Another year, another class enshrined in Cooperstown. Usually, my first instinct is to bemoan those excluded and bitch for the trillionth time about how crooked the voting process is. While I still think that process needs to be dramatically overhauled (I say replace the baseball writers with former players, managers, coaches, executives, etc.), I have to admit this year’s class is flawless. Not only did Craig Biggio get in before running into perennial snub status, but having John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez in for a resplendent pitching class is a thing of beauty. I already made my case for Biggio in last year’s ballot, and I feel Johnson, Smoltz, and Martinez don’t need any further explaining or defending. Thus, my piece for 2015 will address only those who I feel were overlooked, and will hopefully get in next year.
1. Alan Trammell: Man, I’ve been struggling with this one for years. I’ve always been a fan of Trammell, both on his own and alongside Lou Whitaker to form perhaps the greatest double play combo in baseball history. Not to mention, he was one of the legendary 1984 Detroit Tigers, easily among the five best teams to ever play the game. But for some reason, I always nudged Trammell into the “really good but not quite great enough” category when it came to being in the Hall of Fame. Nowadays, I’ll admit I was dead wrong about that. If anything, he’s simply an overlooked player that should be in by any measure. Baseball Reference’s WAR generator has him as the 93rd best player of all-time, and he boasts a .285 career average, 2,365 hits, four Gold Gloves, and the 1984 World Series MVP. Those put him in the same arena as inductees Barry Larkin and Ozzie Smith. Time to make him an inductee as well.
2. Mike Mussina: Last year, when I was making my picks for my full ballot, I was cold towards Mussina. He struck me as one of those perennially great pitchers who just wasn’t quite superlative enough for a plaque in Cooperstown. (Granted, this wasn’t helped at all by playing for many bridesmaid Orioles and Yankees teams.) Not to mention, if you scrutinize his career for the preferred sexy pitching accolades (career ERA, 20-win seasons, Cy Young Awards, etc.), he doesn’t look so pristine. However, my colleague Brad was insistent that he belonged, and as I took a closer look I changed my mind. First off, Mussina was a top-tier starter who spent his whole career in the American League, at a time when PED’s and the designated hitter coupled together to make the game more explosively offense-oriented. Also, his total numbers are far from shoddy: seven Gold Gloves (one of the best defensive pitchers of his era), 270 wins, and 2,813 strikeouts. Basically, he’s just above or next to Jack Morris, without the rings. I say Moose gets in, but I’ll admit it’s a debatable matter. If I had to pick between him and Trammell, I’d throw all my weight behind Tram.
3. Mike Piazza: I already laid out a good case last year, and while I’m glad to have a pitching-heavy class for 2015. that only kicks the inevitable down the road. 2016 should be Piazza’s year to get in, no excuses.
Golden Era Ballot
Alright, this is the nitty gritty of my ballot right here. Again, the main inductee class of Biggio, Johnson, Smoltz and Martinez was a triumph. It’s with the Golden Era ballot that the HOF really laid a goose egg this year. 16 members of the committee were presented with 10 candidates, each of whom contributed something seminal to game…and not a single one was inducted. So disgraceful was their snub that even Rolling Stone did a story on it, and rightfully so. Whether or not the BBWAA get it right in a given year, the Golden Era committee should always be relied upon to rectify any snubs and give legends their due. Their failure to do so this year was disheartening, and hopefully will be a distant memory when most (if not all) of the 10 snubs this year get in in the coming years. And hopefully, unlike in Ron Santo’s case, before they pass on.
1. Tony Oliva: I’ll be honest: For quite some time, I would doubt myself when making Oliva’s HOF case. I knew that he had worthy numbers before his career was cut short by gruelling injuries in the early 70’s, but I always figured I was letting my Twins bias drive my thinking. Before that cursed injury, though, Oliva packed in a lifetime’s worth: three batting titles, a career .304 average and eight All-Star selections. Not to mention, the scenario of having great numbers but being cut short by injury applies to HOF inductee Roy Campanella, whose place I don’t dispute one bit. Thus, Oliva is in. If there was one player that should have been a no-brainer for the committee this year, it was him.
2. Maury Wills: Even as a Dodgers lunatic, I hadn’t given Wills’ numbers a perusal in some time, at least in a “should he be inducted” mindset. Man oh man, should he ever: .281 career average, 2,134 hits, 586 stolen bases, and three World Series championships. Not to mention, he’s the man who singlehandedly revived base-stealing with his 104 swipes in 1962, the same year he won NL MVP. He probably had the most complete career of anyone eligible on the Golden Era ballot, making his exclusion all the more perplexing
3. Anyone!: I realize this could dilute my analysis above, but the truth is, any of the 10 candidates could have been justifiably selected. If not for their numbers alone, at least for their personalities as well. That doesn’t sound like a cogent case for induction, but the men up for consideration this year (Luis Tiant, Jim Kaat, Gil Hodges, and Minnie Minoso also among them) were some of the best characters the sport has ever known, in addition to being among the greatest players of their time. While I seek to grow in my understanding of statistics, even the most rigorous evaluation of the game should always have room for heart and personality. When the stats are all counted up and documented, it’s the fun swagger of a player at the top of their game that sticks with you most (think Tiant smoking his stogies in victory). Or, like Kaat, a good sense of humor that endears you to fans even long after you’ve hung up the spikes. Even with just one choice, the Golden Era committee could have recognized both talent and heart. Ultimately, they chose neither.