Thursday, January 6, 2011

HOF Voters Take a Bite Out of Crime Dog's Candidacy

When the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame made its selections for the Class of 2011 yesterday, it was a bittersweet announcement. This year’s inductees, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, are certainly worthy of the honor, though each were elected as polar opposites: Alomar on his second try, while Blyleven got in on his second-to-last try. Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, notable players linked to rampant steroid use during the late 1990s through the mid 2000s, were on less than twenty percent of the voters' ballots. (Seventy five percent is needed to make the Hall, while five percent is needed to stay on the ballot altogether.) Others left out of Cooperstown this year include Barry Larkin (with 62.1 percent of the votes), Jack Morris (with 53.5 percent), and Lee Smith (with 45.3 percent).

And then there’s Fred McGriff. Remember him?

McGriff, nicknamed the “Crime Dog” by ESPN’s Chris Berman, played on six different teams throughout his twenty year career, and he's played for no one team longer than five seasons. His journey through major league baseball started as a draft pick by the New York Yankees in 1981 and ended with a mediocre homecoming for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2004. When the Tampa native finally decided to retire after his bid for 500 home runs sputtered, he left as one of the most underrated first baseman the game has ever seen.

To boot, his career accomplishments are impressive for his position. He has 493 home runs, 2,490 hits, and a .284 lifetime batting average. He’s a five-time All Star, a three-time Silver Slugger, and he won a World Series title with the Atlanta Braves back in 1995. His career is a model for consistency many players dream of yet few ever achieve. And for that, he's being punished.

McGriff was good enough to stay around for nearly two decades of major league ball, but he was never great enough to prove he was a bona fide selection for Cooperstown one day. Shy of actually winning an MVP or a Gold Glove, he has done practically everything any player could want for future induction. Had he done just a little more to pad his stats, maybe win another championship or two, his stock as a Hall of Famer would be significantly higher now. But, alas, he had some bad luck on the way.

The most damning case to explain his absence from a place in the Hall of Fame is the unfortunate circumstance that his career took place during the steroid era. Much of the negative reaction he's getting is due to the fact that several key players of this time – such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and Roger Clemens – are either on the ballot now, or will be in the near future. Compared to the four aforementioned position players, McGriff wouldn't stand a chance of getting in, though he was never linked to the steroid saga at all. Sometimes, even the innocent must suffer along with the guilty.

Still, McGriff isn't the only one with a long way to Cooperstown. Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, and Don Mattingly are all under fifty percent this year. And for McGriff, this is just his second year on the ballot, though he received only 17.9 percent of the votes this year compared to 21.5 last year. Eligible players are given a maximum of fifteen years to make it to Cooperstown. He's still got plenty of time to convince voters that he is innocent, his numbers are legitimate and possibly, like Jim Rice in the past, start a campaign to keep his name in the clear and push voters to elect him.

Is McGriff a can't-miss selection for the Hall of Fame? No way. Will he eventually get in one day? No doubt about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment