With so much debate going on about the upcoming Hall of Fame vote I thought I’d do something totally irrelevant, meaningless, and fun. Yeah, yeah, for those of you thinking “So, same as last week, and the week before that, and the week before that and…” I ask this: When have my columns ever been fun?
(Guess I showed ‘em who’s boss eh?)
Besides, I’m fishing for some hate mail, but I don’t want to do a Red Sox-related column this week.
So instead of debating who should go into the Hall and who gets left out, who was deserving and who isn’t—I’m gonna go off on an entirely different tangent.
Over the years there have been a number of stinkers inducted into the Hall of Fame. I was thinking (it happens) who might be the next head scratchers that might end up with non-dental plaque.
Don’t get me wrong, like the ‘stinkers’ alluded to earlier these players are bloody fine ballplayers; it’s just that you don’t think of them the same way you’d look at a true Hall of Fame player.
What I’m going to do with my candidates for the BBWAA’s and Veteran’s Committee’s “Oops I Did It Again Award” is try to come up with the argument used to vote for the player. If you think I’m out of my mind (I am just so you know), feel free to write me about why you feel my OIDIA Award might be the genuine Cooperstown article and gosh darn it, we might just print a few that don’t contain speculation about the canis genus and my mother, accusations of habouring an Oedipus complex, questions about my sexual preferences, demands to engage in coprophagy before bench pressing a rack of Erigeron strigosus, and suggestions to engage in auto-erotic and anatomically impossible exercises.
Vizquel has 11 Gold Gloves and counting—second only to Ozzie Smith’s shortstop record of 13. Speaking of the Wizard of Oz, Vizquel now has more career hits than Smith (2,472 to 2,460). When you consider that he garnered 171 base hits in his age 39 season and it’s not hard to see him possibly add 300-350 knocks to that total before he retires. Let’s face it, 2,800 hits from a terrific gloveman is bloody impressive. Vizquel’s career OPS+ of 85 is only slightly lower than Smith’s 88. Further, he was a key player on a tremendous Cleveland Indians’ club that reached the postseason six times in seven years and copped a pair of AL pennants. Toss in the fact that he paired with Roberto Alomar in one of the most exciting keystone duos of all time and that six of his top 10 comps on Baseball-Reference are in Cooperstown, and you’ve got a pretty good case.
How can you not love this guy? (Seriously!) He’s 47 and still not embarrassing himself on the field. He has three years missing on his major league résumé—during his age 36, 39 and 41 seasons (from 1998 through to the end of 2001) he only got 91 at-bats. Despite those gaps he’s closing in on 2,600 hits. Had the chips fallen a bit differently he might have reached 3,000. An absurd notion? Well he batted .319/.406/.510 in 1994, didn’t play in 1995 but went .322/.407/.470 in 1996. After his 1998-2001/91 at-bat stretch he returned to hit .284 with a .357 OBP. Franco won a batting title, had seven seasons where he batted .300 in over 300 at-bats, won five Silver Sluggers. If used properly he could well finish his career with a .300 average. How many guys batted .300 in careers that spanned a quarter century?
Over the last nine seasons Johnny Damon has gotten at least 160 hits. He will be 33 all this season. If he plays until he is 40 and averages 135 hits a year, he will retire with 3,038 hits. If he averages 75 runs in those seasons he will finish with 1,788 which would put him in the top 20 all time. If in those seasons he averages 20 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs and 15 stolen bases, his career résumé would have 1,788 runs, 3,038 hits, 521 doubles, 109 triples, 234 home runs and 426 stolen bases…a lot of that accomplished playing a key defensive position. Damon is durable and averaging 135 hits, 20 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs and 15 stolen bases over eight seasons is far from a reach. Toss in his Game Seven grand slam in culminating the greatest playoff comeback in major league history, helping break an eight decades-plus Red Sox World Series “curse”—how do you vote “no” on a player with that kind of record?
If he rediscovers his zest for the game and decides to pitch a while longer, think about what he’s accomplished thus far, and what he’ll be adding to: He was a key pitcher on a Yankee club that won four World Series. He has a pair of 20-win seasons and five others with at least 15. Pettitte’s .641 winning percentage is ninth among active pitchers and fourth among those [among active pitchers] with at least 250 decisions—the other three are first-ballot Hall of Famers: Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. Pettitte has as many World Series rings as the other three combined. If Pettitte pitches five more seasons and averages 13 wins (he‘s averaged almost 16 to date) he’ll retire with 251 wins. On top of all that, he’s pitched a full season’s worth of innings against the toughest possible opponents in the post season pressure cooker and it looks like this:
W L ERA IP BB K 14 9 4.08 212.0 58 134
Time heals all wounds and dulls a lot of memories. As Bill James once opined as the personality of a player drifts further into the past, his stats become what defines him. A surly S.O.B. becomes “intense,” a drunk becomes a womanizer, or a general deviant becomes “colorful,” a cheat becomes “misunderstood” or a “martyr.” The only exception to this appears to be Dick Allen. However in time Canseco might have the luster of being the one who was the impetus to ridding the game of steroids and the fact he was a major user but a mere footnote to the story. Toss in an impressive career which had such highlights as baseball’s first 40-40 season, 462 career home runs, a career OPS+ of 131, an MVP, and a pair of home run crowns, all before he turned 37 and was ‘unjustly’ blackballed and denied the chance at better numbers. Fifty, 60 years from now Canseco might become a sympathetic martyr who had a terrific career cut short by the heartless establishment. Sound ridiculous? Look at how the saga of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson has transformed over the last quarter century.
Regardless, this isn’t a slam of these players. As I mentioned earlier, these men are terrific talents enjoying superb careers. Sometimes though they can be viewed as more than they actually were—especially with the passage of time. It’ll be interesting to see how the careers of Omar Vizquel, Julio Franco, Johnny Damon, Andy Pettitte and Jose Canseco will ultimately be remembered.