Hit Or Miss?

Jim Rice

In an expected series of events, earlier this afternoon, Goose Gossage was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the lone member of the Cooperstown Class of 2009 inducted by the voters. But did the BBWAA get it right this year?

In an expected series of events, earlier this afternoon, Goose Gossage was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the lone member of the Cooperstown Class of 2009 inducted by the voters. Gossage is one of the greatest relief pitchers of all-time, earning 310 saves—52 of which resulted from outings of two innings or more—over an illustrious 22-season career. Due to a new definition and emphasis of the importance of the closer role today, added together with the emergence of several relievers destined for first-ballot entries into CooperstownTrevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera, most notably— the BBWAA had a difficult time evaluating his accomplishments over the past eight years. This rings especially true because of how he was compared to and evaluate against the current generation of relief pitchers. But in an otherwise weak class, Gossage finally garnered the necessary respect from voters, receiving 466 of 543 (85.8 percent) votes. A strong improvement from 2000, his first year on the ballot in which he tallied just 33.3 percent of the voter's approval..

Perhaps the BBWAA finally took into consideration the pure dominance of Gossage, who frequently came on during the seventh inning or earlier, facing multiple batters and more than earning his saves . Quite remarkably, he racked up 1,809 career innings in a relief role, which places him far ahead of a number of his relief contemporaries for that statistical category.

Gossage, the clear-cut favorite to finally get elected, becomes the fifth relief pitcher enshrined into baseball's most prestigious residence, joining Holt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley and Bruce Sutter.

Another prominent closer of the past generation looking to join that prestigious list is former All-Time saves leader Lee Smith, who is currently second on the list (478). Smith did not fare as well today, however. When Hoffman passed Smith for the career lead in saves, Smith's chances, justly or not, were affected.

Smith's accomplishments are no joke, though. A three-time Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year (1991, 1992 and 1994) who was elected to seven All-Star games, he once strung together a streak of 12 straight seasons with 25-plus saves and led his league in saves four times, retiring as the career leader in finished games (802) and, of course, saves.

But Smith, a journeyman who spent parts of his career with eight different teams, struggled in his few appearances in the playoffs; he owns a postseason ERA of 8.49, and never played in a World Series. Even worse in the voter's eyes, however, Smith allegedly earned a number of easy saves (if attempting to retire major league hitters is a day at the beach), averaging less than five batters faced per appearance, during the transitional phases of the evolution of the closer. Gossage, on the other hand, consistently faced more than six batters per appearance during the prime stages of his career.

Gossage is more deserving than Smith, in my opinion, but, within the next few years or so, Smith should join him as the sixth relief pitcher with a plaque in Cooperstown.

Generational Shift?

There appears to be a generational shift (and perhaps a battle brewing) among baseball writers today. This predicament is primarily the result of the original philosophies of Bill James and the emergence of the basic principles of sabermetrics. A number of old-school baseball writers have failed to give any credence to the guidelines for judging talent, especially when it comes to things like voting for the Hall of Fame. Statistical websites such as sabermetric think tank Baseball Prospectus are gaining more popularity in the Internet baseball community, though, causing many to give more credence to on-base percentage and OPS, while focusing less on the traditional ways of measuring performance (especially batting average). Perhaps a revolution is pending among those who cover baseball for a living.

This year, however, when it came to the Hall of Fame Class of 2009, a number of writers failed to take into consideration statistics like offensive winning percentage, OPS and VORP, apparently, at least according to the voters' distaste for Tim Raines. Raines—one of the best leadoff hitters of all-time, this side of Rickey Henderson—received only 24 percent of the votes on his rookie year on the ballot. Some voters refuse to vote for any player on their first year on the ballot falling short of a no-brain decision, such as a Cal Ripken Jr. or Tony Gwynn.

But, in Raines' favor, he finished his career with an on-base percentage of .385, reached base more times in his career (3,977) than Gwynn, is fifth all-time with 808 stolen bases and was consistently among the league leaders in runs scored during his 22-year career.

Henderson, eligible for induction into Cooperstown the next go-around, overshadowed Raines during his career, and continues to do so today. As the all-time leader in stolen bases (by about your social security number) he redefined the term leadoff hitter, blending tremendous speed and power into one of the best overall careers in big-league history. Henderson's unprecedented career and Raines' failure to reach the 3,000-hit plateau while playing in a small market during his prime (Montreal) prove to be kryptonite to an otherwise slam-dunk Hall case for Raines.

With that being said, Raines was not all that far behind Henderson as a player, piling up a nice résumé for himself—highlighted by seven All-Star appearances, one National League batting and on-base percentage crown (1986, .334, .413) Silver Slugger Award (1987), eight seasons with 50 stolen bases or more and six seasons with more than 100 runs scored. In addition, he led the National League in doubles once (1984), runs scored twice (1983 and 1987) and has a nice amount of "bling," earning two World Series rings with the New York Yankees in the late-‘90s.

However, many older writers view him as a player who "compiled stats," failed to reach 3,000 hits in more than twenty seasons on the job and did not hit for the power usually associated with corner outfielders. These voters feel Raines' candidacy lacks merit, especially when compared to Henderson.

">. As more writers like Keith Law and Rob Neyer, who, as Internet writers, still lack voting credentials (perhaps George Mitchell and Major League Baseball need to investigate this travesty, too) because they "do not attend enough games," perhaps "sabermetricians" will have more pull. Hopefully, a common ground between the conflicting parties can be reached in the future, but I feel that as today's youth grow into executive positions in baseball, sabermetrics will become more main stream.

Baseball revolution or not, Raines will eventually get his plaque, as he has 14 more tries.

Time Running Out

But time is running out for two other outfielders—Andre Dawson and Jim Rice, who narrowly missed being elected, earning 72.2 and 65.9 percent of the votes, respectively. In my opinion, both candidates are undeserving, which may offend some in two of the nation's best baseball cities, Boston and Chicago. Still, I strongly agree with their exclusion from this year's class.

While Dawson and Rice were both excellent players, Cooperstown is the home to the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good. Dawson finished with a career OBP of .323, meaning he made an out around 67.7 percent of the time—far less than the likes of former Tampa Bay Rays originals Dave Martinez and Kevin Stocker, among hundreds of other mediocre players. Granted, of course, he played in a different era with less offense, but, with such a low OBP, falling short of 500 home runs (438) hurts his case, too.

Jim Rice (Getty Images)

Rice, one of the premier offensive players in Major League Baseball from 1975 to 1986, ranked first in games played (1,766)while leading the American League in home runs (350, third in the majors behind Mike Schmidt and Dave Kingman), RBIs (1,276) and runs scored (1,098) during that time period. As mentioned repeatedly, he benefited dramatically from playing his entire career in Fenway Park, a Mecca for right-handed hitters. And while many say he was the most "feared" hitter of his era, again, judging by his low intentional walk totals over his career, perhaps that title is a misnomer. Also, he entered the decline of his career at the tender age of the 32, far too early to for a Hall of Fame-caliber player. While he certainly had some fine seasons, and was one of the most dominant players of the ‘80s, I would have left him off of my ballot.

In my eyes, another deserving candidate is Bert Blyleven. Blyleven, similar to Raines' failure to collect 3,000 hits—a one-way ticket to Cooperstown—fell 13 wins shy of 300, compiling a fairly low .524 winning percentage, which hurts his case. But pitching in an era where starting pitchers were counted on to earn a decision every turn, while playing on a number of mediocre teams, Byleven's career win/loss record (287-250) is misleading, proving yet again that wins are not a strong measure of determining a pitcher's overall effectiveness.

And the good ol' Jack Morris argument—built on postseason success—can be made for Blyleven, too.

While he only played in the postseason three times due to the relatively weak teams playing behind him, he was brilliant in October, posting a 4-1 record and 2.47 earned run average in five playoff series.

He will have to wait for another day, however, as he finished fourth on this year's s ballot, behind Gossage, Rice and Dawson, earning 61.9 percent of the vote.

The Impact of PEDs

Players on the cusp of Cooperstown from the previous generation, including Rice, benefit from not playing in the steroid, though, as their statistics gain more weight when compared to candidates who spent the majority of their career playing from the late-1980s on.

When it comes to evaluating players linked with alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs and steroids, though, perhaps I fall into the minority.

As I stated before:

All time periods throughout baseball history—from the Dead Ball Era to the pre-Jackie Robinson days where several of the most talented athletes in history, minority players such as Josh Gibson, were disgracefully shut out of participating—should be judged based on all factors that inflate or deflate statistics. From the late '80s on, PEDs are tragically one of those factors.

This is why I feel, based on the assumption that hundreds of players in the steroid era were achieving accomplishments with some artificial assistance, Mark McGwire, who, like him or not, helped save baseball in the aftermath of the 1994 strike, deserves a call to Cooperstown. Yet today, McGwire tallied just 128 votes, good for only 23.6 percent of the ballot. Similar to Blyleven and Raines, he should get into Cooperstown in the future, but with his congressional debut—where he showcased a keen understanding of the United States Constitution, the Fifth Amendment in particular—fresh in the minds of most voters, he is still miles away from a July vacation in upstate New York.

My picks:

Bert Blyleven

Goose Gossage

Mark McGwire

Tim Raines

Lee Smith

On Wednesday, January, 9, Rays Digest columnists Ted Fleming and Tyler Hissey will, once again, discuss the latest updates on the Roger Clemens situation on Speaking With Sports, airing on TBSN 510 Radio. In addition, the pair will recap Goose Gossage's induction into Cooperstown while touching on some hot stove news and the Tampa Bay Rays' farm system, among other topics.

The show will air from 11:00 to 1:00 Eastern Time. Click here to listen live.

Update: To listen to the show in its entirety, use the media player below.

To voice your wild disagreements, arguing why Dawson and Rice are deserving and Raines is not, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.

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