So this Hall of Fame vote is going to be a train wreck and there’s nothing that can be done about that. It’s too bad, because players that deserve a fair discussion aren’t going to get one with the stable of candidates bulging with elite players who may have used setroids.
This problem gets personal for us as Bernie Williams has already been dumped from the ballot while Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and probably Mike Mussina are likely to encounter similar ignorance. Of course Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera won’t be largely delayed, but looking down the road doesn’t promise a smooth path for any player who isn’t a certified member of the G.O.A.T. club, certified “clean” division.
Of course the glow of the anointed warms a body for a spell, but the Madduxes, Jeters and Riveras can’t boil the blood like the Morrises and Posadas. And those raucous debates are being pushed to the margins by the glut of all-time talents with steroid taint.
This is a shame because Hall of Fame is a great place for Yankees and their fans, and that debate around each election is especially fun when Yankees are involved. Moreso, reflecting the Hall of Fame back on Yankee history is a favorite diversion. One barely has to squint to assemble entire rosters of Yankees related to the Hall of Fame.
ALL TIME GREAT YANKEE HOFers
Infield: Yogi Berra, C; Lou Gehrig, 1B; Joe Gordon 2B; Tony Lazzeri, 3B; Phil Rizzuto SS
(Lazzeri has to shift to 3B to fill out the infield. He played 166 games there over eight seasons, so it’s not crazy.)
Outfield: Mickey Mantle, LF; Joe DiMaggio CF; Babe Ruth RF
Bench: Reggie Jackson, OF; Dave Winfield OF, Earl Combs OF, Bill Dickey C
(I guess Reggie could be a starter on the team below, but I prefer him here.)
Rotation: Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing, Lefty Gomez, Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Jack Chesbro
Relief Ace: Rich Gossage
Of course, Rizzuto is just warming Jeter’s spot and the Goose is about to get some help in the bullpen. Absurdly stacked lineup, but the back-end of the pitching plumbs the depths of HOF standards.
PART TIME YANKEE HOFers
Infield: Frank Chance, C; Johnny Mize, 1B; Home Run Baker, 2B; Wade Boggs, 3B; Joe Sewell, SS
(Here we have to take some liberties. Frank Chance didn’t become part of a famous poem hiding behind catcher’s gear. Nevertheless, he did play 187 games there, just none for the Yanks. Home Run Baker never played second base, but the defensive spectrum may have been inverted back then and he probably could have hacked it at second better than Boggs. And Sewell made it into the HOF for his days at short, but he only played third base for the Yankees.)
Outfield: Wee Willie Keeler, LF; Rickey Henderson, CF; Enos Slaughter, RF
Bench: Paul Waner OF, Leo Durocher IF
Rotation: Catfish Hunter, Phil Niekro, Clark Griffith, Gaylord Perry, Stan Kovaleski, Burleigh Grimes, Dazzy Vance
This is a fun team because all of the starting position players save Frank Chance made real contributions to the Yankees. Six of the eight players fit easily within the top 200 Yankees and even Enos Slaughter was around to play in 15 World Series games and notch a salami against the Dodgers in ’56. The pitchers beyond Hunter and Niekro were just passing through.
NOT QUITE HOFers
Infield: Thurman Munson, C; Don Mattingly, 1B; Willie Randolph, 2B; Frankie Crosetti, SS
(Crosetti is probably too far away from the HOF to make this team, but we need a SS.)
Outfield: Charlie Keller, LF; Bernie Williams, CF; Tommy Henrich, RF
(I know there are no campaigns to elect Keller and Henrich, but they lost a lot of playing time to WW2, so let’s give them a boost.)
Bench: Roy White, OF; Elston Howard, C; Gil McDougald IF
(I remember reading Bill James entry on McDougald, something like “McDougald could have been a Hall of Famer elsewhere, but he was fated to be a Yankee,” and feeling McDougald got the better fate. I think that’s what James meant, too.)
Rotation: Ron Guidry, David Cone, Tommy John, Allie Reynolds
Bernie Williams and Willie Randolph are interesting cases to compare. Both up-the-middle All Stars on fantastic teams. Both highly respected indivduals. And if they could flip-flop in the timestream, they might both be in the Hall of Fame.
Bernie has several HOFesque hitting seasons, albeit without the career counting stats. He has the memorable postseason moments that sometimes rate. There was nobody out there taking up Bernie’s flag and he dropped off the ballot in his second time around.
Bernie had little support because the defensive statistics currently favored by the cognescenti show him to be among the worst fielding centerfielders of all time. And certainly at the end of his career, he was clearly pretty bad out there. So the group most likely to support him (the SABR people who, in the very recent past, would have placed extremely high value on the excellent-hitting center fielder of a dynasty team) wanted nothing do with him. The mouth breathers looking for 3000 and 500 wouldn’t touch him. And most of the bloggers aren’t exaclty weeping on their keyboards to see a beloved Yankee get kicked to the curb. He deserved better, even if he didn’t get ultimately get in.
Willie Randolph came up for election in 1998, a year when 11 second basemen hit double digit home runs. Randolph was an excellent player, whose speed and abilty to take a walk combined with his defense at second made him a central figure for perenially contending and occaisionally triumphant Yankee teams. He received 1.1% of the vote and was dropped in his first year.
I don’t remember any discussion of his candidacy at all, though admittedly, I wasn’t paying close attention. Now the same fielding statistics that reduce Bernie Williams to an after-thought elevate Randolph to a very credible Hall of Famer. Randolph’s career fWAR (62) is wedged right between Roberto Alomar’s and Ryne Sandberg’s. Today, Willie Randolph would be given a much longer look than he was in 1998, even if the result were the same.
This rotation may be getting jammed up soon. David Cone suffers from the same issue that dogs many of the star pitchers of the recent era – when hitting stats skyrocket, pitching stats suffer. It’s hard to get your ERA under 3.00 when the league is scoring almost 6 runs a game. Pettitte and Mussina may be on the way to keep Coney company.
And of course we have players whose careers have been truncated by tragedy, segregation, WW2, and injury. Howard battled segregration AND had to serve in the military before he could start his career. Keller lost possibly his two best years to service (his 27 & 28 year-old seasons) and then his back finished him at 30. Mattingly fell apart at 29! This team may not have the all-timers, but I get the sense these players receive the most love from the fans (Munson over Reggie, Mattingly and Randolph over Winfield and Henderson, Cone over Clemens, Bernie over Jeter.)
FUTURE YANKEE HOFers?
Infield: Jorge Posada, C; Mark Teixeira, 1B; Robinson Cano, 2B; Alex Rodriguez, 3B; Derek Jeter, SS
Outfield: Tim Raines, LF; Ichiro Suzuki, CF; Gary Sheffield, RF
Bench: Jason Giambi, 1B; Carlos Beltran OF; Bobby Abreu OF; Johnny Damon, OF; Andruw Jones, OF
Rotation: Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte
Relief Ace: Mariano Rivera
Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia have a lot of work to do, and both took turns in their careers recently that bear monitoring, so let’s leave them alone. Mark Teixeira is nowhere near the Hall of Fame and is falling further away with every pop-out and popped tendon sheath. Jason Giambi also is not getting into the Hall of Fame on merit. I also skirted over guys like Lance Berkman and Pudge Rodriguez who didn’t even play a full season with the Yankees.
So then let’s break this down (ignoring steroids) into those that are clearly in and those that will cause a debate. Rivera, Jeter, Clemens, Arod, Unit, and Ichiro are well above any statistical line voters can draw. Posada, Raines, Sheffield, Beltran, Abreu, Damon, Jones, Mussina and Pettitte are not necessarily.
I eyeball this as Posada, Raines, Sheffield, Beltran, and Mussina are HOFers. Abreu, Damon, and Pettitte are not. Jones probably is, but I just don’t understand defensive statistics well enough and his hitting doesn’t get him there alone. (I expect Raines, Beltran and Mussina to actually get in.)
The future team would be a helluva a lot more fun to contemplate if Robinson Cano were still around. Maybe Brian McCann gets back to an All-Star-level and his strict adherence to baseball etiquette eventually puts him over the top. Otherwise, hope the Alabama Hammer puts nails in the ninth inning for a decade or so, because it’s about to get lonely on this squad.
The Hall of Fame is a cool place to visit. I went there three times from the ages 12 to 18, but then I haven’t been back in 20 years. So even for big time patrons, it exists mostly as a topic to argued over in the winter before spring training starts. To me, that dwarfs the problem of Barry’s plaque – which I may or may not ever see even if ever gets one. We are losing the chance to discuss Jorge Posada’s piss-stained hands until we are pinstriped in the face. And over the years, that’s become the most popular wing of the museum.