B62-DES30 Reviving Baseball, & Other Ideas Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 8/1/02It is said baseball is a game for little boys & old men. In most ways, that’s true. As I write this, in young middle age- 37- I have to say that the last few years have revived a love in the grand old game that was missing since Reggie Jackson left the New York Yankees in the early 1980s, & the Yanks slid slowly into late 80s-early 90s oblivion. By the time the Yanks rebounded in 1994- the last strike year, the 1 without a World Series- to post the best AL record my interest was revived. That the Yankees have played in 5 of the last 6 World Series, & won 4 of them (including 3 in a row- 1998-2000) is definitely a part of that. The 1998 season especially 1 for the ages. Even last year, when the Yanks lost to the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks in a 7 game thriller decided on a bloop single off the Yanks’- & baseball’s- best reliever, Mariano Rivera, there was something intriguing. From spring training a part of me knew the Yanks would fail in their quest to win 4 in a row. Yet, they almost beat fate- they came back from an 0-2 hole in the playoffs to beat the Oakland A’s on a miraculous play by shortstop Derek Jeter, they thrashed a Seattle Mariners team that tied the all-time record for wins in a season, & took a lead into the 9th inning of Game 7 against a younger, fresher team that outplayed them thoroughly. Still, these were the Yankees- if any team could snub fate it was them. Alas….
On some other fronts, baseball is confronted with a
‘steroid crisis’. Yet, I hardly deem it such- yes, slugging is off the
charts the last 7-8 years, due to steroids & poor pitching brought on by
excessive expansion. But there’s no need to asterisk these records ala the
Roger Maris debacled decision of erst-Commisioner Ford Frick in 1961. This is
all part of the insidious envy of old-timers who feel they did not get their
due. But the argument is really pointless. Eras change- from the deadball eras
of the 1910s & 1960s to the souped-up slugging of the 1920s, 1930s, &
today. Today’s players play night games, but travel in luxury unavailable to
the oldsters. Oldsters benefited from a lesser even level of talent per 25 man
team, yet the modern player has training equipment & regimens unknown 60-70
The bigger problem is reckoning within eras. Most people know the Hall Of Fames in each sport (& any field) are bloated. Years ago I advocated kicking out the majority of slackers, or at least creating a tired system- at least 3, possibly 4-5 levels. It’s a similar way that I rank poets & poems: Tier 1 would be those who, on a 1-100 scale grade out at 95+- or great. Tier 2 are the near greats (90-94), tier 3 the excellents (85-89), tier 4 the very goods (80-84), & tier 5 the goods (75-79). Recently, several others in the sports media have advocated similar structure for the Hall.
Let’s start with the Tier 1s: this is the Babe Ruths, Ty Cobbs, Lou Gehrigs, Walter Johnsons, Joe DiMaggios, Ted Williamses, Bob Fellers, Willie Mayses, Hank Aarons, Bob Gibsons- & more modernly- the Roger Clemenses & Barry Bondses. There is no questioning they were in the top 3 in their position for a decade or more & overall their skills were top-notch- aka the Immortals.
Tier 2s are the dominant Superstars who lack the duration of quality for whatever reason, or were 1 dimensional. These guys should make the Hall, but as secondary stars. These would be guys like a Duke Snider, Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan- or more recently an Ozzie Smith, Brooks Robinson, or Mark McGwire or Cal Ripken, Jr.- when they are eligible in 5 years.
Tier 3s would be guys I would leave out but for which arguments could be made- these guys were occasionally great but usually just very good &/or very long-careered. These would be the Dave Winfields, Dave Parkers, Pee Wee Reeses, Phil Rizzutos, Ron Guidrys, or George Fosters.
A few years ago Don Sutton made the Hall. He was a good solid pitcher for over 20 years- but in his prime he never was considered in a league with Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, or Roger Clemens. He won 20 games only once in his career. He never nailed down a Cy Young Award. Yet, he made the Hall. 2 dominant pitchers from the same period as Sutton- Bruce Sutter & Rich Gossage- are still not in the Hall. Why? Because they were relief pitchers- yet they were the 2 best in their respective leagues in the late 70s-early 80s.
Another ridiculous recent entry into the Hall is Minnesota Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett- whose career was cut short by an eye injury & glaucoma & whose stats benefited greatly from playing in the homer-happy Metrodome. Puckett’s #s decline greatly when comparing his home & away stats- much like the current career of the Colorado Rockies’ Larry Walker, whose mile-high stats are aided by the rare air he plays in. Puckett was, at best, a good defensive player, was a poor base runner, & a good hitter. Greatness never touched the man, yet he made it the same year as Winfield- a far more worthy choice, although still borderline, in my view. & consider this, Puckett is in over players such as Jim Rice & Dale Murphy, players whose careers were not aided by the Metrodome, nor the slugfesting 1990s. But, entry to the Hall is not just based on #s- Rice is out because he did not coddle the media, while Puckett was lily-white Minnesota’s favorite ‘black boy’ for a decade- watermelon grinning all the way to universal love & a fat wallet. Others who have been stiffed from the Hall over media bias include Gary Carter- a better catcher than the included Carlton Fisk, who during his prime was just the 2nd best catcher in the AL, behind Thurman Munson. But Fisk played long & cultivated a good rep. Similar exclusion along the Carter/Rice lines no doubt awaits Albert Belle- the dominant early 90s slugger, as well his erstwhile teammate Frank Thomas.
Nonetheless a tiered system would have the benefits of allowing baseball not to show the door to its many unworthies- & I won’t embarrass the motley lot tossed in mostly by Old-Timer committees. It also would allow a fairer assessment of the pantheon within, & spur endless debating over rankings, not just inclusion. But, enough with the past- let’s end with a talk on the future- baseball’s prized records.
When Barry Bonds broke Mark McGwires 3 year old single season
home run record last year it seemed that no record in baseball was safe.
Especially the 755 career home run record- which, barring injury, should fall to
a healthy Bonds in 3 or 4 years. But, a # of records seem to be locks. Several
websites list a few, so let me comment on them.
***Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hit streak in 1941. Enough players have put together 30 game streaks that a freak event- such as DiMaggio’s is not as unlikely as it seems. A 60 game streak might take awhile longer to come, but it will. An Ichiro Suzuki, of the Seattle Mariners, with a great combo of speed & bat skills is a possible candidate. So is a Todd Helton- playing in Colorado.
***The .424 batting average of Rogers Hornsby in 1924. Not even Ted Williams came close, & he was the last to hit .400 (actually .406) in 1941. Yet, another round of expansion could see a freak season crush that record.
***The .367 lifetime batting average of Ty Cobb. Because of its career aspect this is a lot more secure than any single season record. Pete Rose, for example, who passed Cobb as the career hits leader batted over 60 points lower!
***Hack Wilson’s 190 RBIs in 1930. Bank on this- this single season record will fall before Hornsby’s or DiMaggio’s!
***Cy Young’s 511 career wins. Think: 20 straight 25 win seasons would still leave a pitcher 11 wins shy. Unless baseball’s economics forces it back to 3 or 4 man rotations no pitcher will come close. Even then it would take an Immortal who lacked injuries.
***Rickey Henderson’s 1982 mark of 130 stolen bases. This will fall when baseball inevitably cycles back to a running style.
There are other records, but they are so distant- 19th century, mostly- that they hold no real significance. Yet, it’s because of this storied past that baseball’s future has meaning to those not players nor owners. The solution I suggest is simple, fair, & will prove effective. Of course, MLB will never go for it. I suggest that if you read this essay in 2030 you don’t bother trying to figure out why I wrote it about a game I- & millions of other men around the world- once held a passion for. I’m sure that, given your current passion for your V.R. Marilyn Monroe, you won’t give a damn!
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