BY KEVIN KERNAN
Hall of Fame Weekend is my favorite weekend of the regular season.
For one weekend baseball is about baseball. It’s about the personalities of the game, the history of the game, the stories and the heroes of the game. Walk through the Otesaga Hotel and you really are stepping back in time. I happily drove up to the induction ceremony year after year, and it was the simple pleasures that would present the best memories.
There was Hank Aaron in the gift shop buying a newspaper. Over in the corner was Ernie Banks still ready to play two with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. In the other corner sat Bob Gibson on the long couch with family members, forever holding court near the floor to ceiling windows. Later in the day, Wade Boggs would entertain us with stories downstairs at the Hawkeye Bar & Grill that also features a massive outdoor fire-ring bar.
There was no doubt the fire still burned in Goose Gossage whenever he came through the double doors in the lobby. Tommy Lasorda was a walking tornado, too, making his way around, yelling out to former players and then joining our group for dinner on the patio. Rickey Henderson would gladly stop and talk baseball and proudly tell me it was his mom, Bobbie, a nurse, who finally came up with the stretching game plan to keep him from pulling his hamstrings. Mariano Rivera would walk through the hotel with the same class and calmness that he exhibited entering from the bullpen at Yankee Stadium.
More than anything, this was about old friends who respected the game and their opponents and loved to get together again in the grand lobby of the Otesaga – or the large breakfast room off to the left, or the wide veranda with white rocking chairs all lined up in a row overlooking pristine Otsego Lake. All of that space became essentially a clubhouse to the former players and managers.
It was home.
These were, and are, baseball Show Stoppers, the heart and soul of the game; and they have all gathered again this weekend under the watchful eye of Josh Rawitch, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, to honor Fred McGriff, a player I got to know so well when he starred for the Padres (before being dealt to the Braves in one of the worst fire sales in baseball history), and Scott Rolen. Both will be inducted on Sunday.
It’s not just about the plaques or the speeches; it’s about the game, the relationships – not the VORP – and that is always the central theme. Baseball’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn close – no matter how much they try to mess it up – and with that in mind, I want to offer up some players I believe should be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The first is the Great Luis Tiant. How he is not in the HOF is beyond me.
I’m going to skip over Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens because when all is said and done they will get into the Hall and there have been too many words written and spoken about their situations. I’m going to the heart of the matter and will name names you may agree or disagree with; but in my mind they deserve to be in the club. I would always vote for McGriff and am glad he made it. Every single year I take my Hall of Fame ballot seriously – as does just about everyone who has ever voted.
I also enjoyed my time spending days and nights with my HOF “roommates’’ at a house just behind Doubleday Field that we would rent year after year. Coffee in the morning from Stagecoach Coffee and drinks at night from the various inductee parties that were spread around the village. That’s good livin’.
In my list of players who need to be named Hall of Famers it’s important for me to start with two pitchers who are still alive who would marvel at being inducted and standing on that stage, looking out over the green hills filled with baseball fans. The first is the Great Luis Tiant. How he is not in the HOF is beyond me. I know he is in the wonderful New York State Baseball Hall of Fame; but Luis deserves to be in Cooperstown for so many reasons.
As I said earlier, I like a Show Stopper and Luis, when he pitched, was just that. He would sometimes even stop mid-windup. Knowing Luis’ son Dan well, I get updates on Looie – and the man remains baseball royalty. Luis has told me he knows he belongs in the Hall. His story of Cuba and coming to America and making it the majors in 1964 at a time when there were only 20 Major League teams, 10 in the American League, 10 in the National League, is a great human interest story. Back then there were only two pennant winners and one World Series showdown, and that year it was the Cardinals over the Yankees in seven games.
Over his career, Tiant produced a 229-172 record with a 3.30 ERA. In 1968 Tiant twirled a 21-9 record with a 1.60 ERA and nine shutouts. Can you imagine if any pitcher put up numbers like that now? And in 1972, Tiant was 15-6 with a 1.91 ERA with the Red Sox after he re-invented himself as a pitcher. Two years later with the Red Sox, Tiant posted a 22-13 mark with a 2.92 ERA and seven shutouts. Those three seasons alone are Show Stoppers. He pitched 19 seasons and struck out 2,416 hitters in an era when hitters took pride in not striking out.
Success and duration. Get Loo-ie to Cooperstown to light up a cigar, please, Veterans Committee.
Another name I want, who is also near the top of my induction list, is a name that means so much to baseball in general: Tommy John.
Tommy John is not just a surgery that has run rampant throughout the game, re-starting so many pitching careers, including his own; Tommy John, the lefty pitcher, also put up 288 wins to 231 losses and a 3.34 ERA with 2,245 strikeouts. Tommy John owns 188 no-decisions. Imagine that. No one has more no-decisions. Tommy John is 26th on the all-time wins list, and seventh on the win list for left-handed pitchers.
Here is one of my personal favorites and I have written at length before about him, but it’s a shame that Thurman Munson is not in the Hall of Fame. He was a great catcher and a great leader – and so tough. Tragically killed in a plane accident on August 2, 1979 at the age of 32, Munson’s career lasted only 11 years. Munson won AL Rookie of the Year honors with the Yankees in 1970 and was the 1976 MVP. He turned the Yankees around and compiled a .292 batting average during that 10-year period, while Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk hit .284 and Hall of Famer Johnny Bench batted .267 – during the Super ‘70s.
Munson’s career WAR of 45.6 can only be matched over any 10-year period by six other catchers, and every one of them is in Cooperstown – Gary Carter, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Pudge Rodriguez, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Cochrane.
Munson led the Yankees to three straight pennants and back-to-back World Series in 1977 and ’78. Munson’s career WAR of 45.6 can only be matched over any 10-year period by six other catchers, and every one of them is in Cooperstown – Gary Carter, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Pudge Rodriguez, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Cochrane. It’s really a baseball shame Munson is not in the Hall. With Gil Hodges finally getting into the Hall, Munson’s widow Diana is in a similar situation that Gil Hodges’ widow Joan was in all those years.
I can throw Munson statistics at you all day, thanks to my friend Rene LeRoux; but here is one more. Munson owns nine consecutive seasons with 1,000-plus innings caught and 100-plus complete games caught – and not one Hall of Fame catcher can match that. Did I mention that Munson hit .357 in the post-season? Thurman Munson, a man’s man, was the man of the hour for the Yankees and he should be remembered in Cooperstown.
I’m going to add another Yankee here in Don Mattingly because of his peak years from 1984-89. Again, he was a Show Stopper in so many ways; everything you could ask of a first baseman and winner of the MVP Award in 1985, hitting .324 with 35 home runs and leading MLB in RBIs with 145. Back issues limited his effectiveness; but to me Mattingly is a Hall of Fame player. The next year Mattingly led the majors with 238 hits, 53 doubles (always a vital stat to AMBS), and a .573 slugging percentage. From 1984-89, a span of 917 games, Mattingly batted .327 and posted 1,219 hits and struck out only 206 times. He had 51 more doubles than strikeouts over that span.
Put Dale Murphy on the list for being such a good role model, all-around player and a great hitter for a number of years and a back-to-back MVP winner for the Braves, another true Show Stopper.
A good friend of mine, a longtime baseball man, made this smart comment to me Saturday about the Hall of Fame, telling BallNine, “I’ve always thought that the Baseball Hall of Fame raised the bar too high and the Football Hall of Fame was too low.’’
That’s an excellent point.
Thurman Munson #15 of the New York Yankees settles under a pop-up against the Minnesota Twins during a game circa 1970 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Slugger Dick Allen should be in the Hall of Fame as well. I believe he will get in soon. Gary Sheffield is another big time hitter that is Hall of Fame worthy and would always get my vote on the ballot. Fred McGriff endorsed Sheffield for the Hall on Friday in Cooperstown.
I’m going to throw a name at you that you probably never heard of but I believe should be in the Hall for his Show Stopper ability, Deadball Era slugger Gavvy Cravath.
That’s what we do here at BallNine, history and baseball, as founder Chris Vitali proudly notes.
Cravath was the Home Run King just before a guy named Babe Ruth. Real baseball historian Bill Swank once told me that “The old-timers are always a tough sell simply because they don’t sell.’’
As an outfielder with the Phillies, Cravath led the majors in home runs in 1913, ’14, ’15, and 1917. He led the NL in 1918 and 1919 while Ruth led the majors. Cravath’s 24 home runs set the Major League record in 1915 until Ruth hit 29 in 1919. In 1915 Cravath hit more home runs than 10 different teams and he helped carry the Phillies to their first World Series appearance that season against the Red Sox. The Red Sox were so scared of the right-handed hitting Cravath that they held out their stud young lefty pitcher Babe Ruth. Ironically, Cravath broke in with the Sawx in 1908 but they let him get away. History would repeat itself with Ruth.
Cravath wound up in the American Association in 1911. Home Run Baker was established as the home run man of that era but it was Cravath who was the better home run hitter. Baker hit 96 home runs, Gavvy blasted 119. He also hit another 107 home runs in the minor leagues, including the Pacific Coast League – which was considered a third Major League.
Baker was inducted into the Hall in 1955, yet 68 years later Cravath is still not in the Hall. I once spoke to Gavvy’s granddaughter who told me that her grandpa, who became a judge in Southern California, was not into self-promotion and Ginger McMillan added, “He didn’t like Babe’s style, thought he was a hot dog.’’
Gavvy was a nickname, short for “gaviota,” which is Spanish for seagull. In a game he once hit a ball that killed a seagull and the Mexican fans in the crowd started yelling “Gaviota” and the nickname stuck and was shortened to Gavvy.
Cravath was a Show Stopper in his own way.
1917. Gavvy Cravath. We do like history.(Photo by Sporting News and Rogers Photo Archive via Getty Images)
There are others I would like to see in the Hall of Fame because of what they meant to the game, and that includes back-to-back MVP Roger Maris, who broke Babe’s home run record in ’61. I also think Keith Hernandez is a Hall of Famer when you look at his entire baseball career, his defensive wizardry; and not just as a ballplayer, but as a broadcaster who means so much to so many Mets fans.
In recent history I put Curt Schilling in the Show Stopper class for his Red Sox bloody sock heroics and other factors. Billy Martin, to me, was a great clutch player, a World Series hero, an innovative manager who would run rings around the Nerds today. Yes, he had his own demons – but Billy Ball belongs in the Hall.
I was there in 1988 when Orel Hershiser was the Bulldog and set the consecutive scoreless innings streak and won a World Series for the Dodgers. Over his 18-year career Hershiser was 204-150 with a 3.48 ERA and like Hernandez, he is a terrific broadcaster.
There are other names to consider as well, including Dwight Evans (defense matters), Lou Whitaker, who will get in soon, I believe, Lew Burdette, who won 203 games and from 1953-1961 posting a 157-95 mark with 131 complete games and a 3.43 ERA, and Steve Garvey, another positive vibes player, who did so much right on the ballfield, a baseball star and a baseball ambassador.
There is plenty of room in Cooperstown. Add some more Show Stoppers.