If all the other HOF dilemmas I’ve discussed aren’t enough, how about adding a discussion of Harold Baines into the mix? He narrowly missed falling off the ballot entirely after last year’s 6 percent tally; Baines ended up with an eye-popping 1,628 RBIs.
It’s tricky trying to determine why a player who accumulated such unassailable numbers should be so lightly regarded by the voters. He also ended up with 2,866 hits, and I always wanted him to get the needed 134 in order to test the reliability of that particular Cooperstown magic number.
My suspicion was/is that it wouldn’t have made enough of a difference. I don’t think fans and writers outside of Chicago environs thought of Baines as a Hall of Famer, and I think that’s unfortunate. Guys like Baines and McGriff shouldn’t be penalized for simply acquiring their HOF-worthy statistics in such a professional and low-key manner that somehow nobody appreciates how good they were.
But Baines faces one other challenge: he played roughly 60 percent of his games as a designated hitter, and serious fans are going to have to prepare themselves for a lengthy debate about how that major league rules anomaly is going to be treated by the BBWAA. If Baines’ initial vote totals are any indication, it’s going to tax our abilities to successfully apply logic, fairness and reason to a debate often directed largely by emotion and intuition.
The arrival of one Edgar Martinez on the ballot this year makes the question more compelling. Almost certainly the greatest designated hitter in the history of the game, he was a late bloomer who didn’t get rolling at the major league level until he was 27 years old, then sat out much of the next two seasons after a torn hamstring.
He had one batting title under his belt when he became a full-time designated hitter in 1995 and won a second, adding a Silver Slugger Award and generally leading the league in everything except restaurants visited.
So what are we to do with a DH with five Silver Slugger Awards, seven All-Star appearances and two batting titles and a .312 lifetime batting average? The answer ought to be obvious: install him in Cooperstown where he belongs, but I have concerns that it isn’t going to be that simple.
The Hall of Fame voters are going to have to decide how to evaluate the top performers at that jury-rigged position that curiously is embraced by only half of the major leagues. That grotesque situation alone probably explains some of the confusion about it; just because it’s been 37 years doesn’t mean that MLB has any less of a responsibility to figure out a way so that all 30 teams could play by the same set of rules.
In the meantime, there’s no effective argument to make that Edgar Martinez doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. Hell, Major League Baseball itself renamed their annual designated hitter award after him, a nod quite properly reserved for only the truly immortal.
If there are writers out there who harbor gnawing misgivings about the appropriateness of the DH and thus decide to massage their apprehensions by passing on Edgar’s candidacy, the simple answer is you guys have got to get some counseling.
And DH is not the only far-reaching examination that the voters face. All-time saves leader Lee Smith is edging up toward the 50 percent mark after eight years on the ballot, so voters clearly seem to have some ambivalence about that odd statistic that is barely older than the designated hitter rule in its modern configuration. Add in the anguished debate that is ahead (or already upon us) about how to handle the steroid-tainted crew and the BBWAA and maybe later on the Veterans Committee setup (whatever form that ultimately takes) are going to have their hands full.
For the record, I might as well push forward my own choices, It seems only right that I would offer my views about how I would vote if I somehow were allowed to do so.
So here goes: (in a kind of haphazard order of relative enthusiasm for the selection) Andre Dawson, Mark McGwire, Roberto Alomar, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Harold Baines, Dave Parker and Don Mattingly.
As I noted in earlier blogs, my list bears no resemblance to what I fear is going to happen, that no one is going to make it. There a couple of others I would have loved to add in there, most notably Dale Murphy, but I had to limit it to the number that I did. It was only upon proofreading that I noticed there were no pitchers included in the mix.
Gee, I may be as goofy, arbitrary, illogical and inconsistent as the knuckleheads who actually get to vote.