The season of the underdog

A hall of justice

Hall of Fame ballot-soap box

Ballot-soap box

Editor’s note: This article originally ran on January 4, 2005.

I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote … nor do I deserve one. If they ever gave me a ballot, I would have voted for guys like Freddie Lynn and Dave Henderson and eventually been disbarred. But that’s not stopping me from weighing in this year. To be fair, I’m sticking to my guns with some of these opinions from my Hall of Fame column three years ago — even running some of those paragraphs intact.

Here’s one man’s vote for this year’s ballot (in alphabetical order):

Jim Abbott
I’m not sure how someone with an 87-108 career record gets on the ballot, even if they are missing a hand. Then I remembered something. During Abbott’s final season, he played for the Brewers and ended up batting 21 times. But here’s the astounding thing: He had two singles and drove in three runs. The guy has one hand! Imagine being a major league pitcher and giving up a single to Jim Abbott? I would have immediately retired and travelled the earth like Ricky Williams. Anyway, I think those two hits, as well as the no-hitter at Yankee Stadium, and the fact that he was a decent major league pitcher for a few years, warranted Abbott’s place on the ballot. But that’s it.

Here’s my biggest problem with the Hall of Fame: Someone like Blyleven can sit on the ballot for enough years and voters can start talking themselves into him — it’s like browsing in a video store, not finding anything and eventually letting your girlfriend talk you into renting “Wimbledon.” Blyleven was an above-average pitcher for a very long time — 287-250 lifetime record, 3701 strikeouts, a 3.31 ERA, a killer Uncle Charlie and one of the best beards of that era. But he only made two All-Star teams in 22 seasons, and he only finished in the top-5 voting for the Cy Young Award three times (never placing higher than third). As I wrote three years ago, I can’t remember coming home from school and having my father say to me, “Let’s go to Fenway and scalp tickets — Bert Blyleven’s in town!” He’s out.

I devoted my magazine column this week to Boggs’ cause.

I’m guessing that A) Candiotti made the ballot because of his stirring performance as Hoyt Wilhelm in 61*, and B) McDowell made it because no pitcher’s rookie card declined in value more quickly (with the possible exception of Todd Van Poppel in the mid-’90s). Regardless, they’re both out.

His career wasn’t as bad as you might think: Nine All-Star teams, five Gold Gloves, two top-10 finishes in the NL MVP voting, even an All-Star MVP in 1982. He also played with the same team for 19 years, which should count for something. Solid career, not even remotely a Hall of Famer. Then again, if Tony Perez can make the Hall — the biggest voting travesty of the past 25 years — then anything’s possible.

Although he did give us my buddy Gus’s favorite dumb weather joke: “It’s a little Chili Davis outside right now,” which narrowly surpassed “It’s a little Nipsy Russell out here.”

Three things help his cause:

1. He was victimized by playing in that goofy 1975-1990 Era when sluggers were programmed to swing at everything and not care about getting on base.

2. He missed out on weight training, arthroscopic surgery (which would have helped him since he had a bad wheel) and steroids, which was too bad. If he came around now, he’d be putting up Vlad Guerrero numbers and growing a second forehead.

3. Eight All-Star appearances; 438 homers; three top-2 MVP finishes; Rookie of the Year AND an MVP; also broke the record for “Most times being called ‘a very special human being’ by Peter Gammons” back in 1994. Pretty good résumé.

But one thing kills his cause: He had a chance to carry some good Expos teams in the early-’80s and couldn’t do it. As my old college buddy Dan McLaughlin points out, the Hawk had a couple of chances to push playoff teams over the top (Cubs in ’89, Expos in ’81) and batted just .128 in his two NLCS appearances. So he’s out. Barely

His credentials look pretty good, but I was alive during that time, and trust me … we weren’t hanging out on the playground flipping for Steve Garvey cards every day.

(Note: Others disagree, including my friend Jimmy, who wrote a special guest column about Garvey’s credentials this weekend and forced me to run it.)

Rich Gossage
If you needed six outs from 1977-1984, Gossage was The Guy. That has to count for something, right? Nobody was more intimidating than the Goose, one of a handful of truly memorable players from my childhood, as well as someone who enjoyed a surprisingly long and prosperous career (23 years). And that nickname pushes him over the top. Whatever happened to great baseball nicknames like “The Goose”? Man, I miss those days. Anyway, he’s in.

Sutter lasted 10 years less than Gossage and wasn’t quite as overpowering, although his ’77 season was a classic season: 109 innings, 127 K’s, 69 hits, 23 walks, 31 saves, 1.34 ERA. Try hitting that guy in a simulated computer game against a complete stranger. And the fact that he invented/perfected the split-finger counts for something. But Sutter wasn’t great for long enough, even if the Amish beard was a fun touch. He’s out. Barely.

I’m changing this vote from three years ago. Here’s what I wrote then:

“John’s résumé was pretty similar to Blyleven (26 seasons, 288 wins, 3.31 ERA, not nearly as many K’s), and he was a Red Sox killer who personified the term ‘crafty southpaw.’ Frankly, I was terrified of him. But he wasn’t quite a Hall of Famer — like Blyleven, he was never a clear-cut ‘This guy’s one of the best pitchers alive right now’ guy. Plus, he played for the Yankees. He’s out.”

Well, I forgot one thing: When you throw in the fact that he had the most important surgical procedure in the history of the sport named after him … that’s pretty good. Almost as good as Lou Gehrig getting a disease named after him. Throw in three top-2 Cy Young seasons and he’s in.

Not a bad career: 179-158 record, plus he was the big kahuna in the trade that brought Randy Johnson to Seattle. I guess that’s Langston’s legacy, right along with, “No, I’m not married to Tawny Kitaen, that’s Chuck Finley.”

Nobody enjoyed the cheesy ‘stache and Bird-esque Indiana roots more than me, and nobody sympathizes with someone suffering from a bad back more than me … but I can’t imagine how Donnie Baseball makes it, not when his career tailed off in the late-’80s faster than Anthony Michael Hall and Andrew McCarthy combined. He’s not even remotely close, and that’s before we even mention the obvious Ewing Theory ramifications here — the Yanks promptly rolled off four championships after he retired, then gave us The Greatest Choke In Sports History during his first season back as hitting coach.

(Of course, every Yankees fan believes that Mattingly was a Level 4 Hall of Famer. You haven’t really lived until you argued about the Hit Man’s Hall of Fame credentials at a bar with a bunch of Yankees fans. It’s like arguing about the existence of dinosaurs with Carl Everett — relevant facts, statistics and evidence simply don’t matter. I’m afraid to even make fun of them about this; I never had a car bomb put under my car, and I’d kind of like to keep it that way.)

Exciting to watch, fantastic 1985 season, even gave us Lou Gorman’s classic “What would we do with Willie McGee?” quote during the 1990 trading deadline. I loved watching him. He’s also a charter member of the All-Ugly Hall of Fame — he’s either the Babe Ruth or the Ty Cobb, I’m not sure. Really enjoyable career. In my personal Hall of Fame, he’s probably in. In the real one, he’s out.

I just imagine him getting the call that he was on the ballot and saying “Really? Really?” over and over again.

Jack Morris
I’d even vote Morris in as a Level Two Hall of Famer — see my Hall of Fame Pyramid for details — because his 10-inning, complete-game shutout in Game 7 of the ’91 Series remains the most memorable big-game pitching performance of the pre-Schilling Bloody Sock Era. He also won 162 games in the ’80s, which speaks for itself. And remember, Morris once dismissed female sportswriters by saying, “The only time I want to talk to a woman when I’m naked is if I’m on top of them or they’re on top of me,” which might be one of the five or six funniest high-school yearbook quotes ever. Throw in that cool handlebar ‘stache and he’s in. Discussing this one for more than 30 seconds actually makes me angry.

Otis, my man! Probably the premier “I can steal tons of bases, hit for a semi-decent average, land in drug rehab and do absolutely nothing else” player of his era, narrowly edging Alan Wiggins. Also had the rare ability to look 35 years older then he actually was — when he came to the Red Sox in 1995, I thought they had acquired him from the Birmingham Black Barons. But since he never made an All-Star team, and since he was arrested twice last year — once for allegedly fondling a woman and once for allegedly threatening his bodyguard with a knife — I’m guessing he won’t be making the Hall anytime soon.

(Although that second incident raised a fantastic question: Otis Nixon had a bodyguard???)

And it’s his own damned fault. If it’s any consolation, he makes my All-Cocaine team, which is not to be confused with the ’86 Mets.

Maybe not a baseball Hall of Famer — I mean, he didn’t even make one All-Star team — but he has to be a first-ballot inductee in the Hall of Fame. Did anyone quietly put together more phenomenal on-base percentage seasons than Tony Phillips? Throw in the multiple positions, the 1993 season (.443 on-base), the World Series ring (1989 with the A’s) and the time he was caught by undercover police with crack AND a hooker in his hotel room and he’s probably my favorite random guy on this ballot. He was like a cross between Jose Oquendo and Bobby Brown.

You can’t vote in Kirby Puckett, then claim that Rice isn’t a Hall of Famer because his career lacked longevity. Come on. Puckett’s career was cut short because of glaucoma; Rice’s career was cut short because he lost his bat speed in a mysterious “X-Files”-type accident (even Kathleen Turner didn’t slip that fast). What’s the difference? Rice was definitely a Level One Hall of Famer. No question.

As for Murphy, his numbers were awesome during that eight-year run from ’80 to ’87, but I don’t remember him ever reaching that vaunted ‘Holy Crap!’ level that Rice reached from ’77 to ’79. His numbers (398 homers, four seasons with an OPS above .900) make him intriguing, but I can’t recall the last time I said to myself, “Man, I miss seeing Dale Murphy play baseball.” I mean, Jim Rice broke his bat once on a checked swing. A checked swing!

(Note: Don’t underestimate the post-Murphy era bitterness on my part. With four of Murphy’s rookie cards in my possession from the thousands and thousands of baseball cards I purchased in 1978, it was like holding four winning lottery tickets as Murphy’s career bloomed in the mid-’80s. Now those cards are used as coasters in the Sports Guy Mansion. Damn it all.)

Sandberg’s case: Nine All-Star teams, one MVP, three top-4 MVP finishes, 9 Gold Gloves, unequivocally the best second baseman of the ’80s and early ’90s. Plus he played for the same team for his entire career — again, that should count for something. For some reason, Sandberg always gave me the creeps — I can’t even really explain it. He had that same glazed look that someone gets in a movie when they come out of a hotel bathroom during a bachelor party covered in a hooker’s blood … only he looked like that all the time. I always thought he needed a fu manchu or something. Still, he gets my vote and deserves to be in.

As for Trammell, he anchored some nice Tigers teams in the mid-’80s and became a fantasy draft staple at short — let the record show that he went ahead of Cal Ripken in my draft just about every year in the ’80s and early ’90s (and was just as good defensively). But a .285 average, 185 homers, one ring, four Gold Gloves, one World Series MVP … in the words of Joel Goodson’s alumni interview in “Risky Business,” “Your record is very impressive, but it’s just not Princeton material, is it?” He’s out.

Lee Smith
Probably the toughest call on the ballot. I remember when the Red Sox acquired him before the 1988 season for Schiraldi — I think that was one of the 10 greatest moments of my life. I’m not even kidding. Every Sox fan was blown away. Really? We got Lee Smith for Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper? No strings attached? Really? Are you sure? It was like trading “Arli$$” and “Rocky 5” DVDs for all three seasons of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” I even remember where I was when the trade happened — I was visiting my friend Bish at Amherst College. Swear to God. That’s how huge it was.

Put it this way: There simply wasn’t a more frightening closer in the ’80s — everything about him was cool, even the way he awkwardly loped to the mound from the bullpen. And he always looked angry as hell. He would have been a great closer in a baseball movie for the bad guys. Anyway, his credentials are right there — three Rolaids awards, seven All-Star teams, three top-5 Cy Young seasons — and he passes the Sight Test. But I would have rather had Gossage or Fingers, and I’m not sure you can have all three. He’s out.

Gooden and Strawberry should go into the Hall of Fame together on the same bust, with the inscription: “Look at these guys, they could have owned Manhattan for 20 years, instead they threw it all away for drugs.” Seriously. But since that won’t happen, we’ll have to settle for Strawberry’s inclusion in the Unintentional Comedy Hall of Fame, as well as one personal memory:

I attended Game Three of the Astros-Mets series in ’86, when the Mets were behind in the middle innings and Strawberry came up against Knepper. Every time he came to the plate at Shea, there was just a different buzz — like a Reggie Jackson/Mark McGwire-level buzz. You could just feel it in the air. Something was going to happen. And he ended up hitting a mammoth homer over everything in right field, unquestionably the biggest bomb I’ve ever seen in person before or since. The place absolutely exploded — complete chaos. I’m telling you, it was a moment. And I hate the Mets. But if you were there at the time, you would have believed anything for him — 700 homers, 10 MVP’s, 62 homers in a season, you name it. He was that good. What a waste.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book “Now I Can Die In Peace is available on and in bookstores everywhere.

Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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