3-for-All in Cooperstown: Bagwell, Rains, Ivan Rodriguez

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Thursday, Jan. 19.

In the dead of winter with even college baseball seeming like a distant dream, the majors do what they do every January-they announced who was going to the Hall of Fame.  Speculation had run rampant in social media about who would go and who wouldn’t, not to mention why.  If I had a ballot, I’d ballot in the morning, I’d ballot in the evening … I just couldn’t help that.  I would have inducted Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero, two men whose games I was privileged to broadcast when they were minor leaguers. While Manny may forever be locked out, Vladimir  should ultimately make it.   His last MLB game was at the end of 2011 so this was his first time on the ballot. He and Trevor Hoffman barely missed.

But enough of the also-rans. This was the last chance for Tim Rains, and he did his impression of Dirk Pitt or James Bond and pulled it off with  no margin for error. For Bagwell (and this shocks me) it took 7 tries.  I can’t imagine he’s been on the ballot that long.  I remember him (and Craig Biggio) as college standouts and don’t want to think they performed their prodigious deeds of college baseball

daring-do nearly 30 years ago.

It’s easy to see why it took so long for Rains. He played 13 of his 23 seasons in baseball obscurity in Montreal. His 808 steals might have been overlooked.  In fact they were overlooked 9 times before yesterday. Rains is  57 now and hasn’t played since 2002. He hit .294 with 2600 hits, missing two benchmarks that would have had him in Cooperstown years ago. He was an All-Star 7 years in a row from 1981-87 but never again after age 28.  On the other hand He won World Series rings with the Yankees in 1996 and 1998 and with the White Sox in 2005. He copped one batting title and led the league 4 times in steals in his salad days. Rains, Ralph Kiner and Jim Rice are the only 3 men elected by the writers on their final chance. He’s come a long way, from 24% of the vote 10 years ago to 86% and Cooperstown glory last night.

Meantime Jeff Bagwell is the first baseman to be inducted since Eddie Murray almost 15 years ago. His mom recalls he could throw a ball at the age of 6 months. He was taken by the Red Sox in 1989 but his Boston family was stunned by a trade in September 1990.  Bagwell went to Houston for pitcher Larry anderson who lasted less than a season in Boston.  Bagwell and Craig Biggio who is a Hall of Famer since 2015 played their full careers with the Astros. He finished his career the year the White Sox swept the Astros in their only World Series to date. Bagwell hit .297 with 2300 hits, again making a case for delaying his induction. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1991 and elected as an All-Star 4 times between 1994 and 1999. In 1994 he hit 3 home runs in a game at the Astrodome, a feat to make Babe Ruth proud. Bagwell spent 9 seasons with that oversized ball park as his home before the Astros moved into what is now Minute Maid Park. He was forced to retire at 37 by a shoulder condition that would not respond to treatment.

To me, Pudge Rodriguez was a surprise vote considering that Vladimir and Manny were available, but he’s the one who got in with 76% of the votes. To my surprise he had more hits than either Bagwell or Rains, missing 3,000 by some 150 hits. In more than two decades he caught an astounding 2400+ games.  It’s my guess He’s getting phone calls at this very minute from the makers of BioFreeze and other products for painful knees. Only one other catcher made it on his first try, that being my early idol Johnny Bench. Carlton Fisk, my benchmark for amazing catchers took two tries to reach Cooperstown, and both Mike Piazza and Gary Carter needed 4 ballots to make it. Rodriguez joins only 3 other Puerto Ricans in the Hall-Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Alomar.  When Jeff Idelson began speaking Spanish last night I would have bet my last dime that he would introduce Vladimir Guerrero but when he mentioned Puerto Rico I knew it could be none other than Ivan Rodriguez. He signed at 16 and made the show at 19. He played in the bigsfrom 1991 to 2011. The first 12 of those seasons were with the Rangers and they had some fearsome batting orders while he was there. One of his teammates was Juan Gonzalez who had been a boyhood rival. Rodriguez caught Kenny Rogers’ perfect game in late 1994.  The Rangers who had been a league joke when they moved from Washington finally reached the playoffs in 1996. He hit 44 doubles that year breaking Mickey Cochrane’s record that had stood since 1930.      Rodriguez won the MVP award in 1999, becoming the first catcher to do so since Thurman Munson in 1976.  He won a World Series ring in his one season with the Marlins. His last long stretch was with the Tigers from 2004-08 for whom he played in the 2006 World Series. A year later he caught a no-hitter from Justin Verlander, the second of his career.   He bounced around for the next few seasons. A last highlight was catching the debut of Stephen Strasburg with the Nationals. He was an All-Star 14 times, the last in 2007. He took 13 Gold Gloves. at age 45 he’s the youngest of the incoming class. All 3 will be officially inducted on July 30 in Cooperstown.  The last few seasons multiple players have been elected following a stretch of years where one man was lucky to get in.

From its glorious past, we briefly return to baseball’s present to tell you that Jose Bautista is returning to the Blue Jays for a lot less money than he thought he’d get at the end of last season. He’ll have to do it without Edwin Encarnacion who took his talents to Cleveland.  Josh Hamilton who will be 36 in May is getting undoubtedly a last chance to make it with the Rangers. I think of him, and I think what a shame.  I remember him with the 2000 Charleston RiverDogs. He was there in my first season with the Dogs.  He dominated the South Atlantic League and won the MVP of the All-Star game in our park and hit two tripples in the game. His troubles with drugs and alcohol kept him out of the bigs until 2007.  That being said he has hit .290 with over a thousand hits in a truncated career. He was an All-Star 5 times between 2008 and 2012. He was both AL MVP and ALCS MVP with the 2010 Rangers in a year where he won the batting title. He hit 4 home runs in a game in May of 2012. For all the trouble he has known I can’t help thinking of the boy I called “Joshua Holt Hamilton” on the radio.

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