By Glen Sparks
If I had to bet, and I really don’t bet, but if I had to bet on whether or not Yadier Molina will ever be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., I’d toss a dollar onto the table and wager that the St. Louis Cardinals catcher will indeed be enshrined someday as one of the game’s immortals.
Let the argument begin.
The Sporting News published an article on Oct. 10, 2015, titled “Yadier Molina’s surprisingly weak Hall of Fame case.” First off, writer Graham Womack praises Molina for his outstanding defense. The 33-year-old owns eight Gold Gloves. That number should go up at least another one or two before he retires. (Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez leads all catchers with 13 Gold Gloves. Johnny Bench earned 10. They’re the only two ahead of Molina at the catcher’s spot.)
Molina has, as Womack points out, been selected to seven All-Star teams. He also has been the de facto leader of four pennant-winning teams and two World Series winners. If the Cardinals had an official captain, and they don’t, Molina would be it.
Going into the 2016 season, Molina’s defensive WAR stands at 20.2 (baseball-reference.com), best among active catchers and fifth-best in baseball history at that position. He trails only Gary Carter, Pudge, Bob Boone and Jim Sundberg. Of that quartet, Carter is already in the Hall of Fame and Pudge probably will be there soon. Boone and Sundberg have no chance.
Baseball fans, especially those in Cardinal Nation, marvel at the way Molina shuts down an opposing team’s running game. He has a cannon of a right arm, throwing out 45 percent of would-be base stealers going into 2016. He also has 55 career pick-offs.
The problem, Womack writes, is that Molina’s great defense doesn’t not make up for his good, but hardly great, offense. Molina’s career WAR (offense and defense) is 30.3, or about 22 points behind the average Hall of Fame catcher.
Womack writes, “Molina’s bat hurts his case.”
Molina has 100 career home runs and 645 RBI. His batting average stands at .283, with an on-base percentage of .336 and slugging percentage of .397.
Below is a comparable set of stats for the last five major-league catchers elected to Cooperstown:
Mike Piazza: (1992-2007), 427 HR, 1,335 RBI, .308 Avg., .377 OBP, .545 SLG., 59.4 WAR, O GGs
Gary Carter: (1974-92), 324 HR, 1,225 RBI, .262 Avg., .335, OBP .439 SLG., 69.9 WAR, 3 GGs
Carlton Fisk: (1969, 1971-93), 376 HR, 1,330 RBI, .269 Avg., .341 OBP, .457 SLG., 68.3 WAR, 1 GG
Johnny Bench: (1967-83), 389 HR, 1,376 RBI, .267 Avg., .342 OBP, .476 SLG., 75.0 WAR, 10 GG
Ernie Lombardi: (1931-47), 190 HR, 990 RBI, .306 Avg., .358 OBP, .460 SLG., 45.9 WAR, 0 GGs
Now, take a look at the stats of some other All-Star catchers. All these backstops have come up short in Hall of Fame voting.
Thurman Munson: (1969-79), 113, 701, .292, .346, .410, 45.9, 3 GGs
Lance Parrish: (1977-95), 324, 1,070, .252, .313. .440, .39.3., 3 GGs
Ted Simmons: (1968-88), 248, 1,389, .285, .348, .437, 50.1. O GGs
Bill Freehan: (1961, 63-78), 200, 758, .262, .340, .412, 44.7. 5 GGs
Jim Sundberg: (1974-89), 95, 624, .248, .327, .348, 40.5 6 GGs
Molina’s offensive stats seem more in line with the second group than with the first. He enjoyed a trio of solid seasons from 2011-13, posting oWARs of 3.2, 5.1 and 4.3, respectively. In his nine other seasons, his total oWAR is just 5.8.
More than anything, Molina needs to put up a few more solid seasons with the bat. Is age starting to creep up on the catcher? He missed 52 games in 2014 and hit .282, with just seven home runs and 38 RBI. Last year, his average dropped to .270. He ripped just four homers in 136 games.
The Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan wrote last July that, “In an abstract way, Molina feels like a Hall of Famer.” He ranked Moina as one of 15 current players who are “Hall of Fame bound.”
Respected writer Joe Posnanski from NBC Sports rates Molina’s chances of making it into the Hall of Fame at 84 percent. He writes: “At retirement, he will have an argument as the greatest defensive catcher in the history of baseball. That gets him in, even with an average bat.”
One argument for Molina’s induction might be in the election of Bill Mazeroski in 2001. Yes, the former Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman crashed a historic home run in the 1960 World Series. That certainly helped his Cooperstown case. But, he hit just .260 lifetime with a .299 on-base percentage. Maz ripped 138 homers, but he posted just a 19.1 oWar over 17 seasons. Fortunately, he enjoyed a great reputation as a fielder, especially in being able to turn the double play. His career dWAR is 23.9. Molina may be the catching equivalent of Mazeroski.
(My personal thoughts: I don’t know how I’d vote on Molina. I just think he’s going in. Or, that he has better chance of going in than not going in. Simmons and Freehan, among others, have stronger cases.)
Viva el Birdos, a great web site, for Cardinals news, published an article Jan. 6 that looked at “Who will be the next Cardinal in the Hall of Fame?” Writer Ben Godar predicts that Molina will be enshrined in 2026, just a few years after going onto the ballot. (Godar figures that Yadi will retire after his contract ends in 2018, making him Hall eligible in 2024. I think he plays a few years longer.)
Godar, like most observers, concedes that Molina lacks strong offensive numbers. He argues, though, that Yadi’s defense, as well as his leadership on so many good St. Louis teams, should help put him over the top.
By Glen Sparks
Rod Carew was dead.
His died on a warm Sunday afternoon in September, just off the first tee at Cresta Verde Golf Course in southern California.
His heart blew up. He had just smacked a drive right down the middle. Suddenly, his chest burned, and his hands went cold. Alone, he struggled to the clubhouse. Paramedics rushed to the scene.
The Hall of Famer’s heart quit beating two times, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. He had 100 percent blockage in one of his main arteries. He had suffered a major heart attack, one cryptically called “a widow maker.”
Paramedics brought Carew back to life. He survived. One of the greatest hitters ever made it through another battle.
First-Ballot Hall of Famer
Eric and Olga Carew were traveling aboard a train on Oct. 1, 1945, in the Panama Canal Zone. They sat in the rear part of the train, the section reserved for “colored” passengers. Olga, expecting a child, went into labor as the train chugged along.
The conductor, when he learned what was going on, hurried to find a doctor. Luckily, Dr. Rodney Cline had booked passage. Thus the baby boy was christened Rodney Cline Carew.
Eric Carew reportedly drank too much. Rod Carew has said that his troubled dad beat him many times. At 14, Rod Carew left Panama with his mom, three sisters and brother for New York City. Eric stayed in Panama.
Rodney, or Cline as many people called him, didn’t play baseball at George Washington High School in upper Manhattan. Instead, he played with the New York Cavaliers, a semi-pro club.
A scout for the Minnesota Twins liked the way Carew peppered the ball all over the field. He arranged a tryout at Yankee Stadium. Carew passed. The Twins signed him for $400 a month, plus a $5,000 signing bonus, on June 24, 1964.
Carew made the big club out of spring training in 1967. He went on to hit .292 that season. He made the American League All-Star team and earned Rookie of the Year honors. Following a down season in 1968 (He still made the All-Star team, but he hit what would be a career-low, .273), the left-handed hitting infielder batted better than .300 for the next 15 years.
He won seven batting titles during his 19-year career and famously made a run at .400 in 1977, settling at .388 and cover shots for Sports Illustrated and Time. He also led the league in hits (239), runs (128), triples (16), on-base percentage (.449) and OPS (1.019). Never a true power hitter, Carew tied for his career-high in home runs that season (14) and drove in a career-high 100 runs. Not surprisingly, writers voted him the A.L. MVP.
Carew stood up to bat like a cat ready to strike. A wad of chewing tobacco bulged out of one cheek. Carew hit from a pronounced open stance and smacked pitches with a magical bat.
Over his 12 seasons in the Twin Cities, Carew hit .334. Following the 1978 season, he took his magical bat to California. In seven seasons as an Angel, he batted .314 and made six more All-Star teams.
Carew retired after the 1985 season. He hit .328 lifetime and collected 3,053 hits. The 18-time All-Star also stole 353 career bases (including seven steals of home in 1969). He easily made the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1991, with 90.5 percent of the vote.
“Have a Safe Journey”
Following retirement, Carew settled into retirement in Orange County, Calif. He did some coaching, both for the Angels and, later, the Milwaukee Brewers. In September 1995, Carew’s 18-year-old daughter Michelle was told that she had a rare form of leukemia. She needed a blood-marrow donor. Michelle’s two sisters were matches for each another, but not for Michelle.
Carew, a private man, went public. Could someone please help? Carew’s pleas went nationwide. The registry rolls for bone-marrow transplants increased by 500,000 that first year, according to a SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) article. Tragically, no match was found for Michelle Carew. She died April 17, 1996.
“All we did is we told her we love her, that we’re all here, and I just told her to have a safe journey,” Carew said, according to a New York Times article.
A few years before, Carew went through a cancer scare of his own. Doctors found and removed a cancerous growth from the inside of his cheek, a result of chewing tobacco. Carew’s teeth and gums were also a mess. He needed more than $100,000 of dental work to get his mouth back into shape, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Carew now lives with—and because of—a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) that sits inside his chest. The LVAD pumps blood because his heart muscle cannot. Doctors installed the device during a six-hour procedure at a San Diego hospital, according to an article in the Orange County Register. He can still play golf, travel, and, yes, go to spring training.
He feels better every day, he told columnist Marcia C. Smith at the Register. He is mending nicely thanks to the devotion of his second wife, Rhonda, and the care he has received at five California hospitals.
On Jan. 30, Carew, who turned 70 years old Oct. 1, attended TwinsFest at Target Field in Minneapolis. The Twins, behind skipper Paul Molitor and young, talented players like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, hope to make a racket in the A.L. Central this season. One of their biggest cheerleaders will be Rod Carew.
Yes, of course, he’ll be at the Twins’ spring training facility in Ft. Myers, Fla., he told the fans at TwinsFest, according to an article in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. He’ll drive fellow Twins great Tony Oliva to the ballpark every morning.
“Oh, I’m going to be at spring training,” he told the Press.
Hall of Fame Weekend
Baseball began giving out the Commissioner’s Award in 1971. It honored one player each year for his hard work in the community. The Commissioner’s Award was renamed the Roberto Clemente Award after the Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder died while on a mercy mission to Nicaragua on Dec. 30, 1972.
Carew won the Award in 1977, nearly 40 years ago. Now, the man who also did so much to raise awareness for leukemia research 20 years ago plans to do the same for heart-attack prevention. The first Twin Cities Heart Walk is scheduled for May 14 at Target Field. This event is part of a year-long Heart of 29 campaign. (Carew won uniform No. 29 as a player.)
The 2016 Hall of Fame induction is set for Sunday, July 24. Rod Carew plans to be there.
(You can read more about Carew at his web site.)
By Glen Sparks
The Baseball Hall of Fame did not officially open in lovely Cooperstown, N.Y., until June 12, 1939.
Baseball writers, though, elected the Hall’s first members in 1936. Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner were chosen.
Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America cast 226 votes, according to an article written by Matt Kelly on the HOF’s web site. Nominees needed 170 votes, or 75 percent of the total, for election. Writers sent in their votes by Jan. 25; Hall officials announced its first class Feb 2.
Cobb received the most votes with 98.2 percent, followed by Ruth and Wagner (95.1 percent each), Mathewson (90.7) and Johnson (87.6). The next five, eventual Hall of Famers but not members of that first class, were Nap Lajoie (64.6), Tris Speaker (58.8), Cy Young (49.1), Rogers Hornsby (46.4) and Mickey Cochrane (35.3). Everyone in the top 24 in the voting eventually made it into Cooperstown. Hal Chase, a solid hitter and smooth fielder at first base for the New York Highlanders and other teams, was the lowest finisher who is still on the outside looking in. (I’ll be writing a post on Chase later this week.)
This is a brief overview of that first class. You’re probably already familiar with these guys.
Cobb played 24 seasons (1905-28) and retired with a .366 batting average and 897 stolen bases. The center-fielder hit better than .400 three times and won 12 batting titles, including nine in a row. Cobb mostly toiled during the Deadball era and hit just 117 career home runs. He led the American League in 1909 with nine homers and topped the circuit in RBI four times. The left-handed batter, known as the Georgia Peach, played 22 seasons for the Detroit Tigers and two years for the Philadelphia A’s. Cobb batted .240 over 150 at-bats as a 19-year-old rookie in ’05. His next lowest season-ending batting average? .316.
Quote: “The great American game should be an unrelenting war of nerves.” (Source: baseball-almanac.com)
Born in rural Kansas, Johnson grew up on the plains. His family left for California shortly after young Walter turned 14 years old. Scouts spotted him during his high school days at Fullerton Union High School. Johnson, a.k.a. the Big Train, played his entire career (1907-27) with the Washington Senators. He retired with a lifetime won-loss record of 417-279 and a 2.17 ERA. The two-time A.L. MVP won the pitching Triple Crown (leader in wins, ERA and strikeouts) three times. All told, he led the league in strikeouts 12 times, wins six times and ERA five times. He retired with 3,508 strikeouts.
Quote: “I throw as hard as I can when I think I have to throw as hard as I can.” (Source: baseball-almanac.com
Baseball people called Mathewson “The Christian Gentleman.” He did not smoke, drink or even cuss at a time when practically every other player did. Mathewson employed a fastball, screwball and pinpoint control to take care of batters. He sported a career won-loss record of 373-188, pitching mostly for the New York Giants (1900-16). He topped the National League in wins and ERA five times each and hurled two no-hitters. In four World Series, the right-hander from Factoryville, Pa., went 5-5 but with a 0.97 ERA over 101.2 innings. He won all three of his starts in the 1905 Classic against the Philadelphia A’s. His lungs seriously damaged after exposure to chemical weapons during training in World War I, Mathewson died from the effects of tuberculosis in 1925 at the age of 45.
Quote: “A boy cannot begin playing ball too early. I might almost say that while he is still creeping on all fours, he should have a bouncing rubber ball.” (Source: christymathewson.com)
Like Matthewson, Wagner grew up in Pennsylvania. The son of German immigrants took the American game of baseball to heart. He broke in with the Louisville Colonels in 1897 and was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900. Wagner hit .329 lifetime and recorded 3,430 hits. He won eight batting crowns and five RBI titles. The shortstop could run, too. Wagner led the league in steals five times. Fans called him “The Flying Dutchman.” Wagner retired following the 1917 season. His 1909-11 T206 baseball card, rare for debatable reasons, fetches north of $2 million at some auctions.
Quote: “There ain’t much to being a ballplayer, if you’re a ballplayer.” (Source: honuswagner.com)
Where do you start? George Herman Ruth Jr., the troubled youth from Baltimore, the kid who ended up at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for boys, the teenager who learned the finer points of baseball from a Roman Catholic brother, the young man who signed with the Boston Red Sox to pitch, who turned into one of the game’s best hurlers, who was sold to the New York Yankees because the Red Sox owner liked Broadway more than baseball, who quit pitching because he wanted to play every day, who slammed 60 homers in 1927, more than any other team hit in the league, who crushed 714 career home runs, twice as many as anyone else when he retired … His story is incredible, unbelievable and 100 percent true in every way that really matters. The Bambino, the Big Bam, the Sultan of Swat, the Colossus of Clout. He remains an American legend.
Quote: “If I’d tried for them dinky singles I could’ve batted around six hundred.” (Source: baberuth.com)
By Glen Sparks
The greatest 62nd round draft pick in baseball history has a date in Cooperstown, N.Y., this summer.
Baseball writers voted Mike Piazza into the Hall of Fame on Jan. 6. The reception in Cooperstown for him should be large and enthusiastic. Piazza played much of his career only 200 miles away from the hallowed Hall, as a New York Met.
The former catcher will stand on an outdoor stage, near some of the game’s immortals. Tom Seaver, the HOF Mets pitcher, will surely be at the ceremony. Maybe Sandy Koufax, Johnny Bench and Hank Aaron will be there, too. Joe Morgan is a regular.
Following a speech, with the requisite stories of a boyhood dedicated to his love for the game, Mike will hoist his Hall of Fame plaque into the air. On that plaque will be a summary of his career, along with his portrait, created for baseball eternity. He’ll go into the Hall of Fame, he insists, as a Met.
He felt appreciated in the borough of Queens, he said. He felt loved.
Well, love can be a complicated thing. Surely, the Dodger fans embraced Piazza, who came up with the team in 1992 and stayed there until being traded, infamously, on May 15, 1998, to the Florida Marlins.
(Feel free to skip this paragraph. You probably already know the story. It’s mandatory to re-tell it, though, in any Mike Piazza post. Piaza grew up in suburban Philadelphia. His dad, businessman Vince Piazza, has known former Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda since childhood. Young Mike served as Dodgers batboy during the team’s stops at Veterans Stadium to play the Phillies. Later, the Dodgers drafted Mike as a favor to Tommy.)
The Mets dealt for Piazza one week after that trade to Miami. (Piazza played five games with the Marlins. Late in his career, he played one season with the San Diego Padres and one with the Oakland A’s.)
Officials from the Hall of Fame ultimately decide which cap a player’s likeness will bear on his HOF plaque. The smart bet is that Piazza will get his wish and go into the Hall as a New York Met. Loved? OK, he at least has an argument based on the numbers.
Piazza played more games with the Mets (972) than he did with the Dodgers (726). That simple fact makes his “counting” stats stronger as a Met:
RBI: Mets (655), Dodgers (563)
Hits: Mets (1,028), Dodgers (896)
Runs: Mets (532), Dodgers (443)
Piazza’s qualitative stats definitely favor his Dodger days:
Batting average: Dodgers (.331), Mets (.296)
On-base percentage: Dodgers (.394), Mets (.373)
Slugging percentage: Dodgers (.572), Mets (.542)
OPS: Dodgers (.966), Mets (.915)
OPS+: Dodgers (160), Mets (136)
This could go either way. If not for the 1994 and ’95 player strikes, the counting stats would be much closer. Clearly, Piazza was a more dangerous hitter as a Dodger. Jon Weisman in his excellent book 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die writes that “there might not have been a hitter as startling, as eye-popping, as fall-back-in-your-seats-in-amazement as Mike Piazza.”
Was Piazza like that as Met? Yes, at times. But, he did not destroy baseballs with such stunning regularity in New York as he did in L.A. On Sept. 21, 1997, he blasted a ball completely out of Dodger Stadium. (He is one of four players to accomplish that feat. The club at present also includes Willie Stargell Mark McGwire and Giancarlo Stanton. Stargell did it twice.)
Piazza acknowledges in his 2013 book Long Shot that “most of my best seasons” came while playing for the Dodgers. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1993 and finished in the top six in the MVP voting four times (twice as runner-up) in L.A. In New York, he finished in third, seventh and 13th place in the MVP vote.
In both New York and L.A., Piazza went to the postseason in two seasons. (He also went to the playoffs as a Padre.) Only while with the Mets, though, did he play in a World Series (losing in 2000 to the Yankees). Piazza also has said that playing for the Mets at the same time as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, strengthened his ties to the city. Understandable. He hit a home run against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium in the first game back after the attacks.
“It’s tough,” he said in the New York Post. “I get emotional thinking back to that moment.”
Ultimately, and maybe unfortunately, money plays a part in these things. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Piazza made just more than $19 million as a Met. He made more than $91 million as a Met. They “gave me the market-value contract that the Dodgers wouldn’t,” Piazza writes (or dictates to book author Lonnie Wheeler).
The whole contract squabble gets plenty of ink in Long Shot. Long-time Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley sold the club in March 1998 to a group led by media baron Rupert Murdoch. The Fox Group, as it was known, played hardball, as it were, with the best hitter the team had ever produced.
Fans turned on the superstar. Piazza blamed … wait for it … Vin Scully. “Scully was crushing me.”
Well, making the greatest broadcaster ever, and one much loved, into a villain, doesn’t place you onto the straightest path to sympathy. Piazza did it anyway. In any case, the ax finally fell.
“I’m with the Fishes,” Piazza, said to one teammate, according to Long Shot.
Piazza admits on Page, 343 of the book that he can be “hypersensitive.” He needs the appreciation. He needs the love. Love? After Piazza got traded, his friend Eric Karros, the Dodgers first baseman, wrote “The trade was like an earthquake. … It changed everything about the Dodgers.”
Piazza didn’t like everything about New York. He certainly didn’t like the pesky reporters, snooping around and asking a bunch of meddlesome questions about performance-enhancing drugs (PEDS) and all. He did like the fans, though. After a time. The Mets faithful, being fickle in their own way, booed Piazza plenty in his first season in Queens (even as he batted .348 and cracked 23 home runs in 109 games.)
Eventually, everyone made nice-nice. The man with the quick, violent swing (producing 427 career homers and a .318 batting average) will always be a Met. But, once, he was a Dodger.
By Glen Sparks
Orestes “Minnie” Minoso grew up in El Perico, Cuba, outside Havana, and loved to watch the great Martin Dihigo play baseball.
Dihigo hit for power, hit for average and ran fast. Former Dodgers executive and legendary scout Al Campanis once told the team’s Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, “’Jaime, the best player that I have ever seen in my life is Martin Dihigo, but he never came to the Major Leagues.”
The four-time Cuban League MVP could pitch, too. Dihigo batted .387 for Aguila de Veracruz of the Mexican League in 1938 and went 18-2 with a 0.90 ERA on the mound. Dihigo ripped line drives and especially liked smacking pitches to the opposite field. Fans nicknamed him El Inmortal, The Immortal. Minoso patterned his own game after Dihigo’s.
The Negro League Committee elected Dihigo (pronounced “DEE-go”) to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. Many baseball experts say Minoso also should be enshrined.
Minoso, born Nov. 29, 1922, was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 following several pro seasons in Cuba and in the U.S. Negro leagues. He debuted with the Indians on April 19, 1949. By 1951, Minoso had established himself as a star. The Chicago White Sox traded for him early in that campaign.
Later in his career, Minoso returned to Cleveland (1958-59) before going back to the White Sox (1960-61). He also played for the St. Louis Cardinals (1962) and Washington Senators (1963) and then retired (sorta) as, yes, a White Sox player once more, in 1964.
Minoso hit for some power (186 home runs in 17 seasons, at least 20 home runs four times) and a solid average (.298 lifetime, at least .300 nine times). He could run (205 lifetime steals. He led the American League in thefts three times.), and he could drive in runs (1,023 career RBI, four seasons with at least 100). Adept at drawing a walk, Minoso retired with an on-base percentage of .389 and enjoyed six full seasons with percentages of .408 or higher.
The left-fielder made nine All-Star teams, with both the Indians and White Sox, and finished fourth in the MVP voting four times. He also had a high pain threshold. Minoso led the league in getting hit by a pitch 10 times. He took a bruising for the team.
Minoso topped the A.L. in hits one time, doubles one time and triples three times. Oh, and he scored at least 100 runs in a season four times. So, how did one of the best all-around players of the 1950s do in the Hall of Fame voting? Not well at all. In 15 years on the ballot, Minoso topped 20 percent just two times. … Huh?
Bill James in his 2003 Baseball Historical Abstract ranked Minoso as the 10th best left-fielder in baseball history. He wrote that if Minoso had gotten the opportunity to play in the majors when he was 21 years old, “he’d probably be rated among the top 30 players of all time.”
Unfortunately, many people remember Minoso more for how he retired than how he played. Or, more precisely, how he didn’t retire. He left the White Sox after 1964 to go to the Mexican League as a player-manager. He was “El Charro Negro,” the Black Cowboy.
In 1976, Minoso went back to the majors and to the White Sox as a coach. The big club activated him in September; he went 1-8 at the age of 50. He also pinch-hit twice in 1980 for the White Sox, going 0-2. He is major league baseball’s only five-decade players, appearing in a game in the 1940s, ’50, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. (His streak didn’t end there. In 1993, at the age of 67, Minoso grounded out as a member of the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League. He drew a walk for the Saints in 2003, an 87-year-old ballplayer. Minoso is a seven-decade man.)
Some baseball people argue that those comebacks actually hurt Minnie’s Hall of Fame chances. They criticize them as publicity stunts. Which they probably were. So, what?
The White Sox retired Minoso’s No. 9 in 1983 and unveiled a statue of the beloved former ballplayer outside U.S. Cellular Field in 2004.
Last year, baseball included Minoso on the Golden Era ballot, comprised of former players and managers who mostly played from 1947-73. The 16-person Golden Era committee gave Minoso eight votes, one fewer than he earned on the 2011 Golden ballot. He needed 12 for induction.
Minoso died in Chicago on Feb. 28, 2015, of chronic pulmonary disease at the age of 92. The man dubbed “Mr. White Sox” had been working for the team in community relations for decades.
He already is a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, the Hispanic Heritage Museum Hall of Fame, the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in Exile and the Mexican Professional Baseball of Fame. Will Minoso ever make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.?
By Glen Sparks
Steve Garvey boasted Popeye-like forearms and a compact swing.
No. 6 smacked 272 home runs over a 19-year career. He batted .294 with 1,308 RBI and collected at least 200 hits in six seasons. Garvey drove in 100 or more runs five times and made 10 All-Star teams.
Fans voted him as the starting first baseman on the 1974 All-Star team as a write-in candidate; writers voted him the National League MVP that year as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Tampa native hit .338 in 55 post-season games and smashed a memorable walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 1984 N.L. Championship Series for the San Diego Padres.
Baseball people recall Garvey as an ironman. He once played in 1,207 consecutive games—Sept. 3, 1975, to July 29, 1983. The streak still stands as the fourth longest in baseball history and the longest in N.L. history.
Steve Garvey packs quite a baseball resume. He also won two All-Star game MVPs and four Gold Gloves. But. Garvey’s legacy still seems a bit muddled. Some fans, especially of the Dodgers (1969-82) and Padres (1983-87), figured that one of Garvey’s post-career stops would be Cooperstown, N.Y., for his Hall of Fame induction.
It never happened. Garvey peaked at 42.6 percent of the vote in his third year on the ballot (1995). He is not a Hall of Fame inductee; he is an argument. The argument starts here with Bill James, the esteemed sabermatrician.
In his Baseball Abstract 1982 edition, James rated Garvey as the game’s 12th best first baseman following the 1981 campaign (admittedly, not Garvey’s best). That bugged me. I guess it still does. I grew up in southern California during the era of Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey. The Dodgers played in four World Series from 1974-81. Garvey, more than anyone, was the team’s marquee player. He needed to rated higher than No. 12, at least in my mind.
A guy like Garvey tends to be overrated, James wrote. He played most of his career in a big market, he played on good teams that saw lots of t.v. time, etc. James wrote several paragraphs and then concluded that Garvey is not in fact overrated. Garvey, James concluded, is one of a handful of players who “you absolutely know will give you that good year.”
James rated Garvey the No. 14 first baseman in his 1984 Abstract. That was near the end of Garvey’s career, though. It didn’t bother me that much. I think. (The 1982 Abstract was the first one to get mass distribution. Be interesting to know how James would have rated Garvey during the mid-1970s.)
The 2002 Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranked Garvey as the 31st best first baseman of all-time (just behind Gil Hodges, anotherformer Dodger and another HOF argument). Once again, James offered some mixed messages. Garvey was a “good” player, James wrote, but a “selfish” one. He was an “odd” player, but one who finished the season with 200 hits more often than not. He basically “never” went into a slump and was a “fine” first baseman, but “he couldn’t throw.” Plus, he drove in 100 runs during an era when that meant something, and while playing his home games at a pitcher’s park.
Tom Boswell, the Washington Post columnist, also didn’t care for Garvey, as I recall. Boswell created something called Total Average, a stat everyone loved for a few years and was especially popular during Garvey’s playing days. Basically, TA attempts to determine a player’s overall effectiveness on offense.
The problem with Garvey, the critics concluded, is that he hit into too many double plays, and he didn’t walk very much. The stats due back this up. He led the lead in GIDP twice, in 1979 (25) and 1984 (25 again). Some baseball fans ripped Jim Rice, a Hall of Famer, for the same thing. My thought on this is that both Rice and Garvey hit the ball hard with men on base.
Garvey’s career on-base percentage was just .329. He set his career in walks with 50 in 1976. Six years later, Garvey recorded 625 official at-bats. He walked just 20 times. Of course, that meant he didn’t get on base at a high rate. Garvey never scored 100 runs in a season (topping out at 95 in 1974).
A typical Steve Garvey season was close to 90 runs scored, 35 doubles, 25 homers, 110 RBI, .315 batting average, .350 on-base percentage, .485 slugging percentage.
Paul Haddad makes the best HOF case for Garvey. A Dodger fan, Haddad wrote High Fives, Pennant Drives and Fernandomania. In the book, he offers a bit of background on one of his favorite childhood ballplayers. Born Dec. 22, 1948, Garvey grew up in Florida. His dad drove the Dodger team bus during spring training. Yes, Garvey was a Dodger from way back.
He attended Michigan State on a football scholarship and busted up his shoulder. That’s why he couldn’t throw. He could, however, scoop up just about any ball that a fellow L.A. infielder could throw his way.
The Dodgers drafted Garvey in the first round of the secondary phase in June 1968. He made his major league debut late in the ’69 campaign and played on-and-off for the next few years, usually at third base despite his bad shoulder.
Walt Alston put Garvey over at first base to stay in 1974. By the end of the season, or thereabouts, he was a “future Hall of Famer.” In addition to the aforementioned stats, Haddad points out that Garvey retired with 2,599 base hits, hit .393 in those 10 All-Star games, was named the MVP of the NLCS both in 1978 (as a Dodger) and 1984 (as a Padre). He led the league in fielding percentage five times and once played 193 straight games without making an error.
When he retired, Garvey held the NLCS record for most career home runs (eight) and RBI (21) in 22 games. Interestingly, Garvey is the only player in baseball history to collect six 200-hit seasons, five 100-RBI seasons and four Gold Gloves.
Yes, Haddad brings up Garvey’s low walk totals. In the age of sabermetrics, on-base percentage trumps batting average every time. Haddad also points out that Garvey committed so few errors because of his lack of range and his reluctance to throw the ball due to his bad arm.
Hadded then brings us back to Bill James. James has another formula, the Hall of Fame monitor. He assigns a set number of points for 100 RBI seasons, .300 batting averages, 200-hit seasons, etc. According to the formula, a score of 100 makes a player worthy of HOF induction. Garvey’s score is 130.
I don’t know whether Garvey is a worthy Hall of Famer or not. I’d like to think he is. Under the current line of thinking, he is not. The great things that he did (and he did plenty of great things) don’t seem to make up for what he did not do. For now, he seems relegated to the Hall of Very Good. And, that’s still very good.
By Glen Sparks
This is the second of my two-part interview with Marjorie Adams. Marjorie’s great-grandfather, Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, is a candidate for induction into the Baseball of Fame this year as part of the Pre-Integration ballot. You can read Part I here.
“Doc” Adams supported a nine-player starting line-up, is that correct?
Yes, he did. Keep in mind that in the early years, practice attendance was unpredictable. Whoever showed up, played. Six men or sometimes eleven and so forth. As the popularity of the game grew, by 1853, there was interest among the existing teams in agreeing to an exact number of players on the field. Doc was in favor of nine, but some members of the Knickerbockers favored seven. By a final vote, Doc was one of the members elected to represent the club at the city-wide convention of ball clubs (1856) and therefore was able to cast a vote for nine players (Nine innings for a regulation game also was established at that convention; Doc supported that, too.)
What were some of “Doc” Adams’ other contributions to early baseball? I understand that he worked on producing early baseball equipment.
Doc supervised the manufacture of the bats for the Knickerbockers. He would go all over New York City to furniture makers and select the wood himself. He supervised the turners so that the bats would have the desired taper, length and diameter.
He’d charge opposing teams $5 to make four balls. I doubt he made a profit. The money probably just reimbursed him for the leather and yarn. He’d get the rubber from his friends’ old worn-out rubber galoshes, which he would cut into strips.
Alexander Cartwright gets much of the credit for developing the game of baseball. How would you compare and contrast Cartwright and “Doc” Adams?
Alexander Cartwright, as I understand it, proposed the formal organizing of what became the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and was present at its founding on Sept. 23, 1845 (Doc joined the team about a month later.) Also, I believe Cartwright was involved with the first codifying of the rules in 1845.
The following year, Doc was elected Vice President of the Club, and Cartwright was elected secretary. Doc Adams played in the Knickerbocker’s first intramural game on June 19, 1849. Cartwright’s last game with the club was in late 1848. Early in 1849, Cartwright left New York City to join the California Gold Rush and eventually settled in Hawaii. From all I have read, Cartwright was a very good pitcher. (That was the only position Doc never played.) Considering that Doc played with the Knickerbockers for 17 years and Cartwright for three years, I’m not sure it is fair to either gentleman to try to compare them since so little concrete evidence exists as to their skills as players.
Why do you think your great-grandfather has slipped through the cracks and not already been elected to the Hall of Fame?
This may be one reason: After Doc retired from the game in 1862, he did not really talk about baseball. He did play with the Knickerbockers one last time in 1875 at a reunion game. In a brief autobiography for a Yale alumnae booklet in 1881, Doc did not even mention baseball at all. But, and this tells you more about the man than anything else, he wrote: “My marriage was the crowning achievement of my life.”
In fact, that accounts for why we don’t know more about him than we do. He never really talked about the game except for The Sporting News interview in 1896.
How would you sum up your case for “Doc” Adams being elected to the Hall of Fame?
Most baseball fans really love the stats. They love ERA, RBI, batting average, etc., and I absolutely understand that. Those stats are the yardstick by which all players are judged. Stats, though, did not really exist for mid-19th century players.
But Doc Adams was far more than a ball player. He invented a key position in the game in shortstop and made the decision to put bases 90 feet apart, changes to the game that are still with us more than 150 years later.
He was Vice President, President and Director of the Knickerbockers, and he headed-up the three rules committees of the New York-area baseball clubs from 1853 to 1858. He also made the equipment for the team. Most historians credit Doc for keeping the game going during its dark, early days and thereby possibly saving the game as we know it today from oblivion.
Still, in modern terms, it is not easy to judge his on-field abilities, but his contributions to the most formative years of the game are very clear. I believe that in this, the 170th year of his joining the Knickerbockers, it is the year he should be acknowledged by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
However, if it does not happen this year, I will not let this rest. I will continue to work toward what I want to see: Doc’s plaque at the Hall. This quest is as much for my father and grandfather as it is for Doc, and none of those gentlemen would approve if I gave up. Imagine how baseball might be now if Doc had given up in the early years of the Knickerbockers.
When did momentum build to get “Doc” Adams’ name on the Hall of Fame ballot?
It really started last year when Doc was awarded the 2014 Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend by the 19th Century Committee membership of SABR (the Society of American Baseball Research).
Back in 1980, The New York Times announced that Nelson Doubleday Jr. had bought the New York Mets, and the Doubleday/baseball myth resurfaced. My nephew, Nathan Adams Downey (then age 12), wrote the Times in response to the article. He based it on the 1939 essay my grandfather wrote, and the entire letter was published above the fold.
That might have been the first real mention until the 1990’s when the Internet made baseball research easier. I started this quest in 2011. I had met Gary O’Maxfield of the Friends of Vintage Base Ball in Hartford, Ct. He knew ALL about Doc (which astonished me) and one day in 2011, with all the innocence of a small child, I asked him “Should Doc Adams be in the Hall of Fame?” He said, “Of course!”, or something to that effect. It never occurred to me. To me, the Hall was Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, etc., the really big, important players. So, here I am four years later. And if Doc does not get into the Hall on the Pre-Integration Era Ballot this year, I’ll be back.
To what extent is the effort to get “Doc” Adams into the Hall of Fame an Adams family affair?
Well, I mentioned my nephew, but I also must give huge thanks to my sister, Nancy Adams Downey. She has been my rock and shoulder to cry on and whine on! Since 2011, though, I have been the “front man” (as it were) on this. My other nieces, nephews and cousins have all been supportive and enthusiastic. I have assembled a team (my “Doc Team”) of just the greatest fans of the game and its history, and I could not have gotten to this point without any of them. The best part of the last four years has been all the great people I have met. I am truly blessed to have made so many new friends.
MLB historian John Thorn supports the induction of “Doc” Adams into the Hall of Fame. How important is that?
Oh, John Thorn is amazing! It was John Thorn’s book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden (2011) that taught me most of what I now know about Doc and his role in baseball and confirmed what my grandfather wrote in his 1939 essay. I will never be able to express how grateful I am for John’s extraordinary research and the breadth and depth of his knowledge. He is an inspiration to any historical researcher. Also, of course, I should recognize SABR’s 19th Century Committee. Their members have contributed so much to my knowledge, and many of them have been so generous with their own archives, particularly Bob Tholkes. I am also grateful to so many people who have supported my efforts and who have been so kind and helpful to me and my “Doc Project.”
Who comprises the committee?
The committee is made up of Hall of Fame members, Major League executives and veteran media members and historians. The committee has 16 members, and a candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to be elected to the Hall of Fame. (Click here to read about the committee and the other candidates.)
How tightly are your fingers crossed? Do you think this will finally be the year?
I am not by nature an optimistic person, so my fingers are so tightly crossed that I might never be able to untangle them. However, I cannot afford the luxury of being optimistic because the let-down if Doc does not get voted in will be too great. Either way, on Jan. 6, when the voting results are announced, there WILL be “crying in baseball.” I just don’t know yet what kind of tears. If we are not successful, I’ll wake up the next day and say to myself (as I have for the last four years), “what can I do today to get Doc into the Hall of Fame?”
Learn more about “Doc” Adams: