Ron Santo, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso are among ten players whose careers will be reviewed by a special committee for enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame. The complete list includes Ken Boyer, Buzzie Bavasi, Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Allie Reynolds, Charlie Finley, and Luis Tiant.
Many of this group have been topics of arguments amongst baseball writers and historians – especially Santo and Hodges. Jim Kaat may get greater consideration with the recent addition of Bert Blyleven to the Hall.
Among the reasons that these guys haven’t already made it:
Career Was Too Short
Santo, Boyer, Oliva, and Reynolds… Santo and Boyer are pretty similar players – some power, good gloves, about 300 career homers, and only 15 years in the majors. Reynolds had an even shorter career, but spent the bulk of his time as a member of the Casey Stengel Yankees where he appeared in a number of World Series and even had a season where he threw two no-hitters. Oliva’s career was cut short by injuries, but for about six years was a deadly hitter.
As a Cub fan, I guess I am supposed to extol Santo’s virtues – and he was a great player for about seven seasons. Bill James thinks he’s one of the ten best third basemen in baseball history and deserves to go. Most of me agrees with that sentiment – and yet at the same time, the Cubs never won a division with him, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and (an old) Ernie Banks in the lineup. Of course, the biggest stars were corner players and not up the middle types – and the Cubs could have used a better lead-off hitter. I think that if you take Santo, you have to take Boyer. Boyer had a comparable defensive record, similar RBI totals, won an MVP and made the post-season, unlike Santo. Santo cleared 300 homers, Boyer just missed. Santo is marginally better, but not much better. Neither guy lived long enough.
Allie Reynolds, had he pitched anywhere else but the Yankees, is not even going to get a whiff of the Hall of Fame. Fewer than 200 career wins – he led the AL in strikeouts twice, but he also had five seasons (of twelve full seasons) where he walked more guys than he struck out. He has a bunch of years with the Yankees where his career looks like that of Mike Mussina, but not enough of them.
Tony Oliva is a better candidate than all of this group except maybe Santo. He led the league in batting three times, hits a few more, doubles and runs, too. He was a six time all-star, winning a gold glove, and appearing in three post seasons, including the 1965 World Series. There’s no doubt in my mind that he was among the best hitters playing – and he was hitting .310 or higher when the rules were definitely favoring the pitcher. Like the others, however, he’s missing the long career and big career numbers. He didn’t make 2000 hits or 300 homers (he would have 2000 hits had he not missed a full season with knee injuries), and he faded into memory as guys like Willie Mays and Henry Aaron were finishing their careers.
Very Good – but was he GREAT?
Jim Kaat pitched for 47 seasons (not really, it just seemed that way), won 20+ a few times, finished with 283 wins. I’ve always been a fan of his – but I can’t remember any time when he was the best pitcher in baseball. He was just one of the pretty good ones. Similar arguments have been made about Sutton and Blyleven – guys who pitched forever but weren’t ever as good as the guys like Gibson, Carlton, Seaver, Marichal, or Jenkins.
Luis Tiant actually had a short period of time (like Oliva) where he truly was GREAT. Unfortunately, that lasted just a brief period – and Tiant needed three years to figure out where his arm went. Eventually he came back as a heavier, cagier version of himself, with a deceptive motion and a ton of guile. He won 20 three times with the Red Sox and, in his worst season in Boston, was the staff ace of that surprising 1975 team. My heart would totally vote for Tiant, but I’m not sure he did enough. I do think he did more than Allie Reynolds, and I think he was better than Kaat.
Gil Hodges was a Dodger during their Boys of Summer days and had a decade where he was among the best first basemen in baseball. He lost a little time at the beginning of his career because of World War II, which may have kept him from making 400 career homers or 2000 hits. He also was the Mets manager when they won the World Series. He’s certainly FAMOUS enough for the Hall of Fame but, like Santo, his full career numbers seem to fall a bit short. He wasn’t a league leader in anything (like Oliva), but he was a member of a great team for a long, long time. I wouldn’t argue against him – but (as it is with most of these guys) if the sportswriters didn’t vote him in after 15 tries, why are we trying to add him now?
I’m not old enough to remember Buzzy Bavasi, but I know he was a significant member of Dodger management for a long period of success and made many contributions to the game. Charley Finley was an interesting story, but I don’t ever think that he ever considered the greater good that comes with his role in baseball. He is linked to night baseball in the post season and the DH – he is also linked to selling off players he couldn’t afford and holding cities hostage (Kansas City, for example).
Minnie Minoso was the Ernie Banks of the AL. Happy, hustling, popular, and successful. The reason he isn’t in the Hall of Fame is because he lost half of his career to the color line, spending a decade in the Negro Leagues. Had he been able to play in the majors starting in, say, 1945 rather than 1951, he likely has 3000 hits, a career average over .300, several seasons with 50 stolen bases, 600 career doubles and 200 career triples. He’s the best player not in the Hall of Fame. It’s time he got in.
First Week of Hot Stove Transactions:
The Philadelphia Phillies had the headline deal, signing Jim Thome to pinch hit and play a little first base for 2012 at the relatively low price of about $1.25 million. However, a few other teams started signing and dealing players… Here’s a short list:
Washington signed pitcher Chien-Ming Wang to a one-year deal ($4 million) after Wang returned for eleven decent starts in 2011. Wang took more than two years to recover from surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule. Early returns show Wang to be in the neighborhood of his old self – keeping the ball down, good control, and not much of a strikeout pitch. 30 good starts in 2012, and Wang will hit the free agent market.
The A’s signed free-agent swingman Edgar Gonzalez, who has pitched for four different organizations in his career. I don’t think Edgar has ever had a good season in the majors, so unless this is organizational depth or he’s going to coach, I don’t get it.
The Dodgers signed veteran outfielder Juan Rivera to a one-year deal. He’s a fourth outfielder, pinch hitter type as he nears 34 years old, but he’s not a bad guy to have on the roster. Rivera had a good run with the Dodgers after a slow start in Toronto, and Rivera would be familiar with the area, having spent much of the last decade with the Angels.
The Diamondbacks resigned backup catcher Henry Blanco and utility infielder John McDonald, who had been acquired late in 2011 from Toronto (with Aaron Hill) for the stretch drive. McDonald’s deal was for two years.
Toronto reacquired pitcher Trystan Magnuson from Oakland for cash. Magnuson was a first round pick of the Blue Jays out of Louisville (also played forward on the basketball team) and was sent to Oakland as part of the Rajai Davis deal. Pitching occasionally for Oakland, the tall (6′ 7″) righthander has a low 90s fastball that can occasionally hit 95 and a sinker. He’s had one season where he had really good control – that was two years ago in AA, but he looks like a middle reliever with a bit of an upside.
A sad week (no MLB!) made even sadder…
Matty Alou passed away due to complications related to diabetes. The 72-year-old played in 15 different seasons finishing with a .307 career batting average. I remember Alou – he was a slap hitting outfielder who would use a heavy bat to knock liners and loopers over the heads of infielders for singles. In 1966, he slapped his way to a National League leading .342 average, and few years later led the league with 231 hits. Alou saw action in the 1962 World Series with the Giants and was a late addition to the Oakland A’s when they won their first World Series in 1972. He is most famous, of course, for being one of the three Alou brothers (Felipe and Jesus) who played together on the Giants and occasionally would occupy the entire outfield.
Then, just days after tossing out the ceremonial opening pitch before game seven of this year’s World Series, longtime Cardinals starter Bob Forsch died of an aneurism at the too young age of 61. I probably have every Bob Forsch Topps Baseball card – he won 163 of his 168 career wins as a member of the Cards and pitched in three different World Series. Like Alou, Forsch had family in the game – his brother Ken pitched with the Astros for a number of years. Forsch threw the only two no-hitters in the original Busch Stadium, and – with Ken – the Forsch brothers are the only brothers to throw no-hitters. [SI]