[MLB] That Bootleg Guy

Tomorrow, Congress will convene a formal inquiry on steroid use in baseball. And, not surprisingly, the players, the politicians and the press have completely missed the point of it all.

Well, maybe not the players.

Some of them have been hammered hard in the press for their union’s reluctance to have its members testify, but think about it. The justice system has already failed the players once, when sealed grand jury testimony in the BALCO affair was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle a few months ago.

Granted, the players in question (Bonds, Giambi, Sheffield, among others) received a sweetheart immunity deal, but they also received assurances that their testimony would not be made public.

So, why should Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Frank Thomas further an obvious bipartisan dog and pony show, just so a few politicians can look good for the C-Span cameras? Anyways, back to the HOF 100.

Now, the list continues with Part Eight and we begin with …

Lou Whitaker

The argument for Sweet Lou’s induction goes a little something like this: “If Ryne Sandberg gets in, then you have to put Lou in, too!” Well, earlier this year, Ryno finally got the call, so should Whitaker be making reservations for upstate New York in 2006? And, let’s ignore the fact that in his first year of eligibility, Whitaker failed to receive enough votes to remain on the ballot.

There is undeniably a link between the stats of Sandberg and Whitaker. Keeping in mind that Whitaker played in 226 more games than Ryno…Lou Whitaker had 2,369 career hits to Sandberg’s 2,386. Lou scored 1,386 runs to Sandberg’s 1,318. Sandberg hit 38 more home runs, but Whitaker drove in 23 more RBI. How similar were these players? Sandberg’s career OPS (on-base plus slugging pct.) was .796, while Whitaker’s was .789.

In fact, the only real advantage that Ryne has is in stolen bases and his 201 lead in SB is negated, somewhat by Whitaker’s slight edge in runs scored. Hell, many fans think World Series wins should be tiebreakers in cases like this and in 1984, Whitaker’s Tigers took home the trophy, while Sandberg never played past the NLCS.

So, why all the hubbub surrounding Ryno, while Whitaker rots in obscurity? Well, the Cubs national cable package got Sandberg the exposure in his prime that Whitaker never received. The Cubs’ “lovable loser” image, Wrigley Field’s commercial mystique, and Sandberg’s pretty boy gimmick didn’t hurt, either. Now, there’s one more obvious difference between the two…but, that’s a road I won’t go down. Verdict: Out…I just think Ryno’s peak was better and longer.

Bernie Williams

In 115 postseason games, Williams has collected 443 at-bats. He’s used all that time to hit 22 playoff home runs, while driving in 79. While the notion of a “clutch hitter” has been decisively debunked by the stat head nation…is there really any other way one can describe Bernie Williams?

His power took awhile to come around. Williams’ didn’t pass the .500 mark in SLG for a single season until his sixth year in the bigs, at the age of 27. That was in 1996, which capped off a three-year stretch that saw his batting average and OBP remain consistently impressive. From 1996 to 1999, his BA leapt from .305 to .342, while his OPS topped out in the high .900s. As if that wasn’t enough, he took home four straight Gold Gloves from 1997-2000.

Unfortunately, since the turn of the century, Bernie has gone from “great” to “very good” to merely “decent”. Over the last two years, he’s hit about .262 with a SLG around .425. Even worse than his obvious, and ongoing offensive decline is his slide with the leather. His range in centerfield is nowhere close to what it once was and many argue that he’s actually a defensive liability these days.

But, you’ve got to love those career stats: .301/.388/.488. He’d make for a much more intriguing case if he had more than 2,100 hits, 263 HRs or 144 SBs. He absolutely gets extra credit for his October heroics and, at 36, he might have enough in the tank to put up the three more above-average seasons he’ll likely need to get another look. Verdict: Out

Maury Wills

A five-time All Star, Wills is often credited with oft-ambiguous praise. “He changed the game!”, say his fans. But, this doesn’t exactly answer the two questions that really matter: How did he change it and was he any damn good?

The answer to the first question (and, in some ways, the second) can be found in 1962. Wills had 208 hits, scored 130 runs and stole 104 bases. It was the first time since 1891 that a player passed the 100 steals mark and, at the end of the season, Wills stole the NL MVP from the more deserving Frank Robinson. But, a quick look at the SB numbers throughout history show that Wills didn’t change the game, so much as he brought back something that it had already: speed.

He’d end up with 586 career stolen bases, but never really distinguished himself beyond that. Wills defensive reputation was inflated by some Gold Gloves he won in the early ’60s, while his notorious lack of pop (.331 career SLG) or patience (.330 OBP) don’t exactly help his case.

In fact, Wills might be best known for the 1966 trade that sent him to Pittsburgh. He was infamous for his forays into the lascivious Los Angeles nightlife. He was reportedly traded away due to his very public preference for white women. So, what…they don’t have ’em in Pittsburgh? Verdict: Out

Bert Blyleven

At the beginning of this series, I promised that I would try and avoid the sabermetric arguments in making a case for a player’s Cooperstown chances. But, in the case of Bert Blyleven, it’s obvious that there are two completely different schools of thought on his career.

The average fan points out that Blyleven didn’t reach 300 wins. He also put up just one season with 20 or more wins and only made two All-Star games in a 22-year career. And, in all that time he never won a Cy Young Award.

The stat guys will tell you that the wins can be explained away by the obscenely awful teams he played on (and the inherent lack of run support that come with ’em). According to them, the All Star Game and Cy Young arguments don’t carry much weight since so many people erroneously correlate pitching “wins” with pitching “great”.

There are really two statistics, one simple, the other not so much, that should bring both sides to agreement. Blyleven recorded 3,701 career strikeouts. This placed him third all time when he retired, but Roger Clemens and The Big Unit have nudged him down to fifth. Secondly, there’s a stat called ERA-plus. I’ve used its offensive equivalent when describing how much better a hitter is than the era in which he played.

Blyleven’s career ERA of 3.31 was 18% lower than the composite of every other pitcher who took the mound during Blyleven’s career. 287 wins is nothing to sneeze at and it might be more impressive considering the fact that he did not get to pitch in a true pitcher’s park for any long stretch. Verdict: In

Kevin Brown

There hasn’t been a whole lotta love for “Brownie” in the last few years. He angered Padres fans when he left San Diego, citing an urge to play closer to his family in Georgia. So, he signed with the Dodgers. A few trips to the DL turned off LA’s laid back fans, while a little thing called “Game 7” has him as even money to be the most likely booed Yankee at their home opener.

In 18 seasons, Brown has put together a winning percentage of .602, with 207 wins and 2,347 strikeouts. A six-time All Star, he’s won 20+ games only once and never took home the Cy Young Award. Now, where have I heard this before? But, don’t be fooled…Brown has been a terrific pitcher throughout most of his career and since the ERA-plus stat worked so well before, is worth mentioning that his lifetime 3.20 ERA is 30% better than the league’s 4.15.

And, for all the flak he gets for his injuries, Brown has averaged 15 wins and 231 innings per season. Those numbers, by themselves, are exceptional. But, the fact that he’s averaged only 14 home runs allowed per season (including seven full seasons when he’s allowed 11 or less) is an amazing accomplishment in this day and age.

Brown has quietly been one of the top five starting pitchers of this era. He’ll be 40 at the end of the 2005 season and is currently in the final year of his contract. If he pitches like he has in the past, he might get a team to hand over one last multi-year deal. I’m thinking 250 wins (and continued effectiveness) guarantees his entry. Verdict: Out…but, just for now.

Roger Clemens

Fifteen years ago, The Rocket didn’t have the reputation that he does now. His big game credentials were lacking, despite a pair of early Cy Young Awards. And, in some circles, he was more famous for his failures in head-to-head match-ups with Oakland ace Dave Stewart and his meltdown/ejection in the 1990 ALCS.

Sorry…but, we had to get some bad stuff in here. Clemens has more than enough singular calling cards for entry into Cooperstown: 328 wins, 4,317 strikeouts and a career ERA of 3.18 (league ERA during his career: 4.47). Together, his stats combine to form…Devastator. Seven Cy Young Awards, an MVP, six All Star Games and a career winning percentage of .667…Hell, the only question left is which cap he’ll wear when he gets into The Hall.

Do you take the 13 seasons in Boston over the two championship rings he achieved (in five seasons) in the Bronx?

It sounds a lot like Mark McGwire, who had some great seasons in Oakland, but didn’t have his greatness confirmed until he went to St. Louis. He’ll go in as Cardinal and Roger should be rockin’ the “NY” on his plaque. There…you see how hard it is to fill up space for a player who is such a dead solid lock for induction? Verdict: Whaddaya Think?.

David Cone

True baseball fans hope that newer, younger fans won’t remember David Cone at the end of his career: the ERAs over 6.00, the 4-14 season and his colossal collapse in his return to the Mets. Instead, its hoped that Cone is remembered for the fine career he crafted before its ignominious finish.

In 1988, the Mets were New York’s number one team and Cone would put up his first 20-win season, to go with an ERA of 2.22. He was still effective, but not nearly as dominant from 1989-91. In 1992, he’d won 13 games and struck out 214 through the end of August, when he was dealt to Toronto and helped the Jays win the World Series.

Despite the wins, K’s and accolades, Cone just wasn’t great…at least not like he was in 1988. And, as luck would have it, his next truly exceptional season would come in 1994, when he won 16 games with an ERA of 2.94 (league ERA that year: 5.00) and won his first Cy Young Award. Of course, all of that was overshadowed by the player’s strike and the nuclear winter that followed.

He was traded to Toronto and then to the Yankees in 1995, where he’d enjoy a few more embers of excellence. During his stay with the Bombers, he’d finish in the top ten in ERA four times and placed top ten in the Cy Young voting on three occasions. And, who can forget his perfect game in July of 1999?

Top 20 in career strikeouts…good. Failing to reach even 200 wins…bad. That .606 lifetime winning percentage would’ve looked a lot better with a few more W’s and fewer walks, but his was an often brilliant and commendable career. Verdict: Out

John Franco

In a few more years, Hall of Fame voters are going to have as hard a time with the save statistic as they are having now with the home run. The all-time leader in saves hasn’t come close to Cooperstown in his years of eligibility, so how will the number two guy eventually fare?

John Franco has never started a major league game. His nearly 1,100 appearances have all been in relief. He began his career in Cincinnati and put up three straight seasons with 30+ saves from 1987-89 (including 29 saves in 1986). Traded to the Mets prior to the 1990 season, he’d go on to have a few more seasons with saves aplenty, until 1992, when The Worst Team That Money Could By kept ninth innings leads on the list of endangered species.

Franco would return to his 30 save form in 1994 and averaged about the same number for the next five seasons.

There are two big problems with John Franco’s candidacy, however. The first is he was never really the dominant closer of his era. Even if we want to keep it NL exclusive, Franco has led the league in saves just three times. Second, and more damning, is the fact he’s hung on about four seasons too long, already. He’s averaged just two saves per year in his role as left-handed specialist, with ERAs in the low 4.00s. Verdict: Out

Tom Glavine

It’s been two seasons and I still can’t get the sight of this guy in a Mets uniform to look right in my mind. And, the last couple of Octobers have fallen quite short of complete, since Glavine wasn’t taking the mound in any of the meaningful match-ups. Fortunately, it’s impossible to forget where he came from.

Tom Glavine is 38-years-old and 38 wins shy of 300. Even the most optimistic Mets fan must concede that it’ll be difficult to reach that milestone. Glavine’s averaged 15 wins per season in his career, but only 10/season in his two years at Shea. If we (very roughly) split the difference at 12.5, that means he’d need about three full seasons to get there. It doesn’t help that he’s always been rather hittable, but these days he’s missing fewer bats and consistently going into deeper counts.

But, what about where he came from? He’s a nine-time All Star with five 20-win seasons and two Cy Youngs to his name (along with two 2nd place and two 3rd place finishes). Glavine’s 2,245 strikeouts currently ranks among the top 50 all time, while his 570 career starts in good enough for the all time top 25.

Glavine has definitely been better than many of his teammates and opponents. But, the gap isn’t as wide as you might think. His sustained success, in lieu of outright dominance, is probably good enough for him to get in, but it’d be nice to see him get to 300 wins. Verdict: In

Goose Gossage

And, sometimes there’s more to a superstar than statistics. In an era where closers routinely went three innings and weren’t pampered, Gossage was unquestionably the most powerful and intimidating presence of them all. So, is there a reason why the writers haven’t voted him in yet?

310 saves doesn’t seem like much these days and Goose hurt his per season save average by spending his final five years in middle relief. He averaged less than two saves in each of those seasons, which was a far cry from his heyday. From 1977 until 1985, no one could touch this guy. Six of those seasons were spent in New York, where he topped out at 33 saves in 1980 and registered an ERA of 0.77 the following (strike-shortened) year.

C’mon, people…has the magnificence of Mariano Rivera made us forget the impact that Gossage had on the game, while pitching in pinstripes?

In 1985, while with the San Diego Padres, Gossage notched 26 saves, with an ERA of 1.82 and gave up just one home run in 79 innings. At 33, it would be his last great year, but, by that point, he had already written up enough of resume to get into The Hall. Goose played eight more seasons at half-speed and those years have obviously done him more harm than good. And, that’s just wrong. Verdict: In

Check back for Part Nine of the Hall of Fame 100. We’ll make the obvious cases for Maddux and Unit, as well as the not-so-obvious ones for Mussina and Morris. Get at me on AOL or Yahoo IM: ajcameron13

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