logan Airport for him, and maybe the City of Boston overdid it by also renaming part of Yawkey Way “David Ortiz Drive,” and maybe they rushed into things by waiting less than a year after Big Papi played his last game before retiring his number–they waited until induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame to honor Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, Pedro Martinez in this way–but there is no one like David Ortiz in Red Sox history. The team’s and the city’s reaction was to be expected.
From a numbers standpoint, David Ortiz was not the best player in Red Sox history. For position players, Ted Williams, Wade Boggs, Carl Yastrzemski, and Carlton Fisk all had more career WAR by the Baseball Reference calculation (Ortiz is #231 all time, which is still impressive for a guy who was mostly a designated hitter and could not contribute in the field), and Williams and Yaz racked up all their Major League numbers with the Red Sox. But before David Ortiz, every great Red Sox player post-Babe Ruth was defined, fairly or unfairly, by not getting it done in October. Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters ever, but only made the postseason once in his career. The signature moment of Carlton Fisk’s career was his walk-off home run off Fenway’s left field foul pole in the 1975 World Series… but that was in Game 6, and Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine won Game 7.
David Ortiz was one of many stars on the 2004 team, but it always seemed like he was in the batter’s box when it mattered most. Cast off by the Minnesota Twins, it’s almost as if David Ortiz’ MLB career did not really begin until he joined the Red Sox in 2003, one of the first of many moves that gave Theo Epstein the baseball genius reputation he enjoys today. Ortiz was the only member of the 2004 World Series Champions who was also on the team when they won it all in 2013, and he was the World Series MVP.
Ortiz had too many clutch moments for their to be a singular career defining moment. I keep going back and forth between his walk-off against the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and his grand slam that turned the Fenway Park bullpen cop into a folk hero in the 2013 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers. Then again, there is also his “This is our f*cking city” moment after the Boston Marathon bombing. On and off the field, no player meant more to Boston than David Ortiz.
Ortiz’ accomplishments in Boston sports this century are matched only by Tom Brady. Like Ortiz, Brady turned the fortunes of a long-downtrodden franchise almost as soon as he arrived. Together, they transformed the Boston teams from ones devoid of titles to ones defined by them. The success of the Red Sox and Patriots was so infectious that even the post-Larry Bird Celtics and Jeremy Jacobs-owned Bruins followed suit.
Like Ortiz, Brady is as good as ever as he enters his 40s. He was already firmly in the Greatest Of All Time discussion before he won two of the last three Super Bowls. The comeback he orchestrated against the Falcons this February is one I still stop and think about in semi-disbelief that it really happened, and may be the best game he’s ever played. Both Ortiz and Brady proved themselves time and again after most had written them off. Obviously–purely based on the impact of an NFL quarterback compared to that of a MLB designated hitter–Brady is the more important player in the overall history of his sport, but given the historical importance of the Red Sox in Boston (their World Series drought predated the Patriots’ inaugural season by 42 years) makes the Ortiz vs. Brady discussion a debate.
As crazy as the David Ortiz farewell tour of 2016 that spilled into 2017 may have been, don’t be surprised if it’s even crazier if Brady ever retires. Then again, Brady’s end might come in another Super Bowl, which was the only thing missing from the end of the Ortiz Era. The 2016 World Series was the Series That Boston Built. It validated so much of what I have believed about baseball for years. If I wanted to build a title contender from scratch, I would want Theo Epstein running my front office. Even though his team lost, Terry Francona out-managed Joe Maddon, and Tito is the guy I would want managing my team. I would want Jon Lester starting the biggest game of the year, and Andrew Miller pitching the innings of highest leverage. The Red Sox had all of those guys on the payroll as recently as 2011. If that wasn’t enough, former Boston World Series champions John Lackey, David Ross, Mike Napoli, and Coco Crisp also played in the World Series.
David Ortiz went into his last postseason with a cast that was not good enough, and got swept in the ALDS Francona’s Cleveland Indians. The only thing missing from the Series That Boston Built was Boston, and by extension, David Ortiz. David Ortiz was Boston baseball. Boston celebrated him the way they did because he was the best we ever had when the games mattered most.
Last weekend, the Baseball Hall of Fame had their annual induction ceremony and the Class of 2016 included Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, two of baseball’s biggest stars of my childhood. Both are worthy and both inductions are significant (Griffey became the first #1 overall pick to get into Cooperstown, and Piazza, taken 1390th overall in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft, is the lowest draft pick ever to make the Hall of Fame), but with each passing year, there are more worthy players being left out of Cooperstown. My thoughts on the Baseball Hall of Fame are well documented, from David Ortiz to Jack Morris, going through the archives of this blog, but one case I haven’t really discussed at length (if at all) is that of Tim Raines.
Raines first became eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2008, when he earned just 24.3% of the vote, but in 2016, his ninth year on the ballot, he was up to 69.8% (with 75% being the cutoff required for the Hall). This upcoming ballot will be his last to chance to get inducted by the esteemed Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), and it seems like a real toss up whether he gets in or not in 2017. Jonah Keri, one of my favorite baseball writers anywhere, and one of my biggest writing heroes, is an analytically inclined guy, and while he’s mostly indifferent to teams and rooting interest based on laundry, his weakness is the late great (Well, maybe not great. Critically acclaimed, though? 1994 was something special, but we’ll never know how great that team really was? I like that description better.) Montreal Expos, of which Tim Raines was one of the biggest stars along with Andre Dawson, Vladimir Guerrero, Larry Walker, and Pedro Martinez (Sorry, Randy Johnson. You don’t make the cut. It would be a little like listing Jeff Bagwell as a Red Sox legend or Sammy Sosa as one of the all time great Texas Rangers.). Keri is not a Hall of Fame voter at this time, but he has made Tim Raines his personal crusade. I was always aware of Raines, and I knew he was a good player, especially in the Montreal years, but I never really dug deeply into his career. The more I read and listened to Jonah Keri, the more intrigued I was by this Hall of Famer who isn’t.
In theory, Tim Raines should be in Cooperstown already. He’s a seven time All-Star, the 1986 National League batting champion, led the NL in stolen bases four times, and won two World Series rings as a player with the New York Yankees (and was a coach for the 2005 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox). His 808 career stolen bases are good for fifth all time, behind Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton, and Ty Cobb, making him the all time leader in stolen bases by someone who is not in the Hall of Fame already. Even if you think stolen bases are overrated, as I do to a degree, it’s hard to overlook that kind of production on the base path. Raines was as good a leadoff hitter as anyone in the 1980s, and when he got on, he found his way into the pitcher’s head. Even if you think the All-Star Game is a glorified popularity contest that only rewards players with great first-half performances and pre-existing reputations, but being selected for the All-Star team seven straight times, as Raines was from 1981 to 1987, it is hard to ignore that kind of name recognition. Outside of baseball, how many seven time All-Stars miss the Hall of Fame?
The best cross-sport comparison I can think of for Tim Raines is Clyde Drexler. Drexler was a great shooting guard, a ten time All-Star, the Portland Trail Blazers’ all time leading scorer, was a member of the 1992 United States Olympic “Dream Team,” and an NBA champion with the Houston Rockets in 1995. He had a great career, and is in the Basketball Hall of Fame (Seriously, being a 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist practically puts him into the Basketball Hall of Fame by default. The Dream Team has been inducted as a team and Christian Laettner is the only player who has not been inducted as an individual.), but with a career like that in baseball, he might not be a Hall of Famer, as evidenced by the plight of Tim Raines.
The biggest knock on Clyde Drexler’s career was that he wasn’t Michael Jordan. Picked 14th overall in the 1983 NBA Draft by Portland, the Blazers felt Drexler was good enough at the shooting guard to pass on Jordan when he was there for the taking at #2 the following year. Instead, Portland took the immortal Sam Bowie. If you think falling to #3 didn’t annoy and anger Jordan, you don’t know Jordan. MJ made it his mission in the 1992 NBA Finals when his Chicago Bulls played Portland, and later that summer in Dream Team practices to embarrass Drexler, to make sure that anyone who thought Drexler was on his level was made to look the fool. When Drexler retired, one thing was clear: he was great, but he was no Michael Jordan, and that’s fine. Nobody is Michael Jordan except Michael Jordan. Not Joe Dumars. Not Dwyane Wade. Not even Kobe Bryant. Certainly not Clyde Drexler. Maybe the biggest difference between the way we remember star players in basketball as opposed to baseball is that all the good players get into one Hall of Fame, and even some of the truly great players don’t make it into the other.
Tim Raines’ Michael Jordan is Rickey Henderson. Rickey made his Major League debut in June of 1979, and Raines debuted in September of 1979, but while Raines played his last game in 2002, Henderson stuck it out through the 2003 season. Raines had a very impressive 808 career stolen bases, while Henderson compiled a record-breaking 1,406 stolen bases. Raines made seven All-Star Games, but Henderson made ten. Both earned two World Series rings, but while Raines earned his as an older veteran with the Yankees in 1996 and 1998, Henderson got his rings closer to his apex in 1989 with the Oakland A’s and 1993 with the Toronto Blue Jays. Both had cool nicknames by baseball standards: Raines was “Rock,” but Henderson gets a slight edge with “Man of Steal.” Raines is remembered less than he should be because there was another player in his era who did the things he did, and did them better.
Pro-Raines people will argue that while Henderson without a doubt compiled more impressive numbers over his near quarter century in Major League Baseball, that Tim Raines did what he did more efficiently. While Raines hit (2,605) and home run (170) totals pale in comparison to Henderson’s (3,055 hits, 279 home runs), Raines’ career batting average (.294) was fifteen points higher than Henderson’s (.279). It was recently brought to my attention in a Reddit post about Raines’ superior base stealing efficiency that Raines was a much more efficient base-stealer. Raines ranks 14th in career SB% at 84.696% according to Baseball Reference, with Henderson ranked 44th at 80.758%. What’s 3.938% really in the grand scheme of things? Enough that Henderson, in 2016 at the age of 57, would need to steal 448 consecutive bases without getting caught to match Raines’ stolen base efficiency. That’s something.
The biggest reason I think Raines belongs in the Hall of Fame is because just because you had two great players who did similar things but one was significantly more prolific, would it really kill you to have them both in Cooperstown? Clyde Drexler is nobody’s Michael Jordan, but if he had been left out of the Basketball Hall of Fame or the more-exclusive-if-less-official Bill Simmons Hall of Fame Pyramid (Drexler is ranked 44th), fans in Portland and Houston would have lost their collective minds. Maybe this is what works against Raines the most: the fanbase that saw his best baseball lost their team when they Expos moved and became the Washington Nationals in 2005. This “one but not the other” issue doesn’t seem to happen in other sports. The Pro Football Hall of Fame did not let in John Elway and Dan Marino in and then decide they had hit their quarterbacks from the 1983 NFL Draft quota so they could exclude Jim Kelly. Charles Barkley and Karl Malone were both all-time great power forwards who couldn’t get past Jordan in the Finals, but the Basketball Hall of Fame had room for both of them. Not everyone is the greatest ever, but that does not make them not great. See Tim Raines and Clyde Drexler.
I was doing some early research a few days ago for a post about Pete Rose I’m working on for the middle of the summer when there isn’t a whole lot of sports news, when I came across an interesting picture:
This is the moment when the Charlie Hustle became the Hit King. Behind the plate is then San Diego Padres catcher Bruce Bochy, who would go on to manage the Padres and (currently) the San Francisco Giants. While Bochy was never a star player, he’s remains a recognizable baseball figure some 30 years after this photo was taken.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if Bruce Bochy made it to Cooperstown before Pete Rose? It’s not impossible. While Rose is one of the all time greats, he’s barred from the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame ballot due to getting hit with a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for betting on Major League games when he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. That ban could, in theory get lifted, but there’s no timetable for that to happen. Bochy, meanwhile is the leader in wins among active MLB managers now that Jim Leyland and Davey Johnson have retired, and he’s won three National League Pennants, and his Giants have won two of the last four World Series. I can’t imagine the Veteran’s Committee hesitating a whole lot once he’s eligible for the Hall. If Bochy gets in before Rose, this photo will become a fun piece of trivia for containing only one Hall of Famer.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame now has a punter. Finally. Ray Guy deserved to be in Canton a long time ago. Every position should be represented in a museum that honors the greatest in the history of the sport, and Ray Guy was the greatest punter of them all.
Al Davis took a lot of heat over the years for using the 23rd overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft on a punter. Davis’ critics did the same again in 2000 when he used the 17th pick on kicker Sebastian Janikowski. In Ray Guy, Davis got a seven time Pro Bowler and an eight time All Pro, who helped the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders win three Super Bowls and punted for over 44,000 yards in his career. Davis was one of football’s great innovators, and he saw the game differently than most people. No other owner or general manager would dream of taking a punter or kickter in the 1st round, but Al Davis believed that if it’s the best player of all time at that position, then it’s a worthwhile pick. Because of Guy’s Hall of Fame selection, the chances that present day placekickers Janikowski and Adam Vinatieri will one day end up in Canton.
Outspoken former Vikings and Raiders punter Chris Kluwe must be happy. Voting Ray Guy into the Hall of Fame was favorite cause of his. It’s a long time coming, really. There has been a Ray Guy Award in college football since 2000, awarded to the country’s best collegiate punter. Anyone who has an award like that named after them belongs in the Hall.
Also selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year were Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, New York Football Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, Seattle Seahawks offensive left tackle Walter Jones, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Reed, Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals defensive back Aeneas Williams, and Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Claude Humphrey. This is a more than worthy Hall of Fame class. I expect announcing Jones will get Seahawks fans really into it from the beginning the way Jonathan Ogden’s Hall of Fame selection did for Ravens fans last year.
Those left out of the Hall of Fame include John Lynch, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison, Bill Cowher, and Mike Holmgren. I expect all of them to get in sooner or later. The Hall of Fame voting process in football is as confusing as the NBA salary cap, so I can’t give a fair estimate as to when that happens. Better luck next year, guys!
Correction: the NFL decided not to introduce the 2014 Hall of Fame class at the coin toss the way they had the last few years and the way I alluded to when the Ravens fans gave Jonathan Ogden a rousing ovation last year. Instead they decided to have New York’s Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Joe Namath and Phil Simms (and they could have had Eli Manning, too, since he was there) do the coin toss, which provided us with this great .gif!
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.
It’s that time of year again. Time for the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to vote on the 2014 inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame. New names join the ballot this year including Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine who anchored the Atlanta Braves’ starting rotation through the 90s and early 2000s, but the longest standing member of the Hall of Fame ballot is a man who beat the Braves in the 1991 World Series. Every year people debate the merits of Jack Morris’ career, and every year before, he’s failed to get the necessary 75% support from the baseball writers. Today, I will argue the case for him to finally get his plaque in Cooperstown.
Jack Morris has been on the Hall of Fame ballot since 2000, making this year his last year of eligibility to be voted in by the BBWAA. When the results of last year’s vote were released in January of 2013, he received 67.7% of the vote, so he would need to gain significant support in order to be voted in this year. Morris was a five time All Star, a four time World Series Champion, and the World Series MVP in 1991, where he pitched a phenomenal ten inning shutout in Game 7 to outlast John Smoltz in one of the greatest pitcher’s duels in the history of the game. That game capped off one of the most exciting and hard fought World Series of all time. Morris and Smoltz were two pitching titans, one young, one old, who had their best stuff that night. The old man prevailed over the young man like something out of a Hollywood script (in fact, Sylvester Stallone probably watched the ’91 World Series and cried because of how much better it was than that dreadful Rocky V). Morris won more games than any other pitcher in the 1980s, pitched a no hitter for the eventual champion Detroit Tigers in 1984, and was part of the most recent championships for three different franchises: the Tigers (1984), Minnesota Twins (1991), and Toronto Blue Jays (1992 and ’93).
The biggest argument against Morris is his 3.90 career ERA, and people like to downplay the win stat in baseball. Jack Morris is an example of why wins for a pitcher are important. Felix Hernandez may have won a Cy Young Award with an 11 win season, but that doesn’t make the number meaningless. Wins show that a pitcher has the ability to throw well enough to compete, regardless of the run support from his teammates. Not only was Morris a winner, but he was a winner in the playoffs. A vote for Jack Morris will set an important precedent for allowing good pitchers with less-than-jaw-dropping regular season stats who can turn it on in October when every mistake is magnified tenfold. A vote for Jack Morris is a vote for Curt Schilling. A vote for Jack Morris is a vote for Chris Carpenter. A vote for Jack Morris is a vote for Andy Pettitte. A vote for Jack Morris is a vote for Jon Lester (I know it’s premature, and he hasn’t even turned 30 yet, but the guy has helped the Red Sox to two World Series, and has been a beast in the playoffs his whole career). All of those pitchers are guys I would put in the Hall in a heartbeat if it were up to me.
Ultimately it comes down to what the BBWAA decides to feel self-righteous about this winter. This is the same body that appears likely to vote in Craig Biggio before Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens because steroids offend them now, and failed to unanimously vote in Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron because some of its members refuse to vote for someone if it is their first year on the ballot. It took 14 ballots for them to induct Bert Blyleven and all 15 ballots to induct Jim Rice, so as long as he’s still on the ballot, there’s a chance. I’m hoping the baseball writer bureaucracy does the right thing this winter. If there’s no room in Cooperstown for a big game pitcher like Jack Morris, where’s the fun in getting in?