January 2011

Tough Hall ballot for former Yankees

Last week’s Hall of Fame election was a tough one for those players with ties to the Yankees. Of the eight players on the ballot who spent time with the Yankees, five failed to get the five percent required to remain in consideration and were dropped. The three players who will remain on the ballot next year did nothing to improve their chances of election anytime soon, if ever.

With a record total of 581 ballots submitted by Baseball Writers’ Association of America members with 10 or more consecutive years of service, 436 votes were needed for election to satisfy the 75-percent requirement. Second baseman Roberto Alomar with 523 (90.0 percent) and pitcher Bert Blyleven with 463 (79.7) were the only ones to make the grade; Alomar in his second time on the ballot and Blyleven in his 14th and next to last time.

Kevin Brown, who pitched for the Yankees in his later years after having been a Yankees Killer with the Rangers early in his career, did the best of those who wore the pinstripes that failed to make the cut, with 12 votes, which reflected only 2.1 percent of the ballots cast. First baseman Tino Martinez, one of the franchise’s most popular players, got 6 votes (1.0 percent), and pitcher Al Leiter and first baseman John Olerud received 4 apiece (0.7). Shut out entirely was outfielder Raul Mondesi.

Brown has become sort of a darling of the SABR (Society of Baseball Research) set, who love his statistics. I admit Brown had a better career than a lot of people may think (211-144 record, 3.28 ERA, 2 ERA and WHIP titles, 6 All-Star appearances), but the Hall of Fame is for the great, not just the very good. Brown’s time with the Yankees was one of the areas that worked against him. His impact was less than minimal; it was non-existent. Martinez also falls into the very good category, as did his old buddy Paul O’Neill, who was a one-and-done candidate four years ago.

The others had their moments in the sun, which is why they were on the ballot in the first place, but Cooperstown just was not to be their destination.

As for those who remain, the outlook is not good, since each lost ground in the voting. Reliever Lee Smith, who pitched in eight games for the Yankees in 1993, is stuck below 50 percent. He might have been expected to get to the half-way point in this year’s election but instead fell to 45.3 percent – two percent below his 2010 showing. He has up to six more years for consideration (players may stay on the ballot up to 15 years provided they get 5 percent of the vote each year), but he appears to be going backward.

The same holds true for outfielder Tim Raines, whose candidacy is based more on his high-profile years with the Expos and White Sox rather than his role-playing time with the Yankees. I would have thought that appreciation for Raines’ record as a leadoff hitter would have heightened after Rickey Henderson’s election in 2009, but Rock is also moving in reverse. He went from receiving 37.5 percent of the vote last year to 30.4 percent this year. Time at least is on Raines’ side; this was only his fourth year on the ballot.

Very much like Smith, time is running out on Don Mattingly, the Dodgers’ new manager whose entire playing career was spent with the Yankees. The 2011 election was Donnie Baseball’s 11th year on the ballot. He fell from 16.1 percent last year to 13.6 percent this year. Mattingly has never done better than the 28.2 percent he got in his first ballot year of 2001. He is down to less than half of that now and has only four years possibly remaining for consideration.

The 2012 ballot will feature another Yankees favorite, Bernie Williams, the switch-hitting center fielder and cleanup hitter on four World Series championship teams. This is just a hunch, but he is bound to do better than the first-year candidates with Yankees pedigrees this time around.

Yanks mourn ‘family’ loss

The Yankees lost two members of their extended family in recent days, one of whom was truly a tragic case. It was a shock to discover that the 9-year-old girl who was among those gunned down in the attack in Tucson, Ariz., was Christina Taylor Green, the granddaughter of former Yankees manager Dallas Green and daughter of John Green, who had pitched in the Yankees’ minor-league system in 1989 and ’90 and is now the Dodgers’ supervisor of East Coast amateur scouts.

Young Christina had recently been elected to the student council at her school and because of her newfound interest in politics was brought to the town meeting to get an up-close look at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was mortally wounded by an assailant who killed six people in a shooting barrage. Her grandfather managed the Yankees for most of the 1989 season and later managed the Mets in the early 1990s. In 1980, he guided the Phillies to their first World Series championship.

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner issued a statement saying, “The Steinbrenner family and the New York Yankees organization join the entire nation in mourning Christina and send our deepest condolences to Dallas Green and his family as they deal with this tremendous loss. This is a tragedy that is beyond words and our thoughts and prayers are with the Green family, as well as all of the affected families.”

Last Thursday, one of the Yankees’ most faithful alumni, Ryne Duren, passed away. The former relief pitcher fought a long battle with alcoholism that shortened his career, but he eventually sobered up to live a productive life that took him to age 81.

Unlike baseball’s current era in which closing relievers are revered (where would the Yankees have been the past 15 seasons without Mariano Rivera?) not to mention well paid, Duren pitched at a time when those who inhabited the bullpen did so primarily because they weren’t consistent enough to be trusted as starters. Duren’s problem was lack of control.

The righthander found a spot in the Yankees’ bullpen and became a favorite weapon of Casey Stengel. Yankees fans of a certain age surely remember the terror Duren inflicted on opposing batters with a fastball that came close to 100 miles per hour.

An imposing figure at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Duren also wore thick glasses and went looking toward the plate seemed to have trouble locating it. Not too many batters dug in hard against Duren, who on occasion would throw a warmup pitch to the backstop.

His old catcher, Yogi Berra, said the other day, “Ryne could throw the heck out of the ball. He threw fear in some hitters. I remember he had several pair of glasses, but it didn’t seem like he saw good in any of them.”

“Everyone agreed that it was a dangerous combination: a guy wearing glasses that thick and throwing a pitch that fast,” Duren wrote in his 1978 memoir, The Comeback. “But what everyone didn’t know was that there was another dimension that made me even more dangerous than they thought I was. I had a drinking problem.”

Duren had great impact on Yankees’ World Series teams of that late 1950s. The save did not become an official statistic until 1969. Had it been kept earlier, Duren’s 20 saves would have led the league in 1958 when he had 87 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings. The next year, Duren fanned 96 batters in 76 2/3 innings, and in 1960 had 67 strikeouts in 49 innings.

He was traded in 1961 to the expansion Los Angeles Angels in a deal that brought outfielder Bob Cerv back to the Bronx. Duren’s career went on a downward path as he moved on to Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Washington and finished with a career record of 27-44. His drinking became so severe that Senators manager Gil Hodges had to talk him down from a bridge in the middle of the night after a game in which Duren was pounded by the Yankees.

Several years after his 1965 retirement as a player, Duren responded positively to treatment and got off the bottle. He devoted the rest of his life to drug and alcohol counseling to athletes and was a regular visitor to Yankee Stadium on Old Timers Day.

He never made it to the Hall of Fame, of course, but his name did. Duren was one of only two players in major league history with the surname Ryne. The other is Ryne Sandberg, who was born in 1959. Sandberg’s father was a Yankees fan and named his son after Duren. Sandberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005 with Wade Boggs.

The Phillies executive who originally signed Sandberg to a pro contract later became the general manager of the Cubs and traded for him. That executive was Dallas Green.

Another holiday list

As each year comes to a close, baseball writers center on their annual responsibility of voting for the Hall of Fame. Ballots are mailed out to writers Dec. 1 and due back in the hands to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America by a Dec. 31 postmark.

So it is not just Santa Claus who makes a list and checks it twice come the Christmas season.

As secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, I have conducted the election since 1995, the year Mike Schmidt was elected. I will be busy with Hall of Fame business the next few days but will find time to share some thoughts with Yankees fans about the election. Results will be announced at 2 p.m. Wednesday on bbwaa.com, baseballhall.org, MLB.com and the MLB Network.

The ballot contains 33 names this year, eight of whom spent a portion of their careers with the Yankees, including two of the most popular figures in the franchise’s history, first basemen Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Others on the ballot who spent time with the Yankees are pitchers Kevin Brown, Al Leiter and Lee Smith, outfielders Tim Raines and Raul Mondesi and first baseman John Olerud.

Mattingly has been on the ballot for 10 years and has never done better than 28 percent of the vote going back to his first year. To gain entry into Cooperstown, 75 percent is required. Mattingly was at 16.1 percent last year. Martinez, his successor at first base for the Yankees, is a first-time candidate this year. It is doubtful writers will find Tino’s candidacy all that compelling, any more than they did another Yankees fan favorite Paul O’Neill two years ago. Martinez’s goal should be to get five percent of the vote necessary to stay on the ballot, which players must do to stay in contention for the full 15 years of eligibility. O’Neill failed to do that and was dropped after one year.

Brown, whose time with the Yankees was filled with controversy, had a fine career, but New York fans rarely saw him at his best except when he pitched against the Yankees for the Rangers. Yankees fans know Brown for breaking his pitching hand in anger and his implosion on the mound in Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship, the franchise’s worst moment.

Leiter started and ended his career with the Yankees but had his best seasons with the Blue Jays, Marlins and Mets. His 162-132 record and 3.80 ERA does not spell immortality.

Raines, on the other hand, is an interesting case. He came to the Yankees after years with the Expos and White Sox and was a key role player on the World Series title teams of 1996, ’98 and ’99. With 2,605 hits and 808 stolen bases, Raines has some Hall of Fame numbers, but after three years on the ballot he has done no better than 30 percent.

Smith, Olerud and Mondesi had limited time in pinstripes. Olerud and Mondesi are on the ballot for the first time and are not likely to get the five percent of the vote necessary to stay on the ballot. Smith, who pitched in only eight games for the Yankees in 1993, once held the major-record for saves with 478 but has yet to attract even half the vote in eight previous elections.

The favorites this time around are second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven, each of whom came close last year. Blyleven was on 74.2 percent of the ballots cast and missed by five votes. Alomar missed by eight votes at 397, or 73.7 percent.

The only player not to get elected when eligible the year after getting more than 70 percent in the vote was pitcher Jim Bunning. He was on 74 percent of the ballots in 1988 and missed by four votes. The next year, however, with a thicker ballot consisting of first-year inductees Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski and fellow pitching greats Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins, Bunning lost 34 votes and dropped 11 percent in his final year on the ballot. He was eventually elected by the Veterans Committee in 1996.
 
The most accomplished of the new names are first basemen Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro and outfielders Juan Gonzalez and Larry Walker. Palmeiro and Gonzalez will have a rough time.

Despite being only the fourth player in history to get more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, Palmeiro is a long shot because of his positive test for anabolic steroids in 2005, the same year he testified before Congress that he had never taken them. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, the only other members of both the 3,000 Hit and 500 Home Run Clubs were elected in their first years of eligibility.

Gonzales, a two-time AL Most Valuable Player, showed up in the Mitchell Report as a steroids user, which could hurt his chances for a big vote. After all, Mark McGwire with his 587 home runs has been on the ballot for four years and is hovering at 23 percent.

Bagwell, who had an amazing career (.297, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBI, 1,517 runs, .408 on-base percentage, .540 slugging percentage), never failed a drug test but faced suspicions of possible performance-enhancing aid after he felt in love with the weight room in the mid-1990s. Walker, like Bagwell a National League MVP, had some very good years in Montreal and then some monster years in Colorado. Will the Coors Field effect hurt his chances?

See, this voting stuff isn’t easy. After thorough study, I finally filled out my ballot.

Checks went to Alomar, Bagwell, Blyleven, Walker, Mattingly, Raines, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff and Jack Morris.

My take on Bagwell was that he is innocent until proved guilty. Larkin is following a path not dissimilar to another NL MVP middle infielder who took a few years to get to Cooperstown, Ryne Sandberg. Ask any Yankees fan who watched the 1995 Division Series about Edgar Martinez, who was simply one of the greatest right-handed hitters I ever saw. McGriff, who came through the Yankees system but was traded away, slugged 493 homers the clean way and made a major difference on the only Atlanta Braves team to win a World Series. Morris was the ace of every staff for which he pitched, including three teams that won the World Series – the 1984 Tigers, ’91 Twins and ’92 Blue Jays.

Let the arguments begin. I’ll be back after the election.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.