Tampa Bay Sports Day

THE COOPERSTOWN CONNECTION: GETTING READY FOR MO, JEET, PEDRO, MAYBE MIKE, AND MORE…

By now, you’ve seen, heard and/or read about the wonderful weekend that captivated thousands of baseball fans in the time-protected village of Cooperstown, which welcomed six new entrants to its hallowed halls – Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas. It was the first time since 1971 that as many as six living entrants were inducted in one ceremony.

If you were there, you know what a treat it was to be among the greats, with over 50 Hall of Famers on hand to complement the annual Induction Ceremony. And if you weren’t, or have never been to the mythical birthplace of baseball, where the heck were you, or why haven’t you made the trek?

In the coming years, some very interesting groups of newcomers will soon reach the Hall of Fame ballots, and there’s a good chance many will earn their plaques in elections right off the bat. Next year’s class of rookies will include: John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Gary Sheffield. The 2016 Class will include: Ken Griffey, Jr., Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner. The 2017 Class will include: Vladimir Guerrero, Jorge Posada, Manny Ramirez (unless his comeback attempts actually succeed at some point), and Ivan Rodriguez. In 2018, rookies on the ballot will include: Chipper Jones, Hideki Matsui, Jim Thome, and Omar Vizquel. In 2019, that Metallica fan, Mariano Rivera, will be eligible, along with his staff mate, Andy Pettitte, plus Todd Helton, and Roy Halladay. And then there is the most anticipated rookie class of 2020, which right now, includes a class of one: Derek Jeter. Whoever else retires after this season (and has played in the majors at least ten years – that’s the criteria) will also be first-timers on the ballot.

You can debate all you want about who belongs and who doesn’t, and this is not the column which will discuss the ongoing controversies of all those who are already on the ballot and may or may not ever be elected due to their accused or proven use of PEDs – including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmiero, et al.

But it is obvious there are some real definites about to become immortalized in Cooperstown – among them Smoltz, Johnson, Martinez, Griffey, Mo, and Jeets. Plus the candidates who have come close in recent years or may soon deserve election after they have completed their writers-imposed year or two of “servitude.” This group includes Craig Biggio (who just missed with 74.8% of the vote), and Mike Piazza (who received 62.2%).

It’s unstated, but some writers just don’t like voting for candidates in their first year of eligibility. It’s wrong, and the stats never improve or depreciate, but it is what it is with dozens of examples.

Why did it take 13 years for the writers to be convinced that Ralph Kiner was a Hall of Famer? Duke Snider was left wondering for 11 years. It took five years to elect the likes of Roy Campanella, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Mathews, and Phil Niekro. Hank Greenberg, Goose Gossage, Ducky Medwick, Andre Dawson, and Tony Perez waited nine years.

You look back now and think, of course, they’re Hall of Famers. Hank Greenberg? Nine Years? It took them nine years to figure out that Greenberg, an MVP in two positions (1935 and ’40), who had the highest single-season home run total behind Babe Ruth for many years, 58 (and who many claim would have been able to at least tie or break Ruth’s record had it not been for the refusal of pitchers and managers to give him anything good to hit late in the season simply because he was Jewish!), with a .313 lifetime average, a war-shortened home run total of 331 (he missed three and a half prime-of-his-career seasons serving in World War II), and a two-time World Champion who holds a .318 average in those two fall Classics (’35 and ’45).

But all of that is moot, now. Once you get the plaque, it’s literally etched in bronze. You’re a Hall of Famer.

It is a fact that some really good ballplayers will soon be joining them. But the Hall and the BBWAA recently decided to change the ground rules. It used to be that ballplayers, with at least ten years in the bigs, would be eligible to be considered after five years of retirement. This is essentially the Joe DiMaggio Rule. It took DiMaggio four years to be elected, but that was blamed on the notion the writers thought Joe D would come out of retirement once his heel injury had, well, healed.

A player was then eligible to remain on the ballot for a total of 15 years, as long as he had retained at least 5% of the vote. The amount of writers eligible to vote changes every year (BBWAA members have to have belonged for at least year before they earn a ballot). Last year, some 571 writers cast ballots, which meant inductees were required to be named on at least 429 ballots to be elected, and at least 29 ballots to remain on the ballot or be permanently removed.

But now the 15-year rule has been cut to ten, with only three names from last year’s ballot grandfathered in – Don Mattingly, who now has just one year remaining of eligibility, Alan Trammell, who has two, and Lee Smith, clinging to three years left on the ballot. It remains to be seen if any earn enough responses to deserve election, but it does appear unlikely anyone from this trio will be soon honored.

Yes, Mattingly fans, he deserves real close inspection, real close, and this fan probably would vote him in, as he was the focal point of all those Yankee teams in the ‘80s, and for a while, the face of baseball, the Jeter of baseball at that time. His stats also compare favorably to other Hall of Famers, such as Kirby Puckett, but Donnie Baseball never got the grand stage to showcase, as Puckett did in those two World Series (’87 and ’91), and that may be the drawback. We’ll see.

The new rules also put a damper on the chances of the likes of McGwire, who all of a sudden has just two years of eligibility left.

Personally, this fan feels that all of the names on the current list of candidates should have been grandfathered into being eligible for 15 years, as the current was redirected midstream, but that’s not the way they chose to go.

This puts McGwire on the precipice, as he garnered just 11% of the vote in the election announced this past January (eight votes). Wow! Just eight writers still feel the Bash Brother deserves to be a Hall of Famer.

Accused or believed, that’s up to your personal belief, and lately, the fans’ view on steroid use has been mixed. That’s another story for another time, but fans still just want their teams to win, and if a former user helps win the game he gets cheered. Period.

This is a tangent, but just wait. If Alex Rodriguez comes back next year – for either the Yankees or team to be determined – and starts banging out home runs and helps win a lot of games, all will be forgiven by those fans. For at least that day. That win. Just watch.

The writers have also included a Code of Conduct Clause in this new arrangement. Last year, one writer, ESPN’s Dan LeBetard, had his ballot filled out by the fans in some sort of no-prize contest. On one hand, it’s kinda nice the fans actually had a small say in the process, but from a writer’s point of view, that’s strictly verboten. LeBetard was permanently banned from voting, and suspended from the BBWAA for one year. Ouch!

But here’s an idea MLB and the Hall, and the BBWAA, should consider. Give the fans one vote, ala the way they vote for All-Stars. It would be fun, easy to market, ripe for contests and other promotions (hint: sponsorships, ad money, etc.), and easily and safely conducted. Release the ballot after the season, and have fans click on their choices, and like the All-Star game, they would have up to 25 chances to vote on who they think deserves to be a Hall of Famer. And after millions of votes, the top vote getter would be added to the BBWAA process. Just one. Any harm in that? After all, it’s the fan’s game. Isn’t it?

There has always been a controversy within baseball that many believe longtime baseball execs, broadcasters, maybe even scouts or other baseball personnel deserve a chance to vote. Why shouldn’t a Vin Scully, or a Joe Buck, or a Gary Cohen, or even a John Sterling, get a vote. They been watching baseball for 25 years or more (Scully’s been behind a Dodgers mike for 65 years, and recently announced he’s coming back for 66! Yay, Vin!).

It is the writer’s contention that many team broadcasters are team employees, some are even “homers” as they call a game, openly rooting for the home team, so they would be biased. True. But you’d like to think they’d be objective in the voting process. Some writers occasionally are guilty of creating the story as much as they are reporting it as well.

So we’ll see who deserves the right to add HOF to their autograph in the Class of 2015. The Veteran’s Committee announces their selections – or lack thereof – in December. The Writer’s ballots are announced in January.

Prediction: Smoltz, Martinez, Johnson, and Biggio get in. Piazza, my beloved Piazza, may have to wait another year or two. Mattingly will have to wait for his time on the Veteran’s Committee ballot.