Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball on this Thursday, January 25.
This column has been a long time coming. I’ve been waiting eagerly to know who would go to Cooperstown next summer and who would have to buy a ticket. While larger than most, this year’s class contained 3 obvious choices and one head scratcher, at least in my mind.
First and foremost, Thank God none of the steroid brigade-Bonds, Clemens and their disgraced crew got in. While their numbers are edging up, they no longer have 15 years to soil the ballot. They have but 10 and it seems unlikely they can increase their votes in the allotted time. The 3 obvious candidates who have gotten their reward were Chipper Jones, Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero. Jones was Atlanta’s rock of Gibraltar at third base, seemingly forever. Just the mention of Trevor Hoffman’s name makes me think of the opening to “Hell’s Bells,” which was played when he came in to close a game for the Padres. My broadcast partner Jim Lucas always said Vladimir Guerrero was the best player we had seen on the minor league level. Unlike Derek Jeter who had a cuppa coffee at AA before going up, we saw Guerrero during much of the 1996 season with the Harrisburg Senators (Expos) while we toiled through another brutal season in New Britain, CT. Not knowing how their futures would turn out, I believed Manny Ramirez and Jay Peyton-yes, that Jay Peyton who spent more time injured than an Italian soccer flopper-was something special at AA. Just by the sound of the bat hitting the ball, you knew Peyton had struck again, and that his Binghamton Mets were about to score a few more runs off our woeful pitching staff. The same applied to Manny Ramirez who we saw in 1993 with the Canton Akron Indians.
My head scratcher was and remains Jim Thome, (pronounced ToeMay for our JAWS users.) While he wasn’t touched by the steroid scandal, he hit a ton of home runs when most of the league was hitting a ton of home runs. A native of Peoria, he first reached the show late in 1991 with the Indians. He finally called it a career at the end of 2012. As a result this was his first chance to reach the Hall. He not only made it, but he nearly got 90% of the votes, well above the 75% required. He wasn’t close to hitting .300 or getting 3,000 hits, but in spite of the era in which he played the reporters took his 612 home runs at face value. This is hard for me to swallow. He spent 9 of his prime years at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, a known band box which replaced the gigantic Municipal Stadium. Thome spent his next 3 years in Philadelphia, which has never been a health spa for ailing pitchers to improve their earned run average. After spending the next 3 years in a more fair ball park, (Comiskey II in Chicago) he did a ton of bouncing around, from the Dodgers to the Twins, back to Cleveland and Philadelphia, and finally a stop at Camden Yards in Baltimore, whose dimensions are a lot smaller than old Memorial Stadium in that city. He was only chosen as an All-Star 5 times in a career lasting more than two decades. He only led his league in home runs once, in 2003 for the Phillies and he was never declared a league MVP.
I will give Thome credit for not spending much time as a DH. He only took the easy rout when his back began to trouble him as he got on in years. I would never vote in Edgar Martinez, who was marginal at playing any position in the field efficiently and spent his career as the DH. Thome can also claim a rare record, at least for the moment. His 13 walk-off home runs lead major league baseball. 5 men were tied at 12 until Thome passed them by-and all 5 are in the Hall. They are Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson. David Ortiz had 11, and his pedestal among the immortals is secure. He will become eligible in 2021.
Bottom line, I’m glad to see more men inducted than usual while not doing what the NFL does and putting the water boy in the Hall of Fame. 3 of the 4 choices were basic, and God bless Jim Thome as he reaps what he has sown in baseball.0