The Hall of Fame debate usually follows the retirement of a productive high profile player, particularly one who made his name with the New York Yankees. Such is the case with Andy Pettitte, a solid if unspectacular lefty who was an integral part of multiple World Series Championship clubs.
Pettitte’s legacy and Cooperstown candidacy are bolstered immensely by his work in October and, on occasion, November. He retires with the most wins in postseason history. The fact that Pettitte appeared in the playoffs in all but three of his 16 seasons in the majors no doubt enhanced his ability to accumulate those 19 postseason victories, but that’s not the “enhancement” that will be under scrutiny.
Make no mistake, Pettitte will have to buck a recent and growing trend of this generation’s stars who put up hall worthy numbers, yet will fail to gain admission to Cooperstown because of direct ties to or even the suspicion of performance enhancing drug use.
We don’t have to debate the moral platitudes in Pettitte’s case. He admitted his use, and to his credit continued on with his life and career. Contrition may have earned points with some fans, but it’s unlikely to lessen the impact that his outright admission will have on hall voters. The next chapter appears to be Pettitte’s participation in what is sure to be the very public legal drama involving his friend Roger Clemens. We’ll table that discussion for now.
To be frank, I don’t believe Pettitte’s regular season numbers warrant his entry. I’m further more not convinced that his postseason numbers are enough to make up the difference in Hall of Fame credentials, or to erase the damage done by his admission of PED use. Coming clean to some extent, while it does not erase the transgressions against the game, afforded Pettitte an opportunity to reconcile with fans. Baseball writers will not be so forgiving when they fill out their ballots in five years.
I’d like to take this argument outside of that dreaded acronym (PED) for a bit, to look solely at Pettitte’s body of work. In other words, let’s look at the numbers and the accolades that made him a very successful pitcher for 16 seasons in the major leagues.
Pettitte is the first member of the vaunted Yankees “Core Four” – with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada – to retire. Those four players were the only men who were members of New York’s five World Series Championship Teams since 1996.
Today, pitchers who pile up postseason victories in bunches have a distinct advantage over those who pitched solely in the World Series (pre-1969). The expanded playoff format, which will likely swell again within the next two years, means that a pitcher could make between six and eight starts between LDS, LCS, and Word Series play.
Despite career numbers that are very solid by most standards, Pettitte is still not the greatest left-hander in Yankees history. Whitey Ford holds that distinction. Ron Guidry and Lefty Gomez would have to be thrown in the mix as well.
Pettitte sits high on the Yankee wins list, trailing only Ford and Red Ruffing for most victories in franchise history. In fact, Pettitte is one of just three pitchers in franchise history to reach 200 career wins. If you look up and down the Yankees pitching leaders, you’ll find that Pettitte’s name appears behind Ford numerous times.
It’s not merely the statistical comparison of the two that led me to bring Ford into the Pettitte discussion. There are some that regard the Yankee’s original lefty legend as a borderline Hall of Famer.
Perhaps it was Ford’s failure to reach the 300-win plateau, or the fact that he only had only one Cy Young Award. In fairness, Ford lost two seasons to military service and made just 16 starts combined in the final two years of his career. Ford’s career 55.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is better than Sandy Koufax (54.5), so it’s possible to make the stats – newfangled or not – say what you want them to. The Hall debate always brings out the best in statistical maneuvering.
Putting both stats and Yankee legends aside to look at awards and accomplishments, it’s pretty clear that at no time during his career was Pettitte ever considered the best pitcher in baseball. He received Cy Young votes in five different seasons. His highest finish came in just his second in the Bronx (1996), but he also finished fourth (2000), fifth on two occasions (1997, 2005), and sixth (2003) as well. It surprised me to see that he was selected to just three All-Star teams.
I’m not one who enjoys playing this game, but the number of “if-then” scenarios that would spring up in newspaper articles and in the internet community would dwarf those brought about any time that the name Bert Blyleven is mentioned.
The candidacy of Jack Morris, whose ERA of 3.90 is just .02 runs higher than Pettitte’s career mark would gain a new lease on life. In my mind, the discussion would have to expand well beyond just the Morris case, and include guys like Tommy John, Jim Kaat and Dennis Martinez. None of whom are immediately seen as Hall worthy candidates in and of themselves, and I’m not saying I support the “if-then” philosophy of awarding spots in Cooperstown for reasons other than individual merit.
One would have to look at contributions to the game, right? If so, John was on the cutting edge of a career-saving medical procedure that now carries his name. He came back better than he was before the surgery and won 288 games over 26 seasons. Kaat was a 283 game winner who claimed 16 consecutive Gold Glove Awards, transitioned into broadcasting and has been a distinguished member of the baseball community for five decades now. Martinez is the top winner (245) in baseball history among all Latin American pitchers.
Are those things not indicative of some high level of contribution? None of those men I just mentioned have their names attached to PED’s, which will almost certainly be enough to keep Pettitte out.
The Hall of Fame discussion often times degenerates into a Hall of Numbers debate, but the statistics aren’t everything and “fame” is a relative term. Would anyone ever say that Pete Rose is the worst player with 4,000 career hits? While it is an absolutely ridiculous argument, it is true. That Ty Cobb guy accomplished a few more things than Rose. Still, this entire line of discussion isn’t really worth pursuing any further.
What should we take away from the Pettitte Hall of Fame discussion?
Based on recent voting patterns and my gut instinct, while he was an outstanding pitcher who contributed to the success of the modern day Yankee dynasty, Pettitte will likely never receive his bronze plaque in Cooperstown. He was on multiple World Series winners and got paid quite handsomely. That may have to be all the reward baseball has to give in this case.
Who knows, maybe we haven’t seen Andy Pettitte take the mound for the last time. After all, “retirement” is another relative term these days.
The Hall of Fame welcomed two new members on Monday as Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice
were voted in by the Baseball Writers of America. Both players
inclusion in Cooperstown may help shine a new light on the superstars
of the 1980s, including Atlanta Braves legend and all around good guy, Dale Murphy.
No decade has suffered more confusion as to how the merits of its most
dominant players will ever earn them induction in the National Baseball
Hall of Fame, but there was no question about Henderson’s Hall of Fame
credentials. Henderson was named on 511 of the 539 votes cast, or 94.8
percent of the vote. His 1,406 career stolen bases is a record that
will likely never be approached, let alone broken.
Henderson was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s, one of baseball’s
most overlooked and under appreciated decades. His mantle was that of
the greatest lead-off hitter in baseball history, but when the topic
turns to great sluggers of the ’80s, Murphy is a name that usually
surfaces early and sticks around late in the conversation.
A quick look at Murphy’s numbers might make it easy to dismiss him in
the light of a first ballot shoo in such as Henderson. Coming up as a
catcher and moving to first base before eventually landing in the
outfield, Murphy solidified his game there and became a true
shining stars in the sport, both on and off the field.
Murphy captured back-to-back National League MVP awards in 1982 and
1983, joining the 30-30 club in the second of those campaigns. He lead
the league in homers in both ’84 and ’85 and cobbled together a
consecutive games streak of 740 all the while.
His work at the plate was matched by his excellent play in center field, where he
captured five Gold Glove Awards. Throw in seven All-Star appearances,
including being the leading vote-getter in 1985, and four Silver
Slugger Awards and you start get an accurate representation of how good
Murphy was in his prime.
Detracting from Murphy’s Hall of Fame case is his precipitous decline
that began in 1988 and saw his career end due to chronic knee problems
after truncated 1992 and 1993 seasons. His career batting average of
just .265 would not be the lowest in the Hall, but is usually the first
place detractors start when building the case against his enshrinement.
The 1,748 times Murphy struck out ranked him seventh at the time of his
retirement and provides the second blow of a one two punch that is
likely enough to give any voter pause. Though he was unable to reach
400 homers, standing at 398, Murphy can likely thank the work stoppage
of 1981 for that shortcoming.
Noted sluggers of the ’80s, guys like Murphy, Rice, Andre Dawson and Dave Parker, who did not also reach the 3,000 hit plateau have found it harder to meet the admissions standards of the voters. Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield are two prime examples of sluggers who reached 3,000 hits to solidify their candidacy.
While some voters will take the performance of these players and place
it in the context of the era in which each man played, others have
likely had their power number standards forever altered by the
performance enhancing drug scandals of the past decade.
Rice caused voters to languish over the slugging achievements of his
first 12 seasons, ultimately giving him 412 votes for 76.4 percent on
his 15th and final time on the writers’ ballot. Players must be named
on 75 percent of the vote to gain entry. A .298 career hitter with 382
homers and 1,451 RBI over parts of 17-seasons with the Boston Red Sox,
Rice put up more than half a dozen MVP-caliber years and captured the
award in 1978.
The onslaught of 400, 500 and even 600 home run club members with
questions surrounding their accomplishments only serves to diminish the
power numbers attained by players like Rice, Murphy, Dawson and Parker
in the minds of many of the writers charged with the task of selecting
baseball’s best for enshrinement.
Much of the debate around these borderline Hall of Fame candidates is
that when placed against his peers, there is generally always one
player from their generation that sets the bar. You could make a case
that Mike Schmidt and his 548 home runs was the primordial power hitter of Murphy’s era.
Voter standards for comparison are made both statistically and by the
position, but no two writers utilize an identical standard. That leaves
a player’s accomplishments up for interpretation. This could be based on his era, the
teams he played for, and his mastery of the game against both his
opponents and statistical peers.
Putting aside his amazing consecutive game streak for a moment, Cal Ripken‘s
numbers make him one of the greatest slugging shortstops of all-time. However, those same numbers would not land Ripken a spot near the top of the best slugging
outfielders or first basemen in the game’s history. That does little to
change the fact that Ripken’s numbers, at any position, would still be
There is no set formula of achievements and milestones that creates a
Hall of Famer. Mythical statistics, such as 3,000 hits and 500 home
runs, remain the most readily identifiable resume points to identify a
player who has the numbers that define greatness. The latter of those
may change in the face of this past decade’s PED scandals. Just wait
until Rafael Palmiero is on the ballot.
With Murphy, Dawson and Parker joining the likes of Tim Raines, Don Mattingly, Alan Trammell
and others, it may be still another decade more before the Hall voters
en masse are truly able to appreciate some of the greatest position
players of 1980s. In the end, the Veterans Committee may be the ones
who hear the cries of baseball’s often overlooked stars of yesteryear.
Till next time,
As he did so many times as an All-Star stopper, John Smoltz closed the door on Thursday. This time, however, it was on his career with the Atlanta Braves. In many ways, it signals the end of an era and has become a lightning rod for the frustrations experienced by the Braves this winter.
Unable to reach a trade for Jake Peavy, shunned by A.J. Burnett and forced to endure an embarrassing turn of events with Rafael Furcal, this off-season has been truly forgettable. The ire of Braves fans has been hard to miss, boiling over with the loss of Smoltz, a once unimaginable scenario. On Monday, fans from Red Sox Nation will see their newest acquisition introduced in a press conference. And Braves fans will see Smoltz don a new hat with a “B” rather than the classic script “A” he has worn since 1988.
Smoltz was limited to just six appearances in 2008 and could be 42 before he throws his first pitch for the Red Sox. Boston is spending $5.5 million to bring the winningest pitcher in post-season history into the fray for what will likely be another October run in Beantown. What’s more is that they do not expect him to take the mound until around June 1, giving him incentives that are essentially pro-rated so that he could easily earn up to another $5 million. This is a luxury spending for a man who could make a big impact.
Atlanta’s best offer of roughly $2-2.5 million with incentives could have reached $10 million according to CEO Terry McGuirk, who was “shocked” by Smoltz’s departure. Atlanta’s incentives included one rather large caveat of $5 million if Smoltz were to surpass 200 innings, but nothing for any other innings marker. In other words, the Braves were looking for Smoltz, remember at 42, to be the same pitcher he was at age 40 when he threw 205.2 innings in 2007. Even for Smoltz, that seems like a tall order coming off the shoulder surgery. Without the 200 innings logged, Atlanta’s offer would only match the guaranteed portion of his Boston contract at best.
That offer may have been too little too late, since Smoltz was hoping his early December throwing session would be all the proof Atlanta would need that his health was on track to expedite negotiations. That was a month ago. Atlanta made the offer they felt was appropriate for a player of Smoltz’s age and recent injury history. Despite nearly two months to get Smoltz under contract, the two sides never approached a middle ground on the terms.
Smoltz, who was not planning to comment on the deal until it was complete, issued a statement on Thursday afternoon through agents at Career Sports & Entertainment to eliminate the possibility that anything resembling the disastrous wake of the Furcal negotiations could happen again:
“There were large discrepancies between the offer from the Braves and offers from other teams,” said Smoltz in the statement. “I have always loved the city of Atlanta, and it will always be my
home. I will cherish my 21 years with
Bobby Cox and all my Braves teammates. I continue to wish the Atlanta
Braves nothing but success in the future.”
His loss leaves a void that will be felt from the clubhouse, to the stands of Turner Field, to living rooms of Braves fans across the country and in the community he leaves behind. Smoltz has soldiered on for years in Atlanta. taking less money at times, moving to the bullpen, moving back to the rotation and doing everything and seemingly anything else that was asked of him over a 21-year career.
In the end, General Manager Frank Wren said it came down to the Braves not wanting to rest their hopes on an aging star pitcher with a surgically repaired right shoulder. Even a phone call from Cox could not change Smoltz’s mind. Boston showed an earnest interest and got their man with a better deal than Atlanta could offer.
This is a public relations nightmare for a club that is struggling to re-assert itself in the race for the National League East next season. Atlanta has built much of its marketing over the past decade and a half in part or almost completely around Smoltz, the final player who remained from the Worst-to-First ’91 squad.
They have also given Smoltz all the fodder he will need to use as motivation to prove he can still perform at a very high level. Pitching in the American League East in a heightened rivalry with the new look New York Yankees will provide opportunities for Smoltz to pitch in the big game environment, where he has thrived over his career. Boston fans should be licking their chops to have a pitcher with Smoltz resume on board in a pennant race.
While there may be no doubt about Smoltz being enshrined in Cooperstown wearing a Braves hat, it will certainly be odd to see him pitching for the Red Sox. Meanwhile, the Braves certainly have their work cut out for them in 2009.
Till next time,
The Baseball Writers of America announced the results of the annual Hall of Fame balloting on Tuesday. Just one new member, albeit a long-overdue and deserving one in Rich "Goose" Gossage, will be making the trip to Cooperstown for enshrinement in July. While Gossage got in on his ninth try, former Atlanta outfielder Dale Murphy is still waiting on his call.
Few players embody the wholesome ideals that many still prefer from their favorite athletes. Humble and soft-spoken, uber-talented in his prime and never caught in the tabloid pages or police blotters. In retirement, he has even taken the initiative to champion the cause of keeping young athletes away from choosing to use/abuse steroids.
No, it doesn’t get much classier than Murph. He became, perhaps, the most popular player in the game by the mid-80s and already had racked up two MVP awards by the age of 27. The list goes on, five gold glove awards as an outfielder – his third position in the major leagues. Murphy debuted as a catcher in two brief trial during the 1976 and ’77 seasons, switched primarily to first base in 1978 before settling into the outfield in 1980.
There’s a theory here that I am hoping will come to practice sooner than later. That being that through the turbulent "Steroid-Era" controversy, players of past generations – particularly stars of the 80s – will get a new look as being Hall-worthy.
Murphy, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and Dave Parker join already enshrined sluggers Mike Schmidt and Eddie Murray to represent the most potent bats from 1976 -1990. You can lump a few others names in there, but those six players are at the top of the charts offensively. The best part about the production you see on the back of these player’s cards in that the numbers are all-natural.
Keeping the focus on Murphy, there are some detractors to his career. The quick decline is the one that draws the most critique. Murphy played in an era when 400 homers would generally mean enshrinement (the only notable exception being feast-or-famine slugger Dave Kingman). Had there not been a work stoppage in 1981, Murphy would likely not be sitting on 398 career homers. Of course, it doesn’t work that way but you don’t need a vivid imagination to put Murphy among the most feared sluggers of his day.
His .265 career batting average and nearly 1,800 punch-outs aren’t exactly the bright spots of his HOF resume, but there are people with more K’s and lower averages. I think, for all that is going on now, Murphy should be elevated by the fact that he has been and continues to be a class act. Dale Murphy is good for the game.
Till Next time,