by Stal Herz - 01/16/2006
Election to the Hall of Fame is a passing from mortality to god-like positions amongst the greatest that have ever played the game of baseball. Last week, Bruce Sutter passed through to immortality while the mere men were left waiting by a phone that never rang.
With the last of the 70's stars getting in, the spotlight and debating now turns to the ball players of the 1980's who have been on the ballot but have never received the 75 percent needed for enshrinement.
Perhaps the voters of today are holding the greats of the past up to the numbers of the modern day science experiments who are rewriting the standards. What they are losing are some of the all-time greats who existed in the bridge somewhere between old school and new school.
The Hall, much like baseball itself, is losing its flavor as it turns to a more statistical qualification process instead of looking at players in the time and circumstances they played in.
What follows is an all-star line-up of players that should be allowed to pass through to immortality but haven't had the red rope lifted for them.
1B - Steve Garvey: In 19 seasons in the big leagues, Garvey collected 2,599 hits, 272 home runs and over 1,300 RBI. In addition, he played in 10 All-Star Games and won four Gold Gloves. In that time he lead his teams to the World Series four times, including devastating the Cubs with a walk-off home run to send the San Diego Padres to their first World Series. Garvey was the ultimate team player and the leader of a Dodger infield that was amongst the greatest of all time. Steve Garvey was one of the last of the old-school, hard-nosed ballers who understood the game and constantly increased his on-the-field intelligence to match his tremendous talent. Is there a first baseman in his generation who was better?
2B - Pete Rose: The all time leader in hits remains mired in a swell from his gambling on baseball games, but has received no redemption. I guess if you're doing cocaine off the sink in the locker room during a World Series run (Yes Davy Johnson, we're talking about your Mets), then you will be absolved, but gambling is a sin that has you carrying the scarlet letter for eternity. If Bart Giamani hadn't died so early, he probably would have absolved Rose at some point down the line. If you are a little league manager and want to show a kid how to play the game, let them see Charlie Hustle take an extra base and change the flow of the game with his passion. One day they'll let Pete in, but he'll be hunched over his walker on his enshrinement day. Let the man in. He is baseball.
SS - Dave Concepcion: The glue that held the Big Red Machine together and the best fielding SS of the 70s remains outside of the hallowed Hall. Five Gold Gloves and two World Series Championships weren't enough to get Dandy Dave a pass. If Ozzie Smith was given a key, then Concepcion should at least receive a duplicate. Was he the best of his generation? Who else played shortstop in the 70s like that? On a team with egos flying higher than George Jr. in college, he kept the team together with his professionalism and his outstanding play, never having to dive because he was always in position to make the play. With over 2,300 hits and nine All Star appearances, the backbone of the Machine deserves to have the phone ring one glorious Sunday afternoon and hear someone on the other line tell him that defense wins championships with yours helping bring two to Cincinnati.
3B - Craig Nettles: The anchor of the Yankees revival in the mid 70s and early 80s, this six-time All Star finished with 390 home runs and won two gold gloves in an era when George Brett was taking up most of the hardware. Nettles gets the nod over Ron Cey because of the longevity of his career and his ability to quietly carry a team. While Mike Schmidt and Brett are in the Hall with their gaudy numbers, Nettles should be in as a great in his position and one of the finest 3rd basemen of all time. Brooks Robinson is in because he redefined the position, so Netty should get the nod for his perfection of it.
OF - Dale Murphy: Of all of the omissions from the Hall, Murphy remains the greatest mystery. He was a friend of the press, and the most dominant outfielder of his day. If you would have to choose between him and Willie Wilson (most hits in the 80s), you'd have to give the nod to Murphy because of those teams he was on in Atlanta back in the day were nothing compared to the powerhouses that rattle off division championships of today. Murphy had nearly 400 home runs playing in empty Fulton County Stadium and was the only thing worth seeing there other than fans with bags over their heads. The fact that he even saw enough pitches to hit his 398 home runs is a miracle in itself. Dale Murphy was a class act and a magnificent ball player, the two qualifications that make up a Hall of Famer.
OF - Joe Jackson: After working with his farther in a textile mill instead of getting an education, Jackson turned to baseball and recorded more than 1,700 hits in 12 years, including 53 home runs in a time when the bat handle was thicker than Dick Cheney's neck and 4 baggers weren't even part of the game. After recording 218 hits and batting .356 in 1920, Jackson was banned from baseball for his alleged involvement in throwing the World Series, although Jackson had 12 hits and batted .375 in those games. Joe Jackson was the best ball player of his day, and like Rose, lived for the game because it was the only thing that gave him peace outside of his real world reality. While everyone else on this list is a judgment call, Joe Jackson is the real deal.
OF - Jim Rice: He just missed this year, but who else represented power baseball in the 70s and early 80s more than Jim Rice? With 382 home runs and more than 1,400 RBI and a career batting average of .298, this man was the best of his generation. He finished in the top five for MVP voting six times, and won the award outright in 1978. Playing along Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk and Luis Tiant, Rice was THE MAN on the giant Red Love Bus that never won a title in Boston. You can be sure that if they didn't loose to the Reds in the Series of '76, Rice would be polishing his bust right now instead of peeking through the window for another year of "almost there Jim, almost there." The sounds of Cooperstown at night are indeed haunting. Green monsters rarely sleep.
Relief Pitcher - Lee Smith: Well, they let in Eckersley last year, so we're just waiting for big Lee Smith, who helped to define the dominant closer position with 478 career saves. The Jerry Curl Giant was the most intense man on the mound in the history of baseball. What is even more remarkable is that Smith toiled for the Cubs and Rangers most of his career and was still able to put up the unreal numbers he did. How Eck got in before Smith is beyond me, other than Eck also has 171 wins. Goose has a better nickname and has received a push from the East Coast writers, but as any batter who stood in there again the gentle giant knows, he was more than a man, he was a baseball superhero come to life.
Starting Pitcher - Vida Blue - From 1971 - 1980: Blue was a constant All Star and one of the biggest drawing cards in the game. A key part of the Oakland dynasty in the 70s, Blue was on his way to a sure ticket to Cooperstown before getting a little too Scarface in the 80s. One has to wonder how many of those greats from the 80s threw it all away for cocaine. Anyhow, Blue has over 200 wins and 2,000 strikeouts and would have gotten closer to the magical AUTO IN numbers had he not been taken out by the press. Imagine if they followed Babe Ruth to his orgies and opium den parties in the deep night of New York? Well, Vida wasn't as loved, but he should get the nod. Other than Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton, he was the best of his generation and the greatest baseball name of all time.