In 2009 MLB did away with the annual Hall of Fame game, played every year at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y. – a place that many believe was the birthplace of baseball. “Scheduling conflicts” prevented a game played every year since the year the Hall of Fame’s inception in 1936. A meaningful game to the people of Cooperstown – and in respect to the Hall – eliminated.
Not much of an uproar was heard over this decision; in fact, no one really talked about it.
Today, for only the eighth time in the 77 year history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and for the first time since 1996, not one player was elected to have a plaque with their face on it plastered on the fabled walls in Cooperstown; no class of 2013. No class of players, anyway.
That being said, upstate New York on the last weekend in July will be rather quiet this year. And unlike the choice to drop the Hall of Fame game, this time, there was uproar.
Current players, team beat writers, journalists, analysts, fans, and basically everyone on Twitter (this writer included) criticized the voters, namely the Baseball Writers Association, for the absence of a player in the 2013 Hall of Fame class. The criticism was well-earned, considering there were a number of players who many deemed worthy of enshrinement.
The voters are only allowed to vote for 10 players, and players need 75% of votes to make it in. On the ballot for his first year eligible, Houston Astros superstar Craig Biggio was the closest to getting in, receiving 68.2% of votes.
Jack Morris (67.7%) was right behind Biggio, followed by his old teammate Jeff Bagwell (59.6%) and New York Met icon Mike Piazza (57.8%).
Longtime Montreal Expo and Yankee fan-favorite Tim “Rock” Raines fell short, 52.2% in his sixth year on the ballot. A former Yankee killer, Seattle Mariners DH Edgar Martinez, was given 35.9% of votes in his fourth year on the ballot.
In his 13th year on the ballot, Don Mattingly finished with 13.2% of votes.
Two huge names on the ballot for the first time this year were Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds: guys who have accomplished a lot during their respective careers; broken records, World Series titles, Cy Young awards, MVP awards, which are all achievements that put players in great positions to be elected and sit alongside baseball’s very best forever.
However, the thought of either one of them making the Hall of Fame on their first year of eligibility is farfetched – only because of their linkage to steroid usage and PEDs. Clemens publicly said he wasn’t surprised; “The Rocket” only receiving 37.6% of votes. Bonds finished right behind Clemens with 36.2%.
In this writer’s opinion, most of these players could have made it – and at least one of them should’ve.
Biggio, albeit this year being just his first year of eligibility, was no doubt worthy of getting the call. Same can be said of Piazza. 3,000 hits (Biggio) and 400 home runs off the bat of a catcher (Piazza) should be enough to get in – and I believe both of them will get in down the line. Bagwell, to me, will always be a borderline guy: great numbers for a 15-year career, but will always be straddling the line of good and great.
Raines was close to 3,000 hits (2,605) and nearly ended his career with a BA above .300 (.294), but it being his sixth year of eligibility – and Rock being a seven-time All-Star, a batting champ (1986), All-Star Game MVP (’87), three-time World Series Champ (twice as a player, ’96, ’98, once as a coach, ’05) – should at least get him closer to that elusive 75% than his mark of 52.2%.
It surprised me that Martinez hasn’t received a higher percentage of votes. His career numbers weren’t at all bad – 309 homers, a lifetime .312 BA, 1,261 RBIs, and over 2,000 hits. All numbers that may not jump off the page, yet go nicely with his two batting titles (’92, ‘95), his five Silver Sluggers and seven All-Star Game appearances.
To me, Martinez is highly underrated. There are those who are always going to turn their heads away from him because he mostly played as a designated hitter; to some fans he might even be considered a “part-timer.” But remember, he played the field (specifically third base) in his career, too.
Time to face facts: Mattingly will never make it. Thirteen years and a small percentage of votes to show for it is not exactly a ticket to Cooperstown.
But we all have to understand that it’s called the Hall of Fame. Not the Hall of Very Good.
Which brings me to Clemens and Bonds – who were famous, not just “very good.” Each then fell from grace and became infamous. And for the record, in the future I believe both could make it in – but considering the direction both players’ careers have gone in, I had a reasonable feeling neither one wasn’t a first ballot player.
During his 2008 interview with 60 Minutes, which explored the controversy surrounding his alleged use of steroids and PEDs, Clemens was asked about his HOF chances, given the accusations brought against him. He responded curtly, saying,
“What makes you think I give a damn about the Hall of Fame?”
I thought right then and there, Clemens was doomed to never be considered for the Hall, let alone make it in; his statement being a slap in the face to every baseball player enshrined in Cooperstown. He later respectfully recanted his asinine remark, and last June was acquitted for lying to congress about steroid and PED usage.
Legally Clemens’s name was cleared. But he will always have that smudge next his name – a smudge that hurt him today, his quest for Cooperstown undoubtedly an uphill battle.
Bonds will have that same hill to climb, his name also associated with steroids and PEDs. A liar, a cheater, and an overall arrogant player with a superiority complex– but because of his numbers, and the fact that he broke the home run record in 2007, Bonds still has a chance to make the Hall.
The bottom line here is that sure, maybe all of these players aren’t overly worthy. Perhaps Tim Raines was just a regular player. Maybe Edgar Martinez shouldn’t be in because he was mostly a DH. Mattingly sure as heck won’t make it, even with his impressive merits.
And I get it: not everyone gets in.
However, at least one of the players on this year’s ballot should have gone in. It’s disgraceful how the Baseball Writers Association is unable to vote a player into Cooperstown, considering voting for a HOF’er is probably the most important aspect of their job.
It’s only going to get tougher as the years go on for the players currently on the ballot; keep in mind, players can stay on the ballot for 15 years. The likes of Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, and Greg Maddux will be eligible next year, and in the not-so-distant future names like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson will be on the list – names not linked to anything illegal or incriminating.
I will be curious to see how it plays out for these gentlemen. But as for today…
It’s tough to feel good about baseball. Jon Heyman, a respected baseball writer, even described it as “a sad day for baseball.” They nixed the Hall of Fame game, which was bad enough. Now they can’t elect a player to the Hall of Fame?
If you ask me, today showed me that respect for the game’s history is being devalued. Time-honored tradition is becoming extinct, shamelessly. History is being discarded.
What’s next? They take two dozen bulldozers to Cooperstown and plow the whole town away?
In 2001 Barry Bonds crushed 73 home runs, becoming the single season home run king. That same year the Seattle Mariners set a major league record, winning 116 games during the regular season. Cy Young is the winningest pitcher in baseball history, owning 511 victories over his 22-year career.
All of these are incredible achievements and accomplishments made by teams and certain individual players. And with all these achievements, one gets to thinking:
Who has accomplished the greatest feat in the history of the game of baseball?
Believe it or not, I have the answer. It’s not Babe Ruth. It’s not Jackie Robinson. It’s not Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, or even Ted Williams.
The answer…is Bugs Bunny.
No, I’m serious.
On Feb. 2, 1946, Bugs Bunny won a game of baseball, 96-95. If that isn’t impressive enough, he beat the entire team by himself.
At the Polo Grounds (although the frieze that surrounds the top of the ballpark looks a lot like Yankee Stadium) the Gas-House Gorillas are pummeling the Tea Totallers mercilessly; the Gorillas are made up of a group of gigantic muscle-heads whereas the Totallers are a team of old men, it seems. One claims to be 93 and a half years old.
Upon witnessing the unfair advantage the Gorillas have over the Totallers, in a not-so-subtle way, Bugs issues an open challenge.
“The Gas-House Gorillas are a bunch of dirty players! Why, I could lick them in a ballgame with one hand tied behind my back! All by myself! Yeah! Get up there, WHAM! A homer! WHAM! Another homer!” he confidently exclaims.
In the first four innings the Gorillas put up over 90 runs, while the Totallers did not score, leaving Bugs plenty of work to do. He is announced at all nine positions and goes to the mound to pitch.
Bugs throws two pitches to the first batter – both looked like four seam fastballs – and after tossing each pitch races from the mound to behind the plate, catching both of his own pitches.
He then decides to “perplex” the Gorillas with his slow ball, a pitch that traveled with such reduced speed it strikes out three batters at the same time.
Bugs then gets his set of at-bats (receiving his bat from a boy with bat wings) and commences chipping away at the enormous deficit. He hammers the first pitch he sees, celebrating all around the bases until he is met at home plate by the Gorillas’ catcher who has the ball.
Just when it looks like Bugs was going to be stuck with the ball and called out, he whips out a poster of a woman in a bra and panties. It snatches the attention of the Gorilla player, and as he ogles it, Bugs happily crosses the plate for the Totallers’ first run of the game in the top of the fifth.
On his very next at-bat, Bugs gets another hit. Realizing Bugs is capable of getting back in the game and maybe even coming from behind, the Gorillas try to cheat by abducting the umpire. One of the Gorilla players puts on the umpire’s gear, and even though Bugs crosses the plate uncontested, he calls him out.
Immediately Bugs begins to protest.
“Where do ya get that malarkey? I’m safe!”
The umpire upholds his call, igniting an argument.
Safe! – Bugs
Out! – Ump
Safe! – Ump
“I say you’re safe! If you don’t like it, you can go to the showers!” the umpire claims.
“OK then Doc, have it your way, I’m safe,” Bugs replies, scoring his second run, successful in his cunning attempt to trick the umpire.
Bugs steps back up to the plate, and pops up the next pitch. The ball hits one of the outfielders, who is calling off everyone else.
“I got it! I got it! I got it!”
The ball comes back down and nails the fielder in the head, killing him and even burying him on the field. His tombstone read, “He got it.”
With that, Bugs scored his third run.
In his next at-bat, Bugs hits yet another ball to the outfield. The fielder runs towards the ball, smoking a cigar. The ball strikes him in the face, putting out his cigar, and knocking him unconscious. He gets hit so hard his body pressed up against the outfield fence on an ad that read, “Does your tobacco taste differently lately?”
Just like that, four runs for the bunny.
Bugs goes to the plate for his next at-bat, cracking the ball around the deep infield and shallow outfield. The baseball game basically morphs into a pinball game, as the cowhide bounces off each fielder, making a distinguished “ping” noise after every hit.
A bunch of runs appear on the scoreboard for Bugs, as well as the word “tilted.” A tilt in pinball means a pinball machine will tilt, ending the current ball and discarding the end-of-ball bonus if the player moves the cabinet too violently or tries to lift it.
Although Bugs was never shown making an out, the next batter is one of the Gorillas, and he smacks the ball to the outfield. He runs the bases and is on his way home, only to be greeted by Bugs at the dish, who plugs him with the ball for an out, knocking him silly.
Adding insult to injury, Bugs holds up a sign that reads, “Was this trip really necessary?”
Finally the game nears an end: bottom of the ninth, Bugs up 96-95. With two outs and a runner on base, one of the Gorillas gets in the batter’s box, needing a home run to win the game. But before he takes his hacks, the slugger leaves the park, chops down a tree with an ax, and fashions a bat out of the tree trunk.
He takes Bugs’s offering deep – way deep. As a matter of fact, he clobbered the ball so hard it flew over the roof of the Polo Grounds, out of the Stadium. Bugs may be a bunny, but he was on his horse, speeding as fast as he could out of the park.
Bugs gets in a waiting taxi, and instructs the driver to follow the ball, which is still airborne.
As it turned out, the driver was one of the Gorillas, purposely driving in the wrong direction. Bugs promptly exits the cab at the bus stop, and conveniently enough, a bus shows up right in time. Bugs hops on the bus, and even has a few seconds to read the newspaper.
He gets off at the “Umpire State Building” and takes the elevator to the roof. Bugs then climbs up the flagpole, tosses his mitt up in the air…
For the ball to land safely in the webbing. The glove comes back down, Bugs catches it, and it’s an out.
Game over. Bugs wins, 96-95. The Gorilla player vehemently argues the call, but the umpire somehow miraculously shows up at the Umpire State Building – confirming the ruling.
The Statue of Liberty – which, for some reason is located next to the “Umpire State Building,” comes alive and tells off the Gorilla player.
“That’s what the man said, you’re out!”
It ends with Bugs mocking the player. “That’s what the man said, that’s what the man said…”
So let’s do a little inventory here.
- Challenges a team of players who are obviously bigger than he is
- Strikes out three batters on the same pitch – that’s nine strikes, if you’re counting
- Distracts a player with a picture of a woman and gets a home run out of it
- Outsmarts the other team, even when they cheated
- Kills and buries an opposing player with a pop up
- Knocks out a smoking outfielder with a fly ball and scores
- Turns a game of baseball into a game of pinball
- Down by 90 runs, comes back to take the lead
- Surrenders what looks like a walk-off home run, but goes from the Polo Grounds to the top of the “Umpire State Building” – even after being taken out of his way by a wayward taxi cab
- Catches the ball for an out
- Wins the game
- Mocks the other team
I don’t care who you are in baseball, or what you’ve done, nothing is ever going to top that.