oe Morgan sent a letter to Hall of Fame voters this week urging them not to elect steroid users to Cooperstown. By doing so, Morgan, a Hall of Fame second baseman, thrust the issue of performance-enhancing drugs back to the forefront of the Cooperstown conversation.
Once again, superstars under chemical clouds — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa — will appear on the ballots sent this week to voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. But there are also 19 new candidates to consider, none with strong ties to the scourge of their era.
Plenty of other holdover candidates remain on the ballot, too, including seven who got at least half the 75 percent of votes needed for election last winter: Trevor Hoffman (74 percent), Vladimir Guerrero (71.7), Edgar Martinez (58.6), Clemens (54.1), Bonds (53.8), Mike Mussina (51.8) and Curt Schilling (45).
Most of the newcomers will slip off the ballot after one try; candidates must receive 5 percent of the vote to remain. Before they depart, here’s a memory or insight for each newcomer to the voting.
There was no in-between with Carpenter across his time with the St. Louis Cardinals from 2003 to 2012: he was either awesome or injured. In four of those seasons, Carpenter didn’t win a game. In the other six, he was 50 games over .500 with a Cy Young Award and two World Series championships.
Let’s bundle some stats to make the effervescent Damon as appealing a candidate as possible. He had 2,769 hits, 235 homers and 408 steals. How many players in history exceed him in all three categories? Only Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson and Craig Biggio. Few players could beat you as many ways as Damon could, and even fewer had as much fun doing it.
Before Yu Darvish, there was Livan Hernandez. Like Darvish, who was flattened twice by Houston in the World Series for the Dodgers, Hernandez also was thumped in two outings in the same Series, Games 3 and 7 as a Giant in 2002. For the Hernandez family, though, it might have just been an Angels thing. Livan and his half brother, the ex-Yankee Orlando Hernandez, were 0-3 in their postseason careers against the Angels but 16-3 against everyone else.
For a few years, the Hall of Fame had an awkward habit of reaching for nicknames to put on plaques. Joseph Paul Torre is called “Joe” under his full name, while Joseph Paul DiMaggio is not. Likewise, James Edward Rice is called “Jim,” while James Alvin Palmer is not. Anyway, Hudson, a second baseman who won Gold Gloves for three teams, will probably not get a single vote for Cooperstown. But it would be cool to see a real baseball nickname — “O-Dog” — etched in bronze.
In 1983, when Huff was 6, his father was shot to death in a dispute at the apartment complex where he worked as an electrician. A man had shot his wife and tried to shoot the apartment manager. Huff’s father pushed the manager out of the way and was killed. Huff’s mother, Fonda, raised him and his sister in Mineral Wells, Tex., while working in the meat department of a grocery store and studying to be a teacher. “I told my mom one day I wanted to be a professional baseball player — probably, what, 8 years old, 9 years old,” Huff said. “And she bought me a batting cage on a Winn-Dixie salary.” Huff was speaking in Arlington, Tex., some 60 miles from Mineral Wells, after hitting a homer for the Giants in the 2010 World Series.
With Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson, Isringhausen was part of Generation K, the much-hyped trio of young starters who gave hope to Mets fans in the desolate mid-1990s. All three pitchers were largely undone by injuries, but Isringhausen remade himself as a closer and collected 300 saves, though only eight for the Mets. In the end, Generation K combined for 1,651 strikeouts — exactly the career total of Vic Willis, a turn-of-the-century right-hander for the Boston Beaneaters. It took 85 years after his final game, but Willis finally made it to Cooperstown in 1995.
Like Dale Murphy in the 1980s, Jones starred in center field while playing for the Braves in his 20s. Also like Murphy, Jones plunged sharply around age 31 and never recovered. He never had 300 at-bats in a season after turning 31, which was Murphy’s age in 1987, his last year as an elite player. Murphy wound up with an .815 on-base plus slugging percentage, five Gold Gloves and two M.V.P. awards. Jones finished with a .823 O.P.S., 10 Gold Gloves and no M.V.P. awards. The writers never gave Murphy more than 23.2 percent of the vote.
It is true that Jones, a Mets nemesis, named his son Shea. It is also true that he bought two seats from Shea Stadium and put them in the boy’s bedroom. But how did Jones really do at the Mets’ old ballpark? He hit .313 with 19 home runs, his most in any visiting stadium, and then added three homers at Citi Field. Impressive, for sure, but Jones actually did even more damage in Philadelphia: he hit .350 with 13 home runs at Veterans Stadium, and connected 11 more times at Citizens Bank Park.
Just a few whiff-crazy years since his retirement, it’s striking to see a career like Lee’s: in 14 seasons as a power hitter, he never struck out 100 times. That’s the kind of steady, forceful contact we see from few sluggers besides Albert Pujols, who led the majors in runs batted in from 2002 through 2009, when Lee was in his prime. Lee ranks fifth in R.B.I. in those seasons, with 843, trailing only Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Mark Teixeira. He shouldn’t get a Hall of Fame vote, but he was a much better hitter than we probably remember.
The Phillies have won two World Series. In the first, a lefty closer wearing No. 45 struck out a righty hitter for the final out. In the second, a righty closer wearing No. 54 struck out a lefty hitter for the final out. Even the years were reversed: ’80 for the first title, ’08 for the second. Tug McGraw, the 1980 pitcher, later worked on local TV for WPVI in Philadelphia. Lidge, the 2008 pitcher, has a national radio gig for SiriusXM.
When Matsui joined the Yankees in 2003, he took all the beat writers out to dinner during spring training in Tampa, Fla. None of us could remember another player ever doing something like this. The next spring the writers took Matsui to dinner, and we continued the tradition, alternating each year. As a superstar in Japan, Matsui was in constant demand for interviews in two languages, yet he was readily available to all, with grace and good humor. There is no cheering in the press box, but when Matsui finished his Yankees career as M.V.P. of the 2009 World Series, you had to be happy for him.
Can you name Millwood’s team for each of these career accomplishments? (The answers are below.)
a) One-hitter and save in same postseason series (1999)
b) Complete-game no-hitter (2003)
c) League leader in E.R.A. (2005)
d) Signed $60 million contract (2006)
e) Led league in losses (2010)
f) Started a combined no-hitter (2012)
The last batter Moyer ever faced, Jay Bruce, had not been born when Moyer made his major-league debut for the Cubs in 1986. Moyer lasted through 2012, the year he turned 50, baiting hitters with some of the softest stuff in the game. What’s the fastest pitch he ever threw? “One game in Houston when I was with the Phillies, I popped an 86,” Moyer said. “How did that happen? It had to be a misread, because when I went to the dugout, three or four pitchers were like: ‘How did you do that? You threw 86!’ But I don’t know, really. The gun, for me, here’s where I got the most use out of it: to see where I was with my fastball and where I was with my changeup. What’s the variance of speed? That was important to me, and what does the swing look like to that pitch?”
On Sept. 7, 1996, Rolen came to bat in the fourth inning with two outs against the Cubs’ Steve Trachsel. If Rolen put the ball in play or struck out, he would be credited with his 131st at-bat and lose his rookie status. Instead, an errant pitch broke the ulna bone in Rolen’s right arm, abruptly ending his season. The next year he was the unanimous National League Rookie of the Year, the only Phillies winner between Dick Allen in 1964 and Ryan Howard in 2005. Rolen would go on to win eight Gold Glove Awards, make seven All-Star teams and help St. Louis win the 2006 World Series.
The Minnesota Twins picked first at the 1999 Rule 5 draft in Anaheim, Calif. The cost to draft a player was $50,000, but the Twins found a way to get their target for free. The Marlins, who picked second, wanted a pitcher named Jared Camp. The Twins wanted a pitcher named Johan Santana. So the Twins took Camp, the Marlins took Santana, and then the teams swapped those players, with the Marlins kicking in $50,000 to cover Minnesota’s fee. Camp never pitched in the majors and was out of pro ball within three years. Santana won two Cy Young Awards for the Twins and threw the only no-hitter in Mets history.
In the spring of 1989, when “Major League” was released in theaters, the Cleveland Indians’ draft was just a bit outside the norm. Their first-round choice, an outfielder named Calvin Murray, rejected them for the University of Texas. Their third-round choice, pitcher Jerry Dipoto, is now general manager of the Seattle Mariners. Two pitchers — Alan Embree (fifth round) and Curtis Leskanic (eighth round) — would help the Boston Red Sox win a World Series title in 2004. Outfielder Brian Giles (17th round) became an All-Star slugger for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But one player would go on to do so much in Cleveland that he now has a statue at the Indians’ ballpark: Thome, a 13th-rounder from Illinois Central College. He is the Indians’ franchise home run leader, with 337 of the 612 he smashed across 22 major league seasons.
No shortstop has ever matched Vizquel’s longevity; his 2,709 games at the position rank first on the career list. The other leaders in games played at each infield position are catcher Ivan Rodriguez, first baseman Eddie Murray, second baseman Eddie Collins and third baseman Brooks Robinson. Among outfielders (since 1913), the games-played leaders are left fielder Barry Bonds, center fielder Willie Mays and right fielder Roberto Clemente. That’s quite a team, and all except Bonds are in the Hall of Fame.
It’s nice that Wood makes the ballot, because his career is too easily viewed for what it wasn’t, instead of what it was. He was not the next Nolan Ryan, but as fire-balling, Texas-bred phenoms go, he was not the next David Clyde either. No pitcher in history may have been as dominant as Wood was, at age 20, in his 20-strikeout one-hitter for the Cubs in 1998. But he overcame injuries to become an All-Star reliever, pitched 14 seasons over all and made more than $73 million. His career was a success.
In each of the last 10 years of his career, Zambrano hit at least one home run. He finished with 24 over all, and at .388, he had a higher slugging percentage than more than a dozen hitters in Cooperstown — including one, Bill Mazeroski, who homered to win a World Series. The difference, of course, is that Zambrano was a pitcher.