The holiday season is upon us and with it comes the season of baseball awards, announcements and hot stove speculation. One of the announcements that caught our eye earlier this month was the one that revealed the 2023 Contemporary Era Hall-of-Fame Ballot nominees.
A trio of steroid-associated players are among the eight players on that ballot – Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro – joined by Albert Belle, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy and Curt Schilling. Belle, by the way, who was one of the most feared hitters of the ‘90s, was suspended in 1994 for using a corked bat so he is not without some controversy, either.
This rather eclectic grouping of former players, particularly guys like Mattingly, McGriff and Murphy, bring to mind some other players who aren’t in the Hall and how players like Harold Baines can be. Baines, who was largely a compiler rather than a difference maker, had some buddies on the silly “Today’s Game” committee, including Jerry Reinsdorf and Tony LaRussa.
The displeasure regarding Baines’ induction has been well documented by better baseball minds than ours. It’s worth noting yet again, though, when you look at some of the players who haven’t gotten in that there are former stars whom many consider to be far superior to Baines. One such player is Vada Pinson.
The former Cincinnati great had results similar to Baines when he was on the BBWAA ballot following his retirement and never, to our knowledge, got any real consideration from any of the cockamamie committees that are involved in election these days. The highest vote total Pinson received was 15 percent and, according to Baseball Reference, “has the third-most hits of any player not in the Hall, excluding those who are still under consideration by the BBWAA or not eligible for induction”.
However, if you compare Pinson to Baines or even to former Minnesota great Tony Oliva, who was elected by the Golden Days Era Committee last year, then you are left wondering why this guy isn’t in Cooperstown.
To see him running down the line like that, I didn’t know my father was that fast. By the time Santo got the ball to first, all you see is my father’s back.
Baines played 22 seasons and led the league in exactly one offensive category once – slugging percentage in 1984. His best MVP showing was finishing ninth in 1985 and he was mostly a designated hitter – he was a DH in 1,643 of his 2,830 career games. Pinson led the league in an offensive category 11 times, including hits twice, doubles twice and triples twice. Pinson had 2,757 career hits in an 18-year career. While that’s 109 fewer hits than Baines, he did play four fewer seasons. Had Pinson, who also finished third in the MVP voting in 1961, hung around for another few years and closed out his career like a nomad, as so many others have, he likely would have gotten the 243 hits needed to reach 3,000 and put an end to any debate.
Pinson had 840 more hits than Oliva, who led the league in hits five times and has three batting titles on his resume. There’s no knock against Oliva from our standpoint. He was a dynamic and complete player who is worthy of being in the Hall, far more than Baines.
“It hit me because Tony Oliva’s daughter came to me when she found out that her father was going into the Hall of Fame,” said Vada Pinson III, who has been working for years to keep his late father’s playing career relevant while campaigning to get him into the Hall of Fame. “She was saying that her father wanted to speak with me in regard to Dad. When he got into the Hall of Fame they showed all his [Pinson’s] numbers against Oliva’s and when you see that comparison, you’re dumbfounded how he is not in the Hall of Fame.
“A lot of people have my father’s back. You see how many people we have on our Facebook page. We have more than 4,000 people that have gone on there to see dad’s information and I try to tell his story on every baseball page there is. Here he is, check out his stats. I even have a couple of clips of him playing. As time goes on, though, it gets more difficult because I think people forget.”
(Original Caption) Tampa, Florida: Vada Pinson of Cincinnati Reds during spring training.
Pinson III points to a clip of his father laying down a bunt against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The speedy Pinson, who stole 20 or more bases seven times and finished with 305 for his career, was already past first base by the time third baseman Ron Santo’s throw arrived. It’s a clip he features on his Facebook page and one that he uses to show his father’s explosive speed and versatility.
“I started to realize it about a decade ago; a lot of people have sent me things,” said Pinson III, who lives in California and works for an East Coast-based credit company. “That bunt is something you don’t see in baseball today and he beat it out. To see him running down the line like that, I didn’t know my father was that fast. By the time Santo got the ball to first, all you see is my father’s back. That was pretty amazing.”
Many people probably don’t realize how fast Pinson was or much of anything else about him. He passed away nearly three decades ago at the age of 57 after playing the bulk of his career in Cincinnati in the 1960s when national exposure to the baseball was limited to The Game of the Week, the All-Star Game and the World Series. Additionally, he had the fortune and, in a way, the misfortune of playing alongside Frank Robinson, one of the game’s all-time greats who spent the first 10 years of his career with the Reds. Robinson was a player and person who cast an enormous and all-encompassing shadow.
Pinson III feels that there could be several other contributing factors to his father not being in the Hall in addition to playing with Robinson. Pinson had regrettable run-ins with Cincinnati’s Hall-of-Fame sportswriter Earl Lawson – which got physical after Lawson repeatedly needled Pinson in print.
“One of the things that really held my dad back was that a lot of people felt like he was the setup man for Frank,” Pinson III said. “That incident with Earl Lawson was crazy. Even as a kid, it would take a lot to get my dad upset. I wonder what was actually going on when he and Earl Lawson had that thing. I read about how Earl talked about my father before the incident and he had nothing but praise for my father then.
“African American players then had to be a certain person even if they were not that person. He was a fan of my father’s before then and after that I guess not. The writers have a lot of say as to how gets into the Hall-of-Fame and Earl Lawson, from what I was told, was a legend but he got into fights with other players [like Johnny Temple]. Everyone has led me to believe my dad was a standup guy because he didn’t cause any trouble on any other team.”
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 6: Vada Pinson #28 of the Cincinnati Reds runs to first during an MLB game against the San Francisco Giants on July 6, 1961 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Hy Peskin/Getty Images)
Additionally, Pinson was also close friends with Pete Rose and Curt Flood, two players who have had a love-hate relationship with baseball’s powerbrokers, either during their playing careers or afterwards. Flood began his career with Pinson in Cincinnati in the late 1950s.
“Pete and my dad were really good friends and I don’t know if that played a role,” Pinson III said. “Another good friend of dad’s was Curt Flood. I remember Curt reaching out when dad passed. It’s interesting and I don’t know if that played a part but if dad ever got in, he’d mention the players he thought should be in there [with him].”
Pinson III also points out that the Reds themselves might not be doing enough to honor his dad or some other of the team’s older stars. He mentioned that he went to Cincinnati a few years ago when the team was giving away a bobblehead of his father and that he was surprised upon entering The Great American Ballpark.
“When I got there, I wanted to see how well they are representing my father and I feel like that don’t have him represented at all,” Pinson III said. “I took a tour of the stadium and I understand it’s not the stadium my father played in. But you walk in and you wouldn’t even know Frank Robinson played for the Reds. It was kind of heartbreaking. I left there thinking, wow.
“But a lot of the older fans who had come there [for the bobblehead] said that they hadn’t forgotten my father and that made up for everything.”
Pinson certainly deserves more consideration than he has given along with players like Rusty Staub, Al Oliver and Keith Hernandez. Perhaps it will happen for Pinson. One thing is clear – his son won’t be giving up on his campaign to get his dad into the Hall of Fame anytime soon.
“Recent inductees like Tony Oliva predicted my dad would get in sometime in the next four years,” Pinson III said. “I’m hoping for the next four years but if it doesn’t happen, I would love to know the reason why.”