Cooperstown is the desired destination for players. Most will not openly discuss their desire to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, however human nature all but dictates that highly driven people strive to become the best at their chosen profession. The process to reach Cooperstown for a player is typically through the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) election process, which announces its results each January. However, there is another way into the Hall of Fame.
Previously known as the Veterans Committee, the Era Committees were formed to reexamine players who are no longer eligible for the BBWAA voting. The committees also examine the contributions of managers, umpires, and executives to determine if they warrant enshrinement. Currently, there are four committees: Early Baseball (pre 1950), Golden Days (1950-1969), Modern Baseball (1970-1987), and Today’s Game (1988-2016). Each committee considers 10 candidates, with each committee member allowed to vote for a maximum of four candidates. A candidate needs at least 75% of the votes to be elected.
The Today’s Game Committee has 16 voting members. The members include members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, executives, and veteran media members. This year the committee considered the candidacy of Lee Smith, Harold Baines, Lou Piniella, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, and George Steinbrenner.
Harold Baines and Lee Smith, the newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (John Locker/ AP)
After much examination by the Today’s Game Committee, Cooperstown will welcome two new members to the Hall of Fame this summer. Lee Smith and Harold Baines will forever be enshrined along side the greatest players, managers, umpires, and executives in baseball history. Smith appeared on all 16 ballots, while Baines appeared on 12 ballots. Lou Piniella missed his place in Cooperstown by a single vote, appearing on 11 ballots. The remaining seven candidates each received fewer than five votes.
The journey to Cooperstown was longer than Smith or Baines preferred. However, receiving the highest honor in baseball was worth the wait. The Today’s Game Committee, as well as the other committees, are vital to the thorough examination of baseball. The committees give those deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame the recognition they deserve, no matter how long the wait.
Growing up around Atlanta in the 1990’s there was plenty of great baseball games and players to watch. Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Chipper Jones were all Hall of Fame players. Andruw Jones, Otis Nixon, Javy Lopez, and so many more were great players to watch. These riches on the diamond were amazing, but as time has gone by the realization of how great it was to watch these players night after night has set in. Fans across the country might only have a few chances each season to see these players and they understood that you should take the time to slow down and appreciate them.
The understanding that I need to slow down and watch when a great player passes through town has sunk in more as I get older. Appreciating the greatest of a player goes beyond the highlight reel plays. It is watching how they approach each pitch throughout a game, both at the plate and in the field. There are only a select few players in baseball that can capture my attention even when they are not making great plays. Players who make me stop and watch just in case they do something amazing.
These stop what you are doing and watch players are the elite few. Some I have had the pleasure of watching in person, others I missed my opportunity to watch their greatness. When I was living in New York for graduate school and the few years after, I was lucky enough to see Derek Jeter play on a few occasions. Jeter was never the best hitter, but he was good one. He did not have the most power, the biggest arm, or greatest fielding range, but he commanded everything inside Yankee Stadium. While only getting to see Jeter in the later part of his career, it was still special to see one of the few players who was respected across baseball without exception. It takes a special player to be respected by Red Sox fans even though he was a lifelong Yankee that broke Boston’s heart on so many occasions. Watching Jeter play consumed a majority of my time at Yankee Stadium. I watched how he moved with every pitch and how he was the man on the field and yet everyone knew in their heart that he was never the most talented. Derek Jeter could do everything on a baseball diamond, but it was what did not show up in the box score, which set him apart from everyone else.
I usually went to Mets games simply because the tickets were cheaper, however when I did venture up to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium it was special. Even inside the new Yankee Stadium the history of the Yankees resonates. Watching two players who will and should be first ballot Hall of Famers, Jeter and Ichiro, plus my favorite player in Andruw Jones meant the 2012 Yankees were the best for me. Watching Jones patrol the outfield with the Braves growing up spoiled me. If it was catchable, he seemed to always catch it. The 2012 Yankees meant I got to relieve a bit of my childhood with Andruw Jones, watch the coolest man in baseball in Derek Jeter, and watch one of the greatest pure hitters of all time in Ichiro.
The beauty of Ichiro’s swing and his athleticism at the plate are what always caught my eye. He seemed, and still seems, like a magician at the plate. He never seems to be fooled on a pitch; he might swing and miss but never look awful in doing it. Ichiro is to me what a baseball player ought to be. He can beat you with power, though he rarely displays it. He can put the ball in play and then beat you with his speed. Then on defense, he can chase down fly balls with the best of them. If runners are on base they advance at their own risk, as Ichiro is blessed with a cannon for an arm. Ichiro has all five tools, though he keeps his power hidden until it is absolutely necessary. Watching Ichiro hit is the closest I will ever come to watching a hitter on the same level like a Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, or Honus Wagner. Watching Ichiro and Jeter play were and are a return to my childhood. A return to when baseball was simple and the players were larger than life; the baseball that was and forever will be my first love.
I have not gotten to see every player I wanted to see play in person, though I did on television. The two biggest players that I did not get to see play in person that I will forever be sad about are Ken Griffey Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero. Yes, I saw both players on television, but not in person. There is a big difference in appreciating how great a player is when you see them not through a camera lens, but with your own eyes.
The two most obvious reasons I never saw Ken Griffey Jr. play in person are that he played in Seattle and Cincinnati and I lived in Atlanta. This meant at best his team would come to Atlanta once a year. Interleague play did not start until 1997. This meant seven seasons of Griffey’s 22-year career were already gone. Then there were the last three years in Seattle before he moved on to the Cincinnati Reds. There were some opportunities to see Griffey play in Atlanta during interleague at some point with the Mariners, but I went to only two or three games a year growing up. So not great odds, plus we usually went to the less popular games with the slightly cheaper tickets and the smaller crowds. I loved going to games, but looking back, I wish I had seen Griffey. His time with the Reds meant he only came to town one time a season, and sadly there were several lost seasons in Cincinnati due to injuries. Griffey was, and remains, the prototype for what it means to be cool on a baseball field. Jeter was New York cool, suave. Griffey was fun, exciting, and electric. His wiggling batting stance is still mimicked by people today, though admittedly no one else, even in softball leagues can ever hope to hit a ball like he did. Griffey could amaze you and do things that just did not make sense for a player his size. You expected Frank Thomas and Albert Belle to hit the ball a mile, but Griffey at worst hit the ball as far as they did, plus he could run like the wind. Ken Griffey Jr. was a once every few generations type player and I missed him. As great as his highlight reel is, I can only imagine how great it would have been to see him play in person.
Missing several opportunities to see Ken Griffey Jr. makes sense, not seeing Vladimir Guerrero play does not. Guerrero spent 8 of his 16 seasons with the Montreal Expos. Playing in the National League East with the Braves meant I had plenty of opportunities to watch him play, but for whatever reason I never did. It was not from a lack of interest, I just never seemed to go to Turner Field when the Expos were in town. Not sure why, just the way it worked out. Guerrero was a lot like Andruw Jones, great power and speed and a howitzer for an arm. The main difference between Guerrero and Jones was that Guerrero was a more complete hitter and Jones played for Atlanta, not against them. Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit. It reminded me of playing baseball in the street with my brother and friends. If it was within reach, you swung, partly so you did not have to go pick it up and partly because it may be the best pitch you will see. Guerrero never seemed to care if the pitch was a foot outside and head high, he could serve it into the outfield. He could also bloop a ball into short left field after the pitch bounced in front of the plate. Ichiro is a magician in the batter’s box in the sense that he can almost place where he hits the ball. Guerrero is a difference sort of magician as he can hit nearly everything thrown towards the plate, and hit it well. The other thing I missed was seeing Guerrero unleash his arm. There are few players with arms that stop the opponent from even attempting to take an extra base; Rick Ankiel and Jeff Francoeur are the players in recent years that come to mind regarding the fear their arms put into the minds of opposing base runners. Perhaps Vladimir Guerrero was not the best player in terms of doing the conventional things on a diamond the best, though he did them extremely well. What I missed the most in not seeing Guerrero play in person is his ability to leave fans speechless. He could hit or throw a baseball a mile, or single on a pitch that most players could not even reach. Vladimir Guerrero took the sort of baseball that I grew up playing to the Major Leagues and still made it look as amazing as it felt.
The opportunity to see something unique and amazing at a baseball game exists every time the gates open. You could see Matt Cain throw a Perfect Game (as Jesse did in San Francisco), watch the final game at old Yankee Stadium (as John, Jesse, and I did in 2008), or just see a fun game like I have on so many occasions. Baseball is a team sport played by individuals. These individuals are what make the game great. Players of all size can find success on a baseball diamond, whether they are Jose Altuve at 5’6”, Randy Johnson at 6’10”, or Jonathan Broxton at 300 lbs. Great players come in every physical form possible and they are all capable to doing something amazing. Most of us do not have the financial ability to go to every game, but we should all make the time when these elite, once in a generation type players come to town. Continuing to put off going to see Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Aroldis Chapman, and others will be a sad memory. There is no guarantee they will do something amazing at the game you attend, but you will still be able to say you saw them play. No one cares if the one game you saw Sandy Koufax pitch he did not win the game, you still got to see Koufax pitch. Do not miss your opportunity to see great players in person. We can all watch highlight reels, but watching in person is always special and you will remember it better than any video.
As the off season rolls along, discussions between teams and free agents are starting to heat up. The bigger names will start to fall in place now that a certain Second Baseman, who played in the Bronx last year is off the market. Robinson Cano’s contract with the Seattle Mariners has signed the third largest contract ever, tied with Albert Pujols. Both contracts are for 10 years and $240 million. Not quite what he wanted, as Robinson Cano was seeking a contract worth $310 million over 10 years. To put that into perspective, the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu had a GDP in 2010 of $36 million, or $5 million more than Cano was seeking annually While to the average person this is more money than we can imagine being paid, for an elite Major League Baseball player it is not quite the same stretch.
Every year pundits write baseball’s obituary, saying it is a dying sport. If they are right, then why do salaries keep going up, why do sponsors keep spending millions to advertise with Major League Baseball? Dating back to the last Major League Baseball strike in 1994-1995, the yearly salary for the highest paid player has risen from Barry Bonds’ $7.29 million to Alex Rodriguez‘s $27.5 million. That is a 377% increase in 19 years. I would say that is representative of a sport that has plenty of life.
So now that I have debunked the idea that baseball is on life support, lets look at whether Robinson Cano is worth, in baseball terms, the $310 million contract he was seeking ($31 million average annually), or even the $240 he will receive ($24 million average annually). Since the start of the 1995 season the following players have had the highest annual salary: Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Belle, Barry Bonds (again), Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza, Mo Vaughn, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens, Carlos Delgado, Alex Rodriguez, and Alex Rodriguez (again).
Excluding the pitchers on the list (Maddux, Martinez, Brown, and Clemens), and comparing Cano’s career to the other highest paid players, this is how Cano stacks up statistically.
The year they signed the contract, and their career stats amassed before signing the contract:
Barry Bonds- 1992, ($7.29 million)
7 seasons, G 1010, R 672, H 984, 2B 220, HR 176, RBI 556, SB 251, BB 611, SO 590, BA .275, OBP .380, SLG .503, OPS .883
Ken Griffey Jr.- 1996, ($8.5 million)
6 seasons, G 845, R 518, H 972, 2B 194, HR 172, RBI 543, SB 88, BB 374, SO 477, BA .306, OBP .379, SLG .541, OPS .920
Albert Belle- 1996, ($11 million)
8 seasons, G 913, R 592, H 1014, 2B 223, HR 242, RBI 751, SB 61, BB 396, SO 622, BA .295, OBP .369, SLG .580, OPS .949
Barry Bonds- 1997, ($11.45 million)
11 seasons, G 1583, R 1121, H 1595, 2B 333, HR 334, RBI 993, SB 380, BB 1082, SO 871, BA .288, OBP .404, SLG .548, OPS .952
Mike Piazza- 1998, ($13 million)
7 seasons, G 840, R 511, H 1038, 2B 148, HR 200, RBI 644, SB 11, BB 330, SO 493, BA .333, OBP .396, SLG .575, OPS .972
Mo Vaughn- 1998, ($13.333 million)
8 seasons, G 1046, R 628, H 1165, 2B 199, HR 230, RBI 752, SB 28, BB 519, SO 954, BA .304, OBP .394, SLG .542, OPS .936
Carlos Delgado- 2000, ($17 million)
8 seasons, G 829, R 493, H 818, 2B 214, HR 190, RBI 604, SB 5, BB 436, SO 728, BA .282, OBP .383, SLG .557, OPS .940
Alex Rodriguez- 2000, ($25.2 million)
7 seasons, G 790, R 627, H 966, 2B 194, HR 189, RBI 595, SB 133, BB 310, SO 616, BA .309, OBP .374, SLG .561, OPS .934
Alex Rodriguez- 2007, ($27.5 million)
14 seasons, G 1904, R 1501, H 2250, 2B 395, HR 518, RBI 1503, SB 265, BB 915, SO 1524, BA .306, OBP .389, SLG .578, OPS .967
Then we compare these numbers against Robinson Cano:
Robinson Cano- 2013, (wanted $31 million, got $24 million)
9 seasons, G 1374, R 799, H 1649, 2B 375, HR 204, RBI 822, SB 38, BB 350, SO 689, BA .309, OBP .355, SLG .504, OPS .860
Robinson Cano is seen as a slugger who can change a game with one sing of his bat, although perception and reality may be out of alignment. He is well established in Major League Baseball after 9 seasons. The highest paid players in Major League Baseball since the strike in 1994 have all played 8 years or fewer except for Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez when they both signed contracts which made them the highest paid player in baseball for a second time.
Examining Cano’s career statistics against the other members of this list at the time they were the highest paid player in Major League Baseball he has scored more Runs than everyone except Bonds* and Rodriguez* (both when they signed their second contract). Only Rodriguez* had more career Hits and more Doubles. Belle, Bonds*, Vaughn, and Rodriguez* had more Home Runs. Bonds* and Rodriguez* had more RBIs. Bonds, Griffey, Belle, Bonds*, Rodriguez, and Rodriguez* had more Stolen Bases. Bonds, Griffey, Belle, Bonds*, Vaughn, Delgado, and Rodriguez* had more Walks. Bonds, Griffey, Belle, Piazza, and Rodriguez had fewer Strikeouts. Only Piazza and Rodriguez had a higher career Batting Average. Everyone had a higher career On Base Percentage. Everyone but Bonds had a higher Slugging Percentage. Everyone had a higher OPS than Cano.
Ultimately I think what Robinson Cano is as a player is a hard hitting Second Baseman who can collect a lot of hits, drive the ball in the the alleys for doubles and hit 20 to 30 home runs a season. It is important to remember that Yankee Stadium is easier to hit home runs in than Safeco Field, so be prepared to see a bit of a drop in Cano’s home run total. He is billed as a slugger, and he approaches his at bats as such. However with two strikes he is smart enough to take what he is given instead of continuing to swing for the fences. Will Cano make a difference for the Seattle Mariners? Yes. Will he be an elite player at the end of this contract? Doubtful. Should Cano, and any other player, make as much money as they can? Absolutely. Cano is an elite player. Is he a future Hall of Famer? He is trending that way but he has work left to do. I believe is initial demand of $310 million was way over his value, and the contract he signed is still high. The Mariners did over pay, but Cano will have a positive impact on Seattle, as they should start to contend in the American League West again soon.
*Second contract (not the asterisk most people feel they should have next to their names)