The National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the Class of 2021 tomorrow. Those elected will hopefully join the Class of 2020 for their induction ceremony this summer. There are no clear cut inductees this year. Several players may come close, but we will see if any pass the 75% minimum for induction.
- Vote for no more than 10 players
- A player is eligible for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame if they meet the following criteria:
- They competed in ten seasons. A single game counts as a season played.
- The player has been retired for at least five seasons. The clock restarts if the player returns and plays in the Major Leagues.
- The player is not on the ineligible list; banned from baseball.
- The player must receive 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot.
- The player is elected if they receive at least 75% of all ballots cast.
- Any member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) who has been an active member for ten years.
- The BBWAA is limited to writers for newspapers only, including some internet newspapers.
The Winning Run Rules
- Known steroid users are ineligible.
There are 25 candidates on this year’s ballot. Many require serious consideration, while a few are honored simply to make the ballot. Below are the candidates, their year on the ballot, and 2020 vote percentage.
- Bobby Abreu- 2nd (5.5%)
- Barry Bonds– 9th (60.7%)
- Mark Buehrle- 1st
- A. J. Burnett– 1st
- Roger Clemens– 9th (61.0%)
- Michael Cuddyer– 1st
- Dan Haren– 1st
- LaTroy Hawkins– 1st
- Todd Helton- 3rd (29.2%)
- Tim Hudson- 1st
- Torii Hunter- 1st
- Andruw Jones- 4th (19.4%)
- Jeff Kent- 8th (27.5%)
- Andy Pettitte– 3rd (11.3%)
- Aramis Ramirez– 1st
- Manny Ramirez– 5th (28.2%)
- Scott Rolen- 4th (35.3%)
- Curt Schilling- 9th (70.0%)
- Gary Sheffield– 7th (30.5%)
- Sammy Sosa– 9th (13.9%)
- Nick Swisher– 1st
- Shane Victorino– 1st
- Omar Vizquel- 4th (52.6%)
- Billy Wagner- 6th (31.7%)
- Barry Zito– 1st
Here is my official unofficial 2021 Hall of Fame ballot.
I believe there are more than 10 Hall of Fame worthy candidates this year. Excluding deserving players because of the maximum of 10 rule creates an unfair system. There are also legitimate concerns about the actions of some off the field, but my focus is on the field. It is not hypocritical to exclude Bonds and Clemens as their actions impacted games. The accusations against Omar Vizquel and the public declarations by Curt Schilling did not. Poor morals do not exclude a player from the Hall of Fame. Cooperstown is a museum that preserves the history of baseball. PED users are part of that history, but they can be remembered elsewhere in the museum.
Six candidates return to the ballot after receiving my vote in 2020. Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, Omar Vizquel, and Billy Wagner. They each retain my vote, leaving just four votes for the other candidates.
Todd Helton had 10 consecutive seasons with at least 140 games played, 160 hits, 37 Doubles, while hitting over .300. Thin air does not help you make contact. He also slugged at least 25 Home Runs in seven straight seasons. Helton should not be penalized for playing in Colorado, the Hall of Fame does not exclude Rockies players.
Andruw Jones is the greatest defensive Center Fielder ever. He won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves. Awards voting is subjective, but the numbers never lie. His .990 Fld% is .007 higher than league average during his 17 season career. His Range meant Jones reached 0.46 more balls per nine innings than league average, turning 74.52 additional hits into outs every season. Runners were scared to advance on Jones. 49.2% of them held on fly outs with the next base open. He killed, threw out, 2.6% of them. 51.8% of runners did not advance, more than 5% higher than league average. Jones’ reputation prevented 86 runners from advancing a season. He was not only better than an average Center Fielder, he was better than Willie Mays. Jones prevented 253 runs, 14.88 per season, from scoring to Mays’ 173, 7.86 per season, in five fewer seasons. At the plate, Jones hit at least 26 Home Runs in 10 straight seasons on his way to 434. Put Andruw Jones in Cooperstown already.
Jeff Kent is one of the greatest offensive Second Basemen ever. His 377 Home Runs are 33 more than second place, Robinson Cano. He is a career .290 hitter. Kent had nine consecutive seasons with at least 22 Home Runs and 30 Doubles. He hit at least 21 Doubles in all 17 seasons of his career. Kent won the 2000 National League MVP. While he was average defensively, this has not excluded other Hall of Famers.
Third Base is underrepresented in Cooperstown. Scott Rolen is the logical choice to help correct this error. He won the 1997 National League Rookie of the Year. He had eight consecutive seasons with at least 21 Home Runs and 28 Doubles. In addition to his bat, Rolen was an elite defender. Playing over 2,000 Games at Third Base, with 140 defensive Runs saved, with .968 Fld%, .014% higher than league average. His Range allowed him to reach 0.19 more balls per nine innings. The hot corner needs a new addition.
Omar Vizuel was a magician with the glove. He won 11 Gold Gloves, including nine in a row. While no one compares to Ozzie Smith, Vizquel was close. Vizquel was better at the plate. A career .272 hitter. He stole at least 22 bases in six consecutive seasons and hit at least 23 Doubles in eight seasons. Vizquel never struck out more than 72 times in a season. If Ozzie Smith is a Hall of Famer, so is Omar Vizquel.
Billy Wagner posted 422 Saves during the Steroid Era. Simply, he got batters out. He posted a 2.31 ERA, 0.998 WHIP, 1,196 Strikeouts, and 300 Walks. Mariano Rivera opened the door for more Closers, Wagner should walk into Cooperstown.
The four additions to my ballot in 2021 came down to five players. Deciding who to leave off was difficult, the rule of 10 is dumb.
Hall of Fame players either burn brightly for a short time, Sandy Koufax, or have a long consistent career, Craig Biggio. Bobby Abreu fits the Biggio mold. Abreu had 12 straight seasons with at least 155 Hits. He hit at least 29 Doubles in 14 straight seasons. Abreu slugged at least 15 Home Runs in 13 straight seasons. All while playing at least 150 games a season. Playing every day builds impressive career numbers and Bobby Abreu built such a career.
Wins are an inefficient measure of a pitcher’s performance, as Felix Hernandez and Jacob deGrom can attest. The magical 300 win club may be a thing of the past. Hall of Fame voters need to adjust their expectations for pitchers. Mark Buehrle won 214 games in 16 seasons. His rookie season was the only time he did not start at least 30 games. He pitched at least 200 innings in 14 consecutive seasons. Buehrle was the workhorse for the 2005 World Series winning White Sox. He also pitched the 18th Perfect Game in Major League history on July 23, 2009. A single game does not make you a Hall of Famer, but a Perfect Game helps.
Tim Hudson, like Buehrle, deserves recognition as pitching changes. He won 222 games in 17 seasons. Hudson won at least 11 Games in all but one season between 1999 and 2012, failing in 2009 due to Tommy John surgery. He pitched over 3,100 innings with more than 2,000 strikeouts. Hudson finished in the top six of Cy Young voting four times. Hudson gave his team a chance to win every time he took the mound.
Torii Hunter has never received the recognition he deserves. He made a career out of consistency. He hit at least 21 Home Runs in all but one season from 2001 to 2011. He collected 21 Doubles for 15 straight seasons. Hunter won nine consecutive Gold Gloves in Center. He was an above average fielder, but his Range was elite. His +0.24 Range Factor per nine innings helped turn 39 hits into outs every season. Hunter’s most memorable moment was robbing Barry Bonds of an All Star game Home Run in Milwaukee. It was not as monumental as Kirby Puckett’s World Series catch. However, these Minnesota outfielders had similar careers. If Puckett earned his place in Cooperstown, so has Hunter.
There are more than 10 deserving players on the ballot this year. The final cut was difficult. Curt Schilling was 11th on my list. His stats are similar to Buehrle and Hudson, but his Postseason accolades are why many believe he belongs in Cooperstown. Schilling is outspoken. His anger towards journalists and those who do not support his political views are well documented. I did not vote for Schilling last year and he falls short again this year. I voted for Omar Vizquel. The accusations against him are horrific. Both men have made poor choices off the diamond, but the Hall of Fame ballot and voters are not their judge away from the diamond.
Robinson Cano has failed a second PED test and is suspended for the 2021 season. In addition to his $35.7 million in lost salary, $11.7 million for his 80 game suspension in 2018 and $24 million for the 2021 season, Cano has tarnished his reputation, potentially eliminating his chances for Cooperstown. He has gone from one of the greatest second basemen ever to another great player whose accomplishments are now questioned.
After playing the first 8 seasons of his career with the New York Yankees, Cano became a free agent before the 2014 season. Many expected Cano was the next lifelong Yankee. Shockingly Robinson Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. In his first 4 seasons in the Pacific Northwest Cano’s numbers dipped; -.020 BA, -.014 OBP, -.026 SLG, and -.041 OPS. Not horrific considering Cano came from hitter friendly Yankee Stadium. Concerns however escalated in May 2018, when Cano failed a PED test. He was suspended 80 games for taking Furosemide, a diuretic that can be used to mask other banned substances. The debate began immediately, was Cano a drug cheat or did he make a stupid mistake. Cano claimed a doctor in the Dominican Republic gave him the medication and he did not know it was banned by MLB. A seemingly dumb mistake that would require time and effort to repair the damage with fans and Hall of Fame voters.
At the end of the 2018 season, Seattle sent Cano and his albatross contract to Queens. Back in New York, Cano sought to win over Mets fans. Age began creeping in as his numbers continued to slide. Then came Cano’s second failed PED test and suspension for the 2021 season. He tested positive for Stanozolol, an anabolic steroid. Cano should know better, Stanozolol stays in your system for 3 to 4 days after a single use. He was reckless and has thrown his entire career into doubt. The Yankees are happy they did not break the bank for Cano in 2013 and the Mariners are happy they are no longer trapped under his contract. Cano’s latest suspension will save the Mariners $3.75 million and the Mets $20.25 million. Seattle made a financial mistake, but Cano’s are longer lasting.
Robinson Cano had a one way ticket to the Hall of Fame. It was only a matter of time before he joined the other 21 second basemen in Cooperstown. Cano is 10th all time in WAR among second basemen at 68.9. He ranks 9th in oWAR, 68.6; the highest ranked non-Hall of Famer. He has scored the 17th most Runs, 1,257. He has the 10th most Hits, 2,624; the most among non-Hall of Famers. He has the most Doubles for a second baseman not in the Hall of Fame and 4th most overall, 571. Cano has slugged the second most Home Runs, 334, only 43 behind Jeff Kent. He has the 5th most RBI, 1,302. His .303 Batting Average places him 20th among second basemen, ahead of 13 enshrined in Cooperstown. Cano has the 9th highest SLG, .492. Rogers Hornsby, .577, and Jeff Kent, .500, are the only players with more than 1,200 career At Bats ahead of him. Cano has the 12th highest OPS, .844, and 16th highest OPS+, 126; ahead of 15 Hall of Famers in each. Cano should have waltzed into Cooperstown, now his stupidity puts that into doubt.
The Mets, and new owner Steve Cohen, have Cano under contract through 2023, his age 40 season. The market for a league average second baseman, at best, a diminishing bat and shrinking range with no long term future does not exist. The Mets will replace Cano for the 2021 season and despite his contract there is no guarantee Cano will play everyday again. His range is shrinking, Cano is making 1.05 fewer players per game (RFG) than the average second baseman. The universal DH could benefit Cano, but a .280 hitter with 15 Home Runs is not what most teams want as their full time DH.
Robinson Cano had the opportunity to chase milestones at the end of his career. Adding the Hits, Home Runs, Doubles, and RBI to his career totals over his remaining two seasons with the Mets, plus the season and a half missed with PED suspensions, Cano would have reached 3,000 hits, sailed past the second baseman Home Run record, potentially lead in Doubles and RBI, and finish in the top 10 for Runs scores. Instead Cano threw it all away.
Enshrinement in Cooperstown seemed a forgone conclusion before 2018. Now that destiny hangs in the balance. Hall of Fame voting has not been kind to those caught, or under suspicion of, using PEDs. Mark McGwire never reached 25% in 10 years on the ballot. Sammy Sosa has not reached 15% in 8 years on the ballot. Barry Bonds, a Hall of Fame player without PEDs, has come the closest, reaching 60% in 2019, his 8th year on eligibility. None of these three legendary sluggers failed an MLB test. Similarly Alex Rodriguez never failed a test, yet he received the longest suspension in MLB history for his involvement with PEDs. Time will tell how voters treat Rodriguez when he appears on the ballot in 2022. Rafael Palmeiro collected 3,000 Hits and 500 Home Runs. He was the first test case for PEDs and Hall of Fame voters. Palmeiro lasted 4 years, never reaching 15% before falling below the minimum 5% to remain on the ballot in 2014. Palmeiro’s candidacy was the opening act in the Hall of Fame’s ongoing reckoning with the Steroid Era.
The player that may hold the key to Cooperstown for Cano is Manny Ramirez. He was also suspended twice for PEDs, 2009 and 2011. Ramirez is among the greatest power hitters, slugging the 15th most Home Runs, 555. Only 6 players ahead of him are not in Cooperstown. Bonds, Rodriguez, Sosa, McGwire, and Palmeiro are tied to PEDs, while Albert Pujols is still playing. Ramirez has been on the ballot for 4 years. He has not achieved 30% of the vote, reaching 28.2% in 2020. The BBWAA voters have changed since Palmeiro first appeared on the ballot. The hardened old guard is being replaced with younger, and slightly more forgiving, voters. Will the change enable a generation of enhanced sluggers reach Cooperstown?
Can Robinson Cano rebound a second time, repair his image, and be enshrined among the greatest second basemen of all time? Once is a mistake, twice is not. Cano’s PED suspensions will hang over his candidacy. What a shameful way to end one of the great middle infield careers of all time.
Teams tend to play one of two types of baseball, long ball or small ball. The rise of of analytics has shown sacrificing an out to advance a runner is not in a team’s best interest. Teams are shying away from small ball because, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine so eloquently put it, “Chicks dig the long ball.” The roar of the crowd is much different for a Home Run than a Sacrifice Hit, Sacrifice Bunt. Instant offense versus a building block towards a potential Run.
Baseball has changed since the small ball era of the early 20th Century. The small ball era helped produce Eddie Collins and his 512 career Sacrifice, 120 ahead of second place. Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 108, 334th all time. Small ball produced Ray Chapman’s 1917 single season record of 67 Sacrifices. Bert Campaneris’ 40 Sacrifices in 1977 are the most since 1929. Home Runs have replaced the Sacrifice. Teams swing for the fences. They no longer get them on, get them over, get them in.
A slugger’s value comes from hitting a baseball over the fence, not tapping it in the infield. The top ten Home Run hitters of all time have hit 6,680 Home Runs. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Robinson have played a combined 213 Major League seasons. Only Pujols is active, with two seasons left before Free Agency or retirement. Occasionally these long ball titans sacrifice themselves for the team.
In 22 seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 Home Runs and laid down 4 Sacrifices. Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, hit 755 Home Runs with 21 Sacrifices. Babe Ruth hit 714 Home Runs in 22 seasons and laid down 113 Sacrifices, more than the rest of this elite group combined. Alex Rodriguez Sacrificed 16 times in 22 seasons, while hitting 696 Home Runs. Willie Mays played 22 seasons, hit 660 Home Runs, and dropped 13 Sacrifices. Albert Pujols has played 19 seasons, hit 656 Home Runs with 1 Sacrifice. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 Home Runs over 22 seasons and Sacrificed 8 times. Jim Thome and his 612 Home Runs laid down 1 Sacrifice in 22 seasons. Sammy Sosa had 17 Sacrifices in 18 seasons while blasting 609 Home Runs. Frank Robinson dropped 17 Sacrifices in 21 seasons, with 586 Home Runs. Even the greatest sluggers of all time Sacrifice.
Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his power, yet he still played in an era where players were expected to bunt to help their team win. (www.captainsblog.info)
In 213 combined seasons, the greatest Home Run hitters laid down 211 Sacrifices. In an average season they hit 31.36 Home Runs with 0.99 Sacrifices. Their average career was 668 Home Runs and 21.1 Sacrifices, 30.2 Home Runs per Sacrifice. Even ardent believers in small ball know these players should swing the bat.
Jim Thome and Albert Pujols each have just 1 career Sacrifice. Thome and Pujols are not Rickey Henderson. They have hit a 32 triples, 16 each, and stolen 133 bases, combined. Only Pujol’s 114 steals break to top 1,000. Both sluggers were designed to trot around the bases, not sprint.
On July 3, 1994, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove looked to extend Cleveland’s 2.5 game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, in a 7-7 tie against the Minnesota Twins, Eddie Murray laced the third pitch to Right for a lead off single. Hargrove signaled his young Third Baseman to Sacrifice. After taking a strike from Mark Guthrie, the 23 year old Jim Thome bunted, moving Murray to Second. Thome reached on an error by Third Baseman Chip Hale. Twins Manager Tom Kelly then replaced Guthrie with Carl Willis. Sandy Alomar Jr. greeted Willis with a swinging bunt down, loading the bases. Paul Sorrento followed with an RBI Single to Right, driving in Murray. Wayne Kirby fouled out to Third. One out. Kenny Lofton hit a Sacrifice Fly to Center, scoring Thome with Alomar advancing to Third. Two outs. Omar Vizquel flied out to Center. Three outs. 9-7 Cleveland. Thome and the Indians won 10-9 in 11 Innings, sending the Jacobs Field crowd home happy.
Jim Thome hit baseballs a long way, his talents were not best used bunting. (www.cooperstowncred.com)
The importance of the game, and Thome’s Sacrifice, were lost as the 1994 season stopped on August 12th. Cleveland was 1 game behind Chicago when the Strike began. The Strike claimed the rest of the 1994.
The St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago White Sox on June 16, 2001. The Chicago Cubs led the Cardinals by 6 games in the National League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, White Sox pitcher Sean Lowe walked Placido Polanco on four pitches. J. D. Drew then Singled to Right. Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa looked to stretch the 6-3 lead. He signaled his Cleanup Hitter to bunt. In his 67th career game, Albert Pujols bunted the first pitch foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunted the ball back to Lowe who threw to Second Baseman Ray Durham covering First. Polanco moved to Third and Drew to second. One out. Pujols has not Sacrificed again. Bobby Bonilla was Intentionally Walked to load the bases and replaced by Pinch Runner Jim Edmonds. Craig Paquette Singled to Right, scoring Polanco. Drew scored on an error by the Shortstop, Tony Graffanino. Edmonds stopped at Second. Edgar Renteria struck out looking as Edmonds stole Third and Paquette stole Second. Two outs. Mike Matheny grounded out to First. Three outs. St. Louis won 8-3.
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest right hand power hitters of all time, bunting is not his most dangerous weapon. (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros on the final day of the Regular Season. Both teams finished 93-69. Houston was crowned Division champions by winning the season series 9 games to 7. St. Louis was the Wild Card. The Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a decisive Game 5 in the Divisional Series.
Baseball is a team game played by individuals. Players field ground balls, pitch, and bat alone. No one can help you succeed, but you can help others succeed. Backing up throws, turning Double Plays, executing a relay all help a team win. And yes, occasionally even the greatest Home Run hitters Sacrifice for the team.
As baseball changes, Sacrifices by players capable of putting a baseball into orbit inches towards extinction. The Sacrifice is becoming a lost art as light hitting pitchers in the National League dominate and the Designated Hitter in the American League decimates the Sacrifice. A slugger bunting is now more rare than a Perfect Game. This generation’s greatest sluggers have Sacrificed just twice. If Mike Trout ever lays down a Sacrifice, soak in the moment. It will be the first of his career, and possibly the last time an all time great Home Run hitter Sacrifices himself.
It has been 20 years since the dawn of the 1998 baseball season. The season would see one of the great teams of all time as the Yankees marched towards the World Series, meanwhile Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing the single season home run record. Knowing what we know now about many of the players who helped revive baseball that summer does diminish some of the fondness. However as Mark McGwire famously said before Congress, “I am not here to talk about the past.”
The 1994 players strike severely damaged baseball. The cancellation of the World Series and the delayed start of the 1995 season saw fans turn their backs on the game. Arguing who is blame, the players or the owners, for this dark time in baseball is for another day, what mattered then was how would the game win back the fans it lost. Some fans still see 1994 as the death of baseball, don’t believe me check out this Facebook group which has more than 22,000 members. Right or wrong baseball needed a season to get its fans back.
Cal Ripken Jr. gave baseball a moment it needed to draw fans back to the game. (REUTERS/ Gary Hershorn/Files)
Baseball got a much needed boost when Cal Ripken Jr. played his 2,131st consecutive game, passing Lou Gehrig for most consecutive games played on September 6, 1995. This was a moment baseball desperately needed showing the good of the game. It was however, a moment. Baseball needed more than one night of glory, it needed a season of suspense and wonderment.
The 1998 New York Yankees are one of the greatest teams ever assembled. The Boston Red Sox won 92 games, yet finished 22 games behind the Yankees in the division. The Yankees finished the season 114-48. The Bronx Bombers had eight players with at least 17 home runs, five players with at least 84 RBI, and eight players with 21 or more doubles. The Yankees hit .288 as a team. On the mound, all five Yankee starters had at least 12 wins, a team ERA of 3.82, with the starters averaging 6 ⅔ inning per start, plus Mariano Rivera nailing down 36 saves out of the bullpen. In the Playoffs, the Yankees swept the Texas Rangers in the American League Divisional Series three games to none, allowing only one run. In the American League Championship Series, the Yankees dispatched the Cleveland Indians in six games. In the World Series, New York swept the San Diego Padres in four games. The 98 win Padres were no match for the Yankees. The biggest team in baseball helped put the game back into people’s lives as they rolled through the season and playoffs. Yankee dominance helped, but the primary attraction was in the National League.
There was little drama as the Yankees swept the World Series. (Jeff Haynes/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa later became the poster children for what was wrong with baseball, but in the summer of 1998 they were what made baseball relevant again for much of the country. Divisional rivals on two of the most prominent teams in the sport, McGwire and Sosa embarked on a home run race that captured the attention of the country. When Roger Maris broke the single season home run record held by Babe Ruth, there was backlash. People felt Ruth’s record should be left alone. When Maris ultimately hit home run number 61 in 1961 he did it in game 162, which many believe meant his record deserved an asterisk as he took more games than Ruth’s 154 game schedule in 1927. If McGwire, Sosa, or some other slugger could hit 60 home runs fewer than 154 games they would hold the record.
McGwire hit 11 home runs by the end of April, only to hit 16 in May to bring his season total to 27 as the calendar turned to June. On May 22nd, Sosa had only 9 home runs against McGwire’s 24. Over the next six weeks Sosa got red hot, hitting 24 home runs. Heading into the All Star Break, McGwire lead Sosa 37 home runs to 33. The race for 62 was on. McGwire hit his 50th home run of the season on August 20th, Sosa followed with his 50th three days later on August 23rd. However in between a whirlwind began on August 22nd regarding McGwire’s use of Androstenedione. McGwire maintained his use of Andro was legal and it did not give him any added benefits on the field. This is perhaps the clearest beginning of the steroid era entering public knowledge. The use of Andro did little to distract the public from the frenzy of the home run chase. September 8th saw McGwire hit his shortest home run of the season, 341 feet, just clearing the left field wall in Busch Stadium. McGwire and the Cardinals were hosting Sosa and the Cubs that night. After initially missing first base in the midst of his joy, quickly retreating to touch the missed base, McGwire rounded the bases to officially set the new single season home run mark at 62. Sosa would tie McGwire at 62 home runs on September 13th. As the 1998 season wound down the question turned to how high McGwire and Sosa would push the home run record. For the only time all season Sosa took the lead on September 25th, when he hit his 66th and final home run of the season. McGwire would finish with a flurry, hitting five home runs in the last three games of the season to finish with 70 home runs.
The home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped revive baseball one home run at a time. (AP Photo/ Beth A. Keiser)
There was no doubt both McGwire and Sosa broke the single season home run record, Ruth’s and Maris’. Sosa would be named the National League Most Valuable Player, while McGwire got his name in the record books. The summer of chasing Ruth and Maris brought baseball the excitement back it lost in the 1994 players strike. The chase between McGwire and Sosa, coupled with the total dominance of the Yankees gave baseball the season it needed to win back fans and rebuild trust.
20 years have passed since the summer of 1998. We have learned so much about the men who played that summer. Far too many had their abilities aided by steroids and other performance enhancers. The steroid era was on full display, we just did not know it yet. The revival of baseball was both helped and hurt by the steroid era, many players have since fallen from grace. The game continues to grow and much of the magic I remember as a kid has returned. The summer of 1998 helped revive baseball, and yet my most vivid memory from that summer is having no interest in any of it. 1998 was my last season playing organized baseball. I had a coach who took the fun out of the game. He would scream and yell when the players, myself included, did not get a hit. He changed my batting stance over and over again. I came to dread going to baseball practice and games. The joy of playing baseball was gone. A year or so later I wanted to play for a travel team, but I was late to the tryout we did not get out of the car. This is how my baseball career ended. I am under no illusion I was good enough to play professionally, maybe not even in high school. However, one person ruined baseball, it took years for my love of the game to return. I hope he still remembers how great those handful of victories were for our Spring 11/12U rec league team 20 years ago.
Once again Major League Baseball is worrying about pace of play during games. Commissioner Rob Manfred and Executive Director of the Player’s Association Tony Clark have gone back and forth about proposed rule changes to speed up games in 2018. The latest round of pace of play rules include limiting catchers to one mound visit per inning per pitcher, a 20 second pitch clock, and raising the strike zone from the bottom of the kneecap to the top. All of these changes have been rejected by the Player’s Association, yet MLB could still institute them unilaterally for the 2018 season. The average game in 2017 lasted three hours and five minutes, which is longer than before the last round of pace of play rules were instituted. So with longer games comes more tinkering.
Baseball, like all sports, will have slow boring games from time to time, this is just reality. Instead of trying to change the game, why not take some steps that would improve fan interaction with baseball. Shorten commercial breaks for those watching at home. All the talk is about pace of play, what about when fans cannot even see the game. Obviously baseball makes a great deal of money off commercials, so raise the price of those commercials. How can you raise the price of commercials throughout the year? Market the players more. Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Jose Altuve, Bryce Harper, and many more should be as well know as the top football and basketball players. If MLB marketed the players more aggressively, they could charge advertisers more for commercials and partnerships as the endorsement of these players would have greater weight nationally. Increased revenue from advertising would mean shorter commercial breaks during games. Take away one 30 second commercial from each break and you have saved close to 10 minutes during each game.
Baseball should focus on eliminating down time not necessarily the time needed to complete a game. Shorter commercial breaks are a great place to start. (Chuck Solomon/ Sports Illistrated)
The pitch clock, which is already used in the minor leagues, and does not do much. I have not seen nor heard of any pitcher getting charged a ball for taking too long. It is a friendly reminder to get on with the next pitch, but little else. Limiting mound visits could minimally speed up the game, however multiple mound visits in an inning usually only occurs in late game, high leverage moments. Let the players play. Speed the game up in when little is happening, not when the game is on the line.
This off season has also seen an incredibly slow free agent market. Call it what you want: collusion, low balling the players, players and agents having unrealistic salary expectations. Whatever. Yes, both sides, owners and players, want to make as much money as possible. Owners want a return on their financial investments, players want to maximize their earnings during their playing careers. However, when agents like Brodie Van Wagenen start floating ideas like players boycotting Spring Training this makes baseball look bad. Baseball has had labor peace for almost a quarter century, one slow off season and you are ready to blow it up? The Strike in 1994 did major, lasting damage to baseball. Lots of fans lost interest and it took years for the game to come back. Cal Ripken Jr. passing Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak and the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped bring many fans back, but not all of them. Is another scandalous era like the steroid era really in baseball’s best interest?
Baseball needs to market itself and the players more aggressively. If people are interested, they will not care that a game lasts a little over three hours. Give the fans something to be interested in, even if the game itself is not great. Start games a little earlier so kids can watch more of a game, or the whole game before they have to go to bed. Starting a game at 6:45 pm instead of 7:05 pm would give a kid twenty more minutes of baseball, or roughly a full inning of baseball. Getting kids and young adults interested in baseball will grow baseball to new heights. Shaving a minute or two off the average length of a game ultimately does not matter if the sport itself is not drawing and holding the attention of an ever growing audience. Pace of play is important, but not if people were never interested in the first place. Put the game and players on display, not the advertisers.
The Winning Run will be turning five years old this year, which means we should technically be halfway to receiving an official Hall of Fame vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). Instead of waiting until we are voting for real, why not get some Hall of Fame voting practice in to work out the bugs.
There are 34 former players listed on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot this year. 15 players are returning to the ballot after receiving at least 5% of the vote during last year’s balloting. There are 19 new players appearing for the first time. Trimming the vote down from 34 players to no more than 10 is not an easy task. Some players are easier to exclude than other but there are about 15 players who demand a hard look and who are not easily removed.
Will Lee Smith finally be elected in his final year on the ballot? (www.si.com)
As I have stated previously, I despise the use of PEDs in baseball and all other sports. Players, like Manny Ramirez, who have tested positive for these banned substances made my job a little easier to cull the list to just 10 players. On my ballot you are removed from consideration when you are suspended. Players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were also quickly removed from my list due to their own PED connections. Yes neither player ever failed a test, but the evidence of their use of PEDs is too great for me to consider their candidacy.
The process of reaching my list of ten players meant looking at players who sustained greatness. Having a few great seasons and a decade of mediocre seasons does not mean you get into Cooperstown. Players also had to have an impact on the game, such as redefining a position or raising a team’s profile. The National Baseball Hall of Fame should only enshrine the best of the best.
|Jeff Bagwell||Jeff Kent||
|Casey Blake||Derrek Lee||Freddy Sanchez|
|Edgar Martinez||Curt Schilling|
|Fred McGriff||Gary Sheffield|
|Orlando Cabrera||Melvin Mora||
|Mike Mussina||Sammy Sosa|
|Roger Clemens||Magglio Ordonez||Matt Stairs|
|J.D. Drew||Jorge Posada||Jason Varitek|
|Tim Raines||Billy Wagner|
|Carlos Guillen||Manny Ramirez||Tim Wakefield|
|Trevor Hoffman||Edgar Renteria||
Will Fred McGriff and his 493 home runs make it to Cooperstown? (www.espn.com)
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the saddest cases concerning Hall of Fame voting and the steroid era. Both players had the talent and skill to be Hall of Famers without the chemical assistance of PEDs. Bonds is truly one of the greatest hitters to ever step into a batter’s box and Clemens is arguably one of the greatest pitchers ever, often compared to Walter Johnson. They would undoubtedly be in Cooperstown now if they had chosen to stay clear of PEDs. They were able to sustain their peaks and lengthen their careers through unnatural means, but at what cost? Players like Sammy Sosa, also on the ballot this year, did not have the talent to ascend to the Hall of Fame without PEDs.
Voting for the Hall of Fame, even if unofficially, is a difficult process. Many players deserve consideration for enshrinement in Cooperstown through their accomplishments on the diamond. The cases for enshrining many players who are not in the Hall of Fame are valid. However, the case that a player elected to the Hall of Fame is undeserving means the bar for gaining election to Cooperstown must remain high. Many players come close, but only the best earn admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The “slide” by the Dodgers Chase Utley into second base was horrific. No one but Utley can say with certainty what his intentions were, but from what we saw Utley went in either with cruel intentions or forgot how to slide into second base. Whatever his intentions were Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada now has a fractured right fibula.
Chase Utley has played 13 seasons in the Majors, he has played 12, 954 ⅔ innings at second base, and turned 902 double plays. He is not a starry eyed rookie, Utley knows howto play the game. He knows how a player should and should not try to break up a double play. What was on display at Dodger Stadium in Game 2 of the National League Divisional Series was grotesque. Utley knows better, but he injured another player because he did not play the game they way it should be played. The play was dirty, plain and simple, but why when Chase Utley is generally not seen a dirty player?
People are going to argue that the play was not dirty, just Utley playing hard like they use to play. First, it was a dirty play. Second, just because that is how they use to play the game does not mean it is the right way to play. Utley was on top of second base when he began his“slide”. Tejada was doing everything he could to protect himself by being behind the bag. Turning a double play is dangerous for the shortstop or second baseman that has to make the turn. Tejada used the bag as best he could to shield himself from a clean, hard slide, which was justified. However, this is not happened. Tejada had to have his back to Utley to receive the ball from Daniel Murphy, this places him in a compromised position. As Utley is going in to break up the double play he begins his slide so late that he does not make contact with the ground as part of his slide until he is past second base. Beginning his slide so late meant Utley’s body was still high up, potentially too high for Tejada to avoid. It looks almost like a football player being tackled after an unsuccessful attempt to hurdle the defender. This is far too late for the play to be safe but hard. Utley sliding in late with Tejada’s back to him as he begins to turn places the responsibility on Utley to not do anything stupid or dirty so that both players do not get hurt. Apparently this was too much to ask of Chase Utley as he sees the play developing and goes into second base hard, late, and high. Utley also goes in with his body wide. Yes it does appear that he is trying to make contact with the base, in accordance with the rules. However, “sliding” in wide, late, and high with Tejada’s back to him in this case meant the contact was guaranteed. This is where a play turns both dirty and dangerous. The best case scenario for Tejada to be violently flipped by Utley, and even then the play would have been dirty. The reality though is much worse. Tejada was defenseless and paid the price for Utley’s inability to understand that his attempt to break up the double play in this manner was foolish and dangerous. Utley’s stupidity, regardless of intent, has resulted in Tejada having a broken leg and Utley receiving a knee to the head, likely a mild concussion or at least having his bell rung. The Mets lose their starting shortstop and the Dodgers might lose a backup second baseman. There was no need for Utley to take out Tejada. It was a stupid play.
After the game ended with the Dodgers evening up the NLDS at one game each, MLB Network begins breaking down the game as a whole and debating whether the play was dirty or not. Eric Byrnes adamantly argued that the play was hard, but not dirty, and that this is how players use to break up double plays. (Brynes has since changed his opinion after seeing the replay more and doing further analysis, which I respect him for doing). Brynes was a fun player to watch because he brought intensity, grit, and passion to the game everyday. However, his initial reaction to this situation was wrong. Just because something has always been done a certain way does not mean that it should continue to be done that way. (Again Brynes has changed his opinion from his initial reaction, but that initial reaction is held by some people). Plays like the one Tejada and Utley were involved in have the potential to end careers; severe concussions, destroyed knees, shattered legs.
Change has never come easy to baseball. Purist usually argue that changing the game in any way will negatively impact the game as a whole. Slowly but surely baseball has changed, and usually for the better. Baseball had always allowed for home plate collisions. Talk to Buster Posey about his lost season or Ray Fosse about how his career was never the same. Baseball had allowed the spitball. Talk to Ray Chapman’s family and see how they felt about it after he was killed by the pitch. Talk to the countless African-American players who were denied the ability to play in the Majors simply because of their skin color. Baseball had not drug tested for steroids and other PEDs. Talk to the families of Taylor Hooton and Rob Garibaldi who testified before Congress in the same hearing with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, and Jose Canseco. Taylor was 17 and Rob was 24 when they committed suicide due to their steroid use. Baseball is continuously changing. Obviously some of the changes it has undergone are far more important and far reaching than others. However, the notion that continuing to do something simply because it is the way it has always been done is absurd, especially if there is a different way to achieve the same end goal while reducing the danger to the players, to individuals who look up to the players, or to end injustice.
Chase Utley is not who usually comes to mind as being a dirty player, but what he did in Game 2 was a dirty play. Trying to break up a double play during a playoff game is good, hard baseball. However, what Utley did with his extremely late “slide” was to unnecessarily injure an opposing player and change the series. There are only two times in baseball that it should ever look like one player is tackling another: when a fight has broken out and players are trying to restrain one another and when a team is celebrating a win and the team is chasing the player who got the game winning hit. That is it. Chase Utley took out Ruben Tejada on a dirty “slide”.
If people who want to defend what Chase Utley want to talk about how his play is just how baseball is and should be played, then they also need to talk about something else. Regardless if it is in the NLDS or next season there will be a purpose pitch delivered. That is just how baseball is. It could this year before Utley’s appeal is heard. It could come next year when the two teams play each other. Somewhere down the line a purpose pitch will be delivered by the Mets to the Dodgers expressing their anger at this dirty “slide” by Chase Utley. Hopefully the batter on the receiving end of that pitch will be Utley himself and not one of his teammates. Noone should not have to get hit by a pitch for this. It was Utley’s stupidity, he should have to answer for it. Baseball players have always dealt with this sort of thing themselves, and in this case Eric Brynes and others are correct that some things in baseball do not need to change. This is how baseball has always policed itself, and this is how baseball should generally continue to police itself. A player does something stupid, let him take the punishment for it.
Major League Baseball acted quickly to suspend Utley. Too bad the suspension is not long enough. He should be suspended for more than just two game, conveniently he would have missed the games in New York had he not appealed. Two games is what you should get suspended for arguing for too long with an umpire about a bad call, not for taking out an opposing player. Utley and the Dodgers should feel the pain he inflicted on the Mets. Appealing his suspension is Utley’s right, but it would be shameful if it were to be reduced. Those on Utley’s side are arguing that he has gone in to break up double plays like this before without receiving a suspension. While this is true, it does not make it right. Fortunately, Utley has not injured anyone seriously before. Even Tejada has been on the receiving end of one of Utley’s “slides”, and he was able to walk away. The “slide” during Game 2 was the most egregious of Utley’s questionable slides, and it clearly went from trying to break up the double play to taking out an opposing player. Again we will never know what Utley’s intentions were when he went into second, but ultimately his intentions do not matter. Utley made a boneheaded and dirty play.
There is nothing wrong with playing hard and trying to break up a double play, especially in the playoffs. There is however a line between playing baseball hard and playing dirty. Chase Utley flew over that line when he took out Ruben Tejada with his absurdly late slide during Game 2. Go in hard, make the middle infielder jump to avoid you, make the throw to first a little more difficult and take some of the juice off the throw. There is nothing wrong with this. What is wrong is when you slide in late, wide, and high against a middle infielder who has his back turned toward you. Ruben Tejada was trying to make a play. He used second base to protect himself, but Chase Utley took him out with simply a dirty “slide” that resulted in a broken leg and the Mets losing Tejada for the rest of the playoffs.
The NLDS has been changed, and not for the better. Instead of talking about the series being tied at a game each, all the talk is about the injury to Tejada and whether the analysis think the play was dirty. This is not good for baseball. Instead of celebrating the game and the playoffs we are arguing whether the play was dirty. What a shame that a fairly ordinary play has turned into a season ending injury for one player and a debate about whether the play and player are dirty. You were better than this Chase Utley, what changed?
The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told: Thirty Unforgettable Tales from the Diamond by Jeff Silverman is a collection of excellent baseball stories. Some recount real events on the diamond, whereas some leap from the imagination of their authors. The book includes the classic comedy of Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s On First”, which I always find hilarious. Al Stump brings Ty Cobb back to life and shows a side of the Georgia Peach which many fans never saw. The immortal Red Barber discusses Jackie Robinson and the lead up to the permanent breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Gary Smith follows the home run chase of 1998. It was more than just Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Vin Scully calls the final inning of Sandy Koufax throwing a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs. The missed greatness of Pete Reiser is told by W. C. Heinz.
The stories Jeff Silverman chooses to include in this book are great for the novice fan and for the baseball fanatic. The art of the short story is on full display. The writers do not have the chapters to develop characters and story lines. Rather they must develop the entirety of the story through careful selection of every word. This to me makes these stories come to life, as the reader does not get lost in the descriptive language. Letting the reader visualize the story for themselves, with the author as the guide is what makes great story telling.
Baseball books typically dive deep into the sport and focus on specific themes, people, or events. The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told deviates from this and to great success. Silverman provides a brief introduction to each piece to get the reader the proper context before they embark on the story. This is a great read, especially for those of us who take public transportation in our daily lives. Silverman does not require long stretches of time for the book to be read and enjoyed. His change of pace with this book is just what baseball fans need for filling those minutes during their commute, at lunch, or before bed.
40 years ago today, April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth as the all-time home run king with his 715th career home run. The most revered record in Major League Baseball, perhaps in sports, passed from arguably the greatest player ever to a man who faced increasing racism with every home run he hit as he approached Ruth. The grace which Aaron displayed in the face of the ever increasing threats and media pressure showed the true character of the man. He was, and remains, a well-spoken and confident man, but you would never confuse his confidence for arrogance, he let his greatness speak for itself. Hank Aaron remains one of the great ambassadors for the game of baseball.
Aaron’s 715th home run is one of the most memorable moments in baseball history. The packed house at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with the Atlanta Braves playing the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers before a crowd of 53,775. Al Downing pitching for the Dodgers. The high kick and Downing delivered to Hank Aaron. The ball flying over the ball over the left-centerfield fence with the quick and easy swing. Announcer Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully each giving their own infamous call of the home run. Braves centerfielder Dusty Baker pointing towards the fence as he rose from a knee on the on-deck circle. Dodger leftfielder Bill Buckner climbing the wall trying to make a play. Braves relief pitcher Tom House catching the ball, and eventually returning it to Aaron. Davey Lopes, the Dodgers second baseman, and Bill Russell, the Dodgers shortstop, congratulating him as he rounded second base. The two fans running onto the field and running along with Aaron as he headed for third. The mob of people who greeted Aaron at home plate, the bear hug his mother gave him. The short, yet eloquent speech,
~“Thank God it’s over.”
While I was not even born yet when this happened, I have seen and heard about Aaron’s 715th home run enough to feel like I was there. Just watching a video of it gives me a bit of butterflies in my stomach. It is a truly magical moment in baseball history.
The man who broke Aaron’s record had a very different experience as he marched towards the record. The closer Barry Bonds came to hitting 756, the louder the noise become regarding his use of performance-enhancing drugs. More and more debate about whether he should even be, playing or if he should be suspended for his transgressions, or if his accomplishments should have an asterisk next to them. Yes Aaron faced an onslaught of racism, and no doubt Bonds did too from similarly ignorant people, although it seems less so which showed the progress of American society during the in the 33 years which Aaron held the record. However, I believe much of the ridicule and animosity against Bonds was due to his own actions. Aaron is by no means a perfect person, but Bonds epitomizes the steroid era and its assault on the record books. This for many baseball fans was, and is, unforgiveable.
Bonds is the all-time home run record holder, I do not dispute this. I was alive when it happened, so you would think I would remember more of the details of his breaking Hank Aaron’s record. It happened less than seven years ago, so it has not been that long ago. However, if I were to be put on the spot all I could tell you is the game was played in San Francisco in 2007. Not much else.
The story of Bonds’ historic night is much less romantic. On August 7, 2007 Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s record during the Giants game against the Washington Nationals. He hit the home run off of Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik, before a crowd of 43,154. Bengie Molina was on deck. It was not nearly the same celebration of the game and its records which Aaron passing Ruth elicited. Bonds passing Aaron should be a moment that is played over and over again by Major League Baseball, but it is not. Putting it mildly, Bonds is a polarizing figure in baseball, ask Jeff Kent. His mere presence at Giants Spring Training this year set off a media frenzy about whether he should be there. He was also asked again about his performance-enhancing drug use, which he still tap dances around. Bonds will never be the beloved figure that Aaron is; it is just not in his personality.
Where does this leave us? In my opinion the Home Run King remains Hank Aaron, even though Barry Bonds has hit more home runs. The performance-enhancing drug cloud which surrounded Bonds’ career, especially after he became a San Francisco Giant, has led to cries for him to be stripped of his records. I am strongly against the use of PEDs, and believe those who are found guilty of using them should be punished, as I have previously stated here. Throwing someone out of baseball is not the same as removing their records and statistics from the game. Pete Rose was thrown out of baseball, but his records remain. Pose like Bonds is an integral part of baseball history which should not be forgotten, good or bad. Bonds, judging by the 36.2% and 34.7% of votes he received in his first two years of eligibility for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, will never receive the ultimate honor of being enshrined with the immortals of baseball. This will have to suffice as his punishment.
Like Pete Rose, Bonds will be remembered but never honored in Cooperstown for his accomplishments. The argument against removing Bonds from the record book is simple, if you start with him, where do you stop? Do you remove Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, what about Leo Durocher for his relationship with known gamblers, or Ty Cobb for his pronounced racism, and the list goes on and on. If baseball does decide to throw all these players, coaches, and other associates of baseball out, who plays the judge and jury? This is an entire other debate. You can ban someone from baseball, but you cannot change what they did. It would alter the outcomes of games, and there would be no end to revising the history of the game. Revising history makes the record book a mockery and without any value to be reverenced. Bonds and the steroid era are a part of the history of baseball, not necessarily a good part, but nonetheless it is a part that should be remembered.
Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds are two very different people. Aaron goes about his business with a quiet confidence and people truly listen when he speaks, as they have respect for his insights and opinions. Bonds has always had more flair and more of a demonstrative personality, which has rubbed many people the wrong way, just ask Bonds’ Pirates Manager Jim Leyland. People tend to only listen when Bonds speaks because they are waiting for a confession, not because they respect him. Neither Aaron’s or Bonds’ approach are completely right or wrong, they are just different. Both players were among the elite when they played. Both were clearly Hall of Fame caliber players, however Bonds chose to hang on to his youthful strength a little longer than father time would naturally allow. While Major League Baseball and the Players Union have in recent years become serious about weeding out the cheaters in the game, Bonds was like many players before him and after him seeking an advantage. Some players use a corked bat, like Sammy Sosa, or a foreign substance on the baseball, like Gaylord Perry, Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs. While I wish all sports could rid themselves of these drugs, the past is the past. It happened. Baseball, and sports in general, has two choices. They can remember the past, both good and bad, and learn from it. The other option is to revise or erase the past and over time repeat the same mistakes. There are two options, but only one should ever be taken. It is best to remember the past and its blemishes and to work to never repeat those mistakes.
40 years ago, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’ record for most career home runs in Major League Baseball. While Aaron no longer holds the record he is still the Home Run King. Simply having the most of something does not make you the king of something in sports; rather you are the record holder. Cy Young holds the record for most career wins, but he is not the King of Pitching. Arguments can be made for Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Tom Seaver, and a few others. The title of King is reserved for those who are among the elites, yet also receive the reverence of the fans. Aaron had the record and lost it. However, Bonds has not been enthroned as the Home Run King because he lacks the admiration from the fans, and I doubt he ever will, and he has only himself to blame.