Their numbers may dictate hall of fame inclusion, but don’t be surprised if the class of 2017 doesn’t resonate with a lot of traditional baseball fans – or be remembered as hall of famers.
As a life-long baseball fan I must admit. The annual selections for Cooperstown doesn’t do much for me anymore.
No offense to my good friend and colleague, Hal McCoy, who’s been a voter for most of his working life as a baseball writer, but the modern vote and discussion is simply too clouded, too confusing, and too subjective.
Wednesday’s selections of Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, and Pudge (Ivan) Rodriquez is my latest, imperfect example.
I haven’t spoken with Hal on this matter, and may not. As a beat writer for all those years he undoubtedly has a more informed perspective. And maybe his vote was tainted by the opinion of so many of his colleagues who no doubt lobby criteria amongst themselves daily…as to who’s deserving and why.
But somehow, the name Tim Raines does not equate with me in comparison to other major league “iconic” outfielders like Mays, Clemente, Aaron, Musial, and Mickey Mantle, just to name a few. Please Mr. Williams (Ted), take no offense.
Maybe it’s because I was there, working home plate, in West Palm Beach and Memphis when Raines broke into the Montreal system in 1978. Maybe it’s because I remember him differently, his personality and youthful disregard for on-field authority, over what he accomplished after he was rushed to the big leagues – for 23 seasons, a .292 lifetime average, and 808 stolen bases. He certainly meets the criteria for longevity. And his lifetime average is better than many others in the hall.
Maybe it’s the years of playing in anonymity in Montreal, a place other big leaguers have referred to as the Bermuda Triangle of the major league baseball recognition. Or his admission of cocaine use. Whatever. But while Raines distinguished himself statistically, I have this suspicion…that a lot of people will never think of him in terms of the game’s best, or the most iconic outfielders, enshrined in Cooperstown.
Likewise for Jeff Bagwell, who put up huge numbers for about ten of his fifteen seasons in Houston. Between 1994 and 2004 he averaged 35 homers, and more than a hundred RBIs. He was a lifetime .297 hitter, and they talk about his “WAR” numbers (wins above replacement) – the fourth best of all first basemen in the hall.
But Bagwell is also mentioned in the conversation of those who cheated the system, and the numbers, by taking performance-enhancing drugs. In Wednesday’s discussion the rhetoric had been watered down to him having a minimal association, a mere suspicion of having used. No one really knows, but there’s guilt by any association, I suppose.
However, suspicions and numbers aside, I find it hard to stand Jeff Bagwell’s 449 home runs alongside that of Ernie Banks, Willie McCovey and Lou Gehrig.
As for Rodriquez, there are the same whispers about PEDs, and the impact it might have had on his own longevity. Not many catchers actually play as long as Rodriquez did (21 years and 2543 games), which many say he could not have done without some nutritional help from sources other than black beans and rice.
His offensive numbers are sterling. His defensive numbers are stellar. And he’s regarded for his throwing arm as second only to Johnny Bench, the gold standard among hall of fame catchers.
But to me, if he was that good…why all those teams (Texas, Detroit, Florida, New York, Houston and Washington)? It’s true, of course, that free agency had a lot to do with his moving around. It was HIS choice. But again, a decade from now (if you have your wits) will you mention ‘Pudge’ Rodriquez in the same sentence with Bench, Berra, Bill Dickey, and others.
For that matter, will anyone remember Mike Piazza?
And will the hall of fame matter to you someday, as attitudes seem to soften on Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, and Mark McGwire, known or suspicioned users of steroids or other banned substances? If character really matters, as the baseball gods claim, should it matter that a third of Bonds’ 762 home runs came during his participation in the “steroid” age.
When that day comes when Bonds and McGwire are voted in by those that don’t remember…what will that say about the records of those who didn’t shoot up, rub on, or swallow more than Dr. Pepper and beer?
And this. Can you possibly put Bonds in…and leave Pete Rose out? If character matters that much you can probably throw out 70% of those already in.
Conclusion: Numbers, for the fact of the record, aren’t the same as true fame. Yeah, Raines, Rodriquez and Bagwell have stats. They spent their time. Only, I’m not sure they made that great of impression on those for which Bud Selig once famously said the hall exists – the fans!
And I wonder…back in 1963 did anyone question Elmer Flick, Sam Rice, and Eppa Rixey?