How beloved and respected was Gil Hodges during his playing career? Enough that when he sank into a ferocious batting slump crossing the end of the 1952 season and the beginning of the 1953 season, the entire borough of Brooklyn, if not all New York City, took up prayers for him. A devout Roman Catholic, Hodges was genuinely touched that even non-Catholic churches joined the prayer chain.
There are plenty of great pitchers who weren’t quite Hall of Fame great and didn’t get in. There are more than a few Hall of Fame pitchers who got in despite not quite being truly Hall of Fame great. Jack Morris, who’s been elected to the Hall by the Modern Baseball Era Committee with his longtime teammate Alan Trammell, belongs to the latter category.
Morris was as tenacious a competitor as I ever saw pitch, and that’s without remembering a certain World Series-winning game. But the Modern Era Committee just wasn’t right to elect him to Cooperstown, and there’s no disgrace in being a great pitcher who falls just short of Hall of Fame greatness.
There’s a new line of underwear out there called Tommy John. Unfortunately for baseball fans, it isn’t the creation of the former pitcher, which is kind of a shame. There go your opportunities for beefing up John’s Hall of Fame case by observing, “Jim Palmer only posed in his underwear; Tommy John up and created his.”
Long before he became a baseball player whose perfectionism on the field or in his person gave him something of a reputation as a phony, Steve Garvey was given too much, too soon. Not accolades but responsibilities.
He was an only child who was forced by two working parents to come home from school and clean house, get dinner on the stove, and look out for his invalid grandmother (partially paralyzed in a freak accident), even having to help her go to the bathroom regularly.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, himself the institution’s vice chairman now, has raised quite a hoopla with his epistle urging one and all among Hall voters to resist, reject, and repel those candidates suspected or using actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances during their careers.
Writing specifically, though, Morgan—perhaps inadvertently—dropped a banana peel in front of himself, when his plea nearly concluded by citing “the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of.”
Here come the rest of the newcomers to the Hall of Fame ballot. Unless there are sentimental reasons or particular individual perversities at play, I can think of only one or two, maybe three, who aren’t likely to be one-and-done ballot entrants, even if they’ll never be Hall of Famers.
The rest of the newcomers to the Hall of Fame ballot—Chipper Jones and Jim Thome should be first-ballot inductees—have a few heartbreakers among them. Men you could have sworn were on the Cooperstown trail but got derailed for one or another reason. For that reason I’ll take these heartbreakers alphabetically.
CHRIS CARPENTER—Tell me you didn’t think this guy was on the way to the Hall of Fame once upon a time. Now, tell me how stinko it was that Carpenter had:
Among the Hall of Fame ballot rookies not named Chipper Jones, there’s another man who shakes out as belonging on next July’s podium with Jones as a first ballot Hall of Famer.
And one thing you notice about Jim Thome’s statistics is that, sure, he struck out a lot, averaging 162 strikeouts per 162 games lifetime. That’s a punchout per game, ladies and gentlemen. But he also a) walked a bunch (he led his league three times) and b) he only averaged hitting into eleven double plays per 162 games lifetime. He also averaged 111 walks per 162, eleven of which were intentional.
A certain Yale University professor of Renaissance literature turned Yale president had no such ambition when he was a boy in New England. “I wanted more than anything,” baseball’s eventual commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti once said, “to be Bobby Doerr.”
When Giamatti became president of the National League, before his sadly short-lived commissionership, he met the former Red Sox second baseman and told him, shamelessly, that he admired him more than any baseball player he ever saw growing up.
Don’t look now, but former commissioner Bud Selig is a Hall of Famer. This is like the cobra inviting the mongoose for a dinner date. Selig was the first owner to become commissioner after he engineered the putsch that threw Fay Vincent overboard. And violated the intent of the office when he stepped in.