Saturday, 28 September 2013

Snubbed by the Hall

Roger Maris 1960 (courtesy United States Public Domain)

Many of us wonder what’s the true criteria for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I sure do. Membership is supposed to be saved for those of integrity, sportsmanship, and character. Those who dominated in their era. To be inducted, 75% of the votes are needed. Some players who maybe shouldn’t be there are. Three players who should be there immediately come to mind. Roger Maris, Gil Hodges, and Jack Morris. So, what’s keeping these three out?

Recently, an article had appeared on the net entitled The 50 Most Overrated Players in Major League History. Maris is rated number two, with the writer’s reason being that outside of 1961, Maris’s career wasn’t much to write home about. Well…
 

I know, Roger Maris was a red-ass. We’ve heard the stories. He didn’t like the press and the press didn’t like him, even though some of them were  probably red-asses too. But his teammates and opponents didn’t have any problems with him. He won  American League back-to-back MVPs as a New York Yankee in 1960 and 1961. In his time, he was one of the best right-fielders in the game. Only Pirates Roberto Clemente and Tigers Al Kaline were in the same class. Maris was an excellent base-runner  with speed.  Not a big base stealer, but one who knew how and when to take an extra base. An alert, instinctive outfielder, he never threw to the wrong base and had a howitzer for an arm that was respected around both leagues.

The best display of his superior defensive talents was the seventh game of the 1962 World Series against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park, a diamond that one writer called, “That wind-blown tunnel down by the sea.” With 2 out, the bottom of the 9th, and the score a tight 1-0 for the  Yanks, Willie Mays approached the plate with the speedy Matty Alou on first. Mays hit a Ralph Terry offering to the right-field corner. Maris had the good sense on how to play the bounce properly in the unfamiliar (to American Leaguers) National League park. In a flash, he ran over, grabbed the ball and threw a perfect bullet to cut-off man second-baseman Bobby Richardson, who turned and threw his own bullet to home plate, thus holding Alou at third who would have been out by 10 feet had he tried for home. Now with runners on second and third and Willie McCovey approaching, Terry’s orders from manager Ralph Houk were to pitch to McCovey, instead of walking him to load the bases and facing another slugger  in Orlando Cepeda.  McCovey then lined out to Richardson, ending the game and giving the Yankees another World Championship. It was their last until 1977. If not for the Maris throw, the Giants could have been the champs instead.

The two back-to-back MVPs should speak volumes. In 1960, Maris hit .283, along with 39 homers (second to teammate Mickey Mantle’s 40). His .582 slugging average and 112 RBIs led the league. He also threw out 6 base runners who dared to run on him. In 1961, he exploded with his legendary 61 homers along with a league-leading 141 RBIs. He threw out 9 base-runners. For the last few months of the season, he was continually hounded by the press, something that would not happen today. The modern-day media has to adhere to more controlled press conferences. The following year, 1962, Maris was voted by baseball writers as “the biggest disappointment of the year” when he hit 33 homers, 100 RBIs and a .256 batting average. A few hundred players around the league would give anything for a disappointing year like that.

Sadly, one of the biggest knocks against Roger Maris’ election to the hallowed hall is his .260 lifetime batting average. Another is he only had 2 real quality years. The snubbers should consider certain one-dimensional players in the Hall now such as Hack Wilson (with his one good year in 1930), Bill Mazeroski, Phil Rizzuto, Red Schoendienst, and Richie Ashburn. A third knock on Maris is his 12-year career wasn’t long enough. Yeah, well, he did play on 7 pennant winners and 3 World Series winners, all in a span of 9 years on 2 different clubs?  According to his peers, players like Whitey Herzog, Mickey Mantle, and Hank Aaron, he’s the best player not in Cooperstown. Since 1988, when Maris received 43.1 of the votes, he’s been hidden away on the Veterans Committee. Did Maris make an impact on the game? He sure did. He was a winner. He could hit, run, field and throw. What do you want?

The Dodgers’ Gil Hodges was a nice guy, much liked by teammates and the press, even by the opposition. The umps probably liked him too. Who wouldn’t? In his heyday of the 1950’s, this friendly giant with the huge hands was the dominant fielding first-baseman in the majors, posting a lifetime.992 fielding average and receiving 3 Golden Gloves. That in itself is amazing because he came up through the Dodgers organization as a catcher, but was quickly converted to a first-baseman--a position he hadn’t played before--when Roy Campanella made his appearance. One of Hodges’ knocks could be his play at the plate in the 1952 World Series when he went 0-for-21 in a 7-game losing cause to the Yankees. But he did recover by hitting .364, .292, .304 and .391 in the 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1959 Fall Classics respectively. According to pitcher teammate Carl Erskine, Hodges (with his easy-going manner) played a major role in the acceptance of Jackie Robinson as a Dodger. The snubbers also don’t like the fact that Hodges never won a hitting category or even came close to receiving an MVP award. But…how could he with stars Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, and Roy Campanella overshadowing him? Decades prior, wasn’t another friendly first-baseman by the name of Lou Gehrig overshadowed by the great Babe Ruth?

In 18 MLB years, Hodges hit .273, 370 homers (the record  then for right-handed hitters) and 1,274 RBIs in 2,017 games. He also slugged 100 RBIs in 7 straight years. He was an All Star 8 times. He had five 30-homer seasons, including 2 times in the  40-plus range. He once hit 4 homers in a game and at one time held the National League record for 14 grand slams. After helping the Dodgers to win 7 pennants and 2 World Series, he retired to managing, where he went on to guide the New York Mets to an upset World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. He’s been condemned to the Veterans Committee since 1984, leaving people like Al Kaline, Tommy Lasorda, and Tom Seaver shaking their heads.  Hodges was another winner.

As for pitcher Jack Morris, he was the dominant pitcher on 3 different teams--Detroit, Minnesota, and Toronto--that would not have won the World Series without him. An overall 254-186 won-loss mark and 2,478 strikeouts still wasn’t good enough for the 2013 voting. He fell short with 67.7% of the vote. He still has 2014, then he too suffers the  Veterans Committee banishment. One of the biggest complaints is his 3.90 ERA, which would be the highest ERA for anyone in the Hallowed Hall. On the surface, it may seem high, but during the time Morris played, the overall ERA in the American League was 0.40 higher than the National League because of the designated hitter. Also, Morris played in the era of the chopped mound after 1969.

Morris was a true blue winner. What does the ERA matter when you win?  He was the number one man on the staff of the 3 previously-mentioned teams. He was a 20-game winner three times, completing  175 games in the process, relying mostly on a fastball and slider that opposing batters couldn’t  touch with a boat battle when he was in a groove. As a Tiger, Morris was the winningest pitcher of the 1980’s with a 162-119 mark. As a Twin, he threw all 10 innings of a 1-0 seventh-game shutout over Atlanta  in the 1991 World Series. The next year, he won 21 games as a  Blue Jay, helping the team to win the World Series. Sure, his ERA was high at 4.04, but he won. Get it…HE WON!

All three—Roger Maris, Gil Hodges, and Jack Morris—would be a credit to the Hall of Fame. Good guy…red-ass…whatever. Who cares. Get them in there.

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