November 7, 2011
Major League Baseball’s Veterans Committee will again be under the spotlight and decide if any players passed over several times for Hall of Fame induction should be enshrined. Eight former players will get another shot, but the question (as always) is: Who really deserves to be inducted?
Ken Boyer: Boyer spent 15 seasons in the majors, mostly with the St. Louis Cardinals. From 1956 – 1964, he was one of the top third basemen in baseball. He won the Most Valuable Player award in 1964, but other than that, didn’t do quite as much as another candidate, Ron Santo (who I’ll get to in a bit). The reason Boyer hasn’t had more consideration is what he did with the rest of his career. From 1965 – 1969, his offensive production dropped considerably and he retired at 38. In my opinion, Boyer didn’t do quite enough to warrant consideration.
Gil Hodges: Hodges was undoubtedly one of the best power hitters of his era as he slugged 370 home runs, hitting at least 25 on nine separate occasions (including two 40-homer seasons). He was an eight-time All-Star and won three Gold Gloves. Hodges has always had strong consideration for the Hall and in his final year of eligibility in 1983, received 63.4% of the vote. Hodges also won two World Series championships as a member of the Brooklyn / Los Angeles Dodgers. The thing that sets Hodges apart, in my opinion, is the World Series title he won as a manager for the 1969 Amazin’ Mets. That gets him over the top and he deserves to be voted in.
Jim Kaat: When Kaat’s Hall of Fame credentials are brought up, most detractors will point to the fact that his 283 career wins came over a very long career that spanned 25 seasons. What isn’t usually mentioned is that in seven of those seasons (1959 – 1960 and 1979 – 1983), he started less than 15 games. In the 18 years he started more than 15, he averaged nearly 15 wins per season. He topped 20 wins three times and maxed out at 25 in 1966. As if that weren’t enough, Kaat is also considered possibly the greatest fielding pitcher of all-time, winning an amazing 16 Gold Gloves. Sure, that might be the equivalent of being the career leader in blocked shots for a point guard in the NBA, but it’s still impressive. His career ERA of 3.45 was also respectable, so he gets my vote.
Minnie Minoso: A career .298 hitter, Minoso was also one of the best batters of his generation. As a third baseman and outfielder, he never put up big power numbers, though, finishing with less than 200 home runs. Minoso was a nine-time All-Star and won three Gold Gloves, but to me, he falls just short. He epitomizes a very good, but not great, player – so I’d vote against him.
Ron Santo: Santo was a nine-time All-Star and played 15 seasons – mostly with the Chicago Cubs. He finished in the top ten in home runs in seven different seasons and finished with a total of 342. Santo also earned five Gold Glove awards for his defensive play over his career. Despite all of that, he never got all that close to being inducted, receiving only 43.1% of the necessary 75% in votes. Santo may be the toughest player to decide upon, but I’d lean on putting him in.
Tony Oliva: Oliva played 15 years all with the Minnesota Twins and is another interesting player. Like Boyer, he had a stretch of about eight seasons when he was one of the best players at his position. Oliva, surprisingly, may have had his best season as a rookie in 1964 when he hit 32 home runs, drove in 94 runs, and batted .323. That earned him Rookie of the Year honors and he went on to win three batting titles. Oliva also played well in the postseason, compiling a .314 average over three series. The only problem is that he didn’t do it long enough. He was a career .300 hitter, but never reached even 2,000 hits – far below the 3,000 that is generally seen as the number needed for a guaranteed induction. I’d lean towards voting against Oliva.
Allie Reynolds: You may never have heard of Reynolds, who played for 13 seasons with the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees. But he was a big-time pitcher in the 1940s and early 1950s and one of the hardest throwers of his era. Reynolds is perhaps best known for being a staple of six New York Yankees World Series championship teams. He wasn’t just along for the ride, though. Reynolds went 7-2 and had an ERA of 2.79 of those series. Amazingly, he batted over .300 in the postseason, compiling eight hits in 26 at bats. Reynolds also tossed a couple of no-hitters and was a six-time All-Star. This is a tough call for me, but ultimately I’d leave him out. Reynolds does have 182 wins in the short span of only 13 seasons, but he played on some excellent Yankee teams that helped his stats a bit.
Luis Tiant: Tiant won 229 games over 19 seasons and was a three-time All-Star. He garnered little consideration over the years and it’s difficult to make a compelling case for him. Tiant had several excellent seasons (most notably, his 21-9 / 1.60 ERA 1968 season), but a few good years does not a Hall of Famer make. I’ve got to say no to Tiant.
May 9, 2011
At least once every few years, we see MLB Players make a run at Joe DiMaggio’s historic 56-game hitting streak. The most recent contestant in ‘Attempting to Break Unbreakable Records’ was Dodgers’ star, Andre Ethier. Ethier’s streak ended at 30 games this past weekend in a game against the New York Mets. In recent years, several other players including Albert Pujols, Ryan Zimmerman, Moises Alou, and Willy Taveras all reached 30. Chase Utley and Luis Castillo were so bold to make it to 35 and Jimmy Rollins and Paul Molitor even put together streaks of 38 and 39 respectively. But after that point, there have been considerably fewer players to challenge DiMaggio’s record.
The insurmountable evidence that exists as to why the record will not be broken is that it’s never even really approached. The last time someone even reached 40 was Pete Rose’s 44 in 1978 – and he’s the all-time career leader in hits, after all. As for 50? A grand total of zero players other than DiMaggio have eclipsed that mark.
Cero. Nada. None.
Next in line after Mr. Marilyn Monroe? Willie Keeler had 45 in the 1896 and 1897 seasons. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, Keeler’s Baltimore team was in the National League, some guy named William McKinley was President, and Babe Ruth was two years old.
So why would it be so difficult to break? Well, in addition to it being an absolutely incredible feat, there is a laundry list of reasons why today’s players have it tougher than DiMaggio did back in 1941. Cross-country flights, specialty relievers, improved pitching with the integration of baseball, more media – they all add up to the record being unapproachable.
Then, there’s the ‘invisible barrier of 30.’ For some reason, players fall apart once they reach that number. That’s when the media attention really starts to kick in and every at bat is scrutinized. There have been a total of 54 hit streaks of at least 30 games or more. In 20 of those times, nearly 40%, the streak has ended precisely at 30. In addition, ten more players only made it to 31. So, in actuality, DiMaggio’s record can be broken down into two parts: The first 30 games and the remaining 26. Hitting in the first 30 is difficult enough, but then, there’s the constant attention of each game and a player comes to realize … he’s only about halfway there.
In addition, one thing constantly gets overlooked when discussing the record: No one really gets a second crack at it. Ty Cobb, George Sisler, and Sam Rice are the only players to put together more than one streak of at least 30 games or more. All three played nearly 100 years ago and Rice (1930) was the last player to do it. This record isn’t similar to Maris’ home run record where we saw players make multiple runs at it. It’s basically a one-and-done situation.
Also, there’s the fact that hitting in that many consecutive games is somewhat a fluke by nature. Ted Williams, the last player to bat .400 and perhaps baseball’s greatest hitter of all-time, never even reached 30. Some of the best hitters in history have joined Williams in not even coming close – Rogers Hornsby, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Lou Gehrig, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, and Ichiroall failed to reach that mark. On the flipside, mediocre major leaguers such as Jerome Walton, Benito Santiago, and Sandy Alomar, Jr. did. You need the right combination of skill, luck, and even help from the game’s official scorer.
Baseball is a game where batting .300 (essentially, succeeding 30% of the time) is seen as a great accomplishment – which, by the way, is why hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. There aren’t many guarantees in life, but it’s almost a lock that ‘56’ will stand forever.