By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
These times of steroid uncertainty have rendered, perhaps, the most difficult set of issues in the history of balloting for the baseball Hall of Fame.
However, this year’s roster of first-year candidates has rendered one of the easiest votes in memory. A voter, in perfectly good conscience, can just vote again for his selections from last year, subtracting the players who won induction (Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr.) along with those who fell off the ballot for receiving too few votes (in this writer’s case, that’s Albert Belle and Eric Davis).
The left-over candidates once again have check marks next to their names on this writer’s ballot going back to Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) secretary Jack O’Connell. That means Jim Rice, Goose Gossage, Bert Blyleven and Dave Concepcion.
This year’s ballot is the lightest in years, weighing in with 25 candidates. If you were to make ball club out of it, you might fill out a line up card like this:
Batting first, Tim Raines, right field. Batting second, Don Mattingly, first base. Batting third, Mark McGwire, designated hitter. Batting fourth, Jim Rice, left field. Batting fifth, Andre Dawson, center field. Batting sixth, Dale Murphy, catcher (that’s how he came up before the Atlanta Braves smartly put him in the outfield). Batting seventh, Chuck Knoblauch, second base. Batting eighth, Dave Concepcion, shortstop. Batting ninth, Travis Fryman, third base.
The bench is composed of outfielders Brady Anderson, David Justice and Dave Parker, along with shortstops Alan Trammel and Shawon Dunston, plus designated hitter Harold Baines.
The starting rotation: Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, Tommy John, Chuck Finley and Todd Stottlemyre. If Davey Johnson is your manager, you use Jose Rijo as your “sixth starter.” The relief staff is Goose Gossage, Rod Beck and Rob Nen, with Lee Smith at the tail end.
Not a bad ball club. However, as it appears, Gossage is your only Hall of Famer, if there is one. Gossage has rallied in recent elections, all the way up to 388 votes last year (71.2 percent with 75 percent needed for election). Given the present revulsion with one-inning saves, which grows louder and louder with each summer, a new appreciation for Gossage has set in among the voters. Don’t be too surprised if Gossage goes into the Hall of Fame this summer. And be very surprised if anyone else does.
Voter reticence about Rice is an enduring mystery in this voter’s eyes. Last year, Rice hit on 63.5 percent of the ballots. Considering the weakness of this ballot’s rookie class, voters might take a closer look at him. Among the rookies, Raines and Justice are the strongest candidates.
It seems as though contemporary voters don’t pick Blyleven because their elders refused to recognize him in Cy Young voting back in the 1970s. Both generations are wrong. Blyleven is fifth all-time in strikeouts (3,710), third in shutouts since 1961 (with 60, behind Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver, each with 61), and fifth in wins since 1970 (287)
Blyleven pitched his first five full season (1971-75) for the Minnesota Twins, who finished over .500 once. During those years, Blyleven averaged a 17-15 record with a 2.74 ERA.
In every one of those seasons, Blyleven finished among the American League’s top four pitchers in strikeouts, strikeouts per nine innings and ratio of strikeouts to walks. In four of those seasons, he finished among the top six in ERA and among the top 10 in innings and complete games. In only one of those years did he receive a single Cy Young vote.
Even back in those days, most AL teams scored more than four runs per game, but not the Twins with Blyleven pitching. In his 189 starts from 1971-75, the Twins scored three runs or fewer 105 times. He still won 24 of them, but he also lost 1-0 six times, 2-0 four times, and 2-1 ten times. In those five years, Blyleven lost 43 quality starts. If he didn’t win 20 games more than once, is that his fault? If the Twins could ever get a runner in from third with one out, he would have reached 300 career wins easily.
Should you argue that Blyleven hung around too long for the numbers, remember that in 1989, his third year from the end, Blyleven finished 17-5 with a 2.73 ERA, fourth in the AL Cy Young voting. Why would he quit then?
As for Concepcion, he’s still the best National League shortstop of his time, and he still perfected the position for Astroturf. But his exploits are long forgotten, only to be remembered when the ballot arrives, and even that will end after this year, because this ballot is his last.Email | Print