New Hall Class Helps Define Standards
BOSTON—Tim Raines signs "HOF” after his name. He is the second greatest leadoff hitter in history and a man who reached base more often than Tony Gwynn or Roberto Clemente.
So does Jeff Bagwell, who statistically is one of the six best first basemen ever, second only to Albert Pujols since World War II.
And so does Ivan Rodriguez, one of the best catchers who ever played.
Still, much of the conversation when this year’s Hall class was announced centered on steroids and performance-enhancing drugs—especially now that Mike Piazza, Bagwell and Rodriguez have been enshrined. In fact, before celebrating the exploits of this year’s trio of inductees, the initial narrative seemed to focus on Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens surpassing 50 percent of the vote for the first time.
Those who analyze Hall voting trends suggest that millennial and online voters have forgiven Clemens and Bonds for their alleged PED transgressions. But this isn’t certain.
Next year’s ballot will remain crowded. In the next couple of elections, there are expected to be Raines-esque pushes for Mike Mussina (six ballots remaining), Curt Schilling (five) and Edgar Martinez (two) before their candidacy expires.
Starting pitchers now seem to be devalued by Hall voters. The writers have enshrined just five who peaked in the three decades between the 1980s and 2000s: Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.
Enter Mussina, who is far and away the winningest pitcher (270 wins) to turn pro since 1990. As a long-time American League East starter he made 425 of his 537 career appearances (79 percent) in the tough pitching environments of Camden Yards, Fenway Park, Rogers Center and Yankee Stadium.
Bonds and Clemens might have their day in 2019 or 2020, when Yankees superstars Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are the only first-time headliners on the ballot. However, that prospect depends on how far the backlogged stars such as Mussina, Schilling, Martinez and Fred McGriff (two ballots remaining) can advance in coming elections.
More Than Hall Of Fame Ability
All we really learned from this Hall election is that those who vote concede that PEDs are now part of baseball history. Many of them know that gyms had trainers who thought androstenedione and other drugs were part of the legal gym culture. Next, as Bob Costas asserts, the writers have to determine how authentic their records really are.
Raines was one of the most popular players in the sport, despite the shadow cast on him-—and every other leadoff hitter—by Rickey Henderson. His greatness was concentrated in a seven-year window from 1981-87, when he hit .310/.396/.448 in 1,000 games, but he was never quite as dominant after the owners colluded against the players in 1987. Raines also struggled to gain national attention while playing in Montreal.
The text messages in support of Bagwell were voluminous because he was one of the most respected teammates of his time. I remember the home run he hit for the University of Hartford minutes after he was selected by the Red Sox in the fourth round of the 1989 draft. Playing in a New England college all-star showcase at Fenway Park, Bagwell crushed a ball that landed in the garage across Lansdowne Street.
I remember seeing Bagwell at Double-A New Britain in 1990, where manager Butch Hobson promised me he would be one of my all-time favorites—which he was. While Bagwell hit just four homers that season, he also hit .333 with more walks (73) than strikeouts (57). New Britain played in Beehive Stadium, which was a dead-air nightmare, and the entire team hit 31 homers, led by Eric Wedge with five.
When the Red Sox public-relations staff handed out a release in August 1990 announcing that Boston had traded Bagwell for a middle reliever named Larry Anderson, I handed the release back and walked home to Brookline, Mass. Bagwell could easily have played third base until arthritis killed his shoulder 12 years later, but the Red Sox viewed him as a first baseman and mistakenly placed their faith in Scott Cooper there.
Bagwell was a great athlete whose agility made him one of the best defensive first basemen ever. He ranks third all-time for assists at the position. He also was a great baserunner, and former teammate Brad Ausmus believes he had the best instincts he ever saw. I once did a piece for ESPN where one young player defined leadership as "the stare you get from Baggie if you don’t play the game right.”
After the labrum operation on his right shoulder following the 2001 season, Bagwell suffered from congenital arthritis that had plagued his father. His ability to throw deteriorated.
In 1988, Bagwell, Frank Thomas and Mo Vaughn participated in the Cape Cod League home-run derby. Dave Staton won that contest, but Bagwell and Thomas are now Hall of Famers.
The batboy for the 1988 Chatham A’s was Matt Hyde, who now is a Yankees scout. The team never gave him an A’s hat, so on the last day of the season Bagwell gave Hyde his cap, signed a couple of Cape League baseball cards and a bat.
Hyde still has them 29 years later. He plans to hold on to them forever, even though selling them could pay handsomely. Hyde, like most everyone who ever knew Bagwell, harbors fondness for his Hall of Fame character.
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— For more from Hall of Famer Peter Gammons, go to gammonsdaily.com