Wednesday, August 11, 2004


Cooperstown or Bust


For a couple of years I've recommended, to anyone willing to listen, that Ken Griffey, Jr. opt to continue his baseball career in the American League. "Junior" started in the AL, where he teamed for a while with his dad. Those were happier times. He won 10 Gold Gloves there (no mean feat when Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmunds were rival centerfielders), and was the League's best player for the better part of the 1990's. So lofty was his star, that Hank Aaron said if anyone ever broke his own all-time home run mark, it would be Griff.

Yesterday, the Cincinnati Reds announced that Junior will miss the remainder of the 2004 season due to a right hamstring injury. Griffey suffered a right hamstring tear in 2002, among his many trips to the disabled list since coming over to the Senior Circuit. He does not have a future chasing fly balls- the newest member of the 500 Homer Club will have to return to the American League as a designated hitter if he wants to play on. Perhaps then he can pursue 600 homers, which would place him in elite company. He would also save his deteriorating wheels.

The question arises, if Griff retired during the winter, would he be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame? Let's look at the record. Ten years ago today, baseball went on a labor stoppage with about 50 games to be played in the season. On that date in August 1994 (my, how the time flies), Junior was batting .323 with 40 homers and 90 RBI. That's five more big flies than the current major league leader, and home run production is up in this post-McGwire era. He'd tagged 45 bombs in 1993, and would go on to park 49 with 140 RBI in 1996, 56 with 147 RBI in 1997, 56 again with 146 driven in in 1998, and 48 homers and 134 RBI in pre-BALCO 1999. The man was named to the All-Century team. He had 446 homers at age 30 (at that point, he needed to average about 10 jacks a year for a decade to catch Hammerin' Hank).

Griffey has only hit 63 homers since the 2000 season, which was his first with the Reds. Sosa used to hit that in a year. If he left the game today he'd be right on 501 hrs., 2,156 hits, 1,444 RBI, 10 Gold Gloves (another feat he accomplished by age 30, take that Barry Bonds), and has scored 1,320 runs. Despite the aches and pains, he's batted .292 over the years, and stolen almost 180 bases. Each season from 1996 through 1999 Junior scored at least 120 runs. And he participated in the A.L. playoffs. With twelve All-Star games on his resume, you'd have to make a compelling argument to keep him out of Cooperstown. After all, Koufax is in based on four strong seasons, Jr. had nine. His average 162 games played produced a .292 clip, 41 homers, 117 RBI, 32 doubles, 107 runs and 14 steals. If he recovers from this latest injury, a transfer of leagues could pad his numbers enough to silence all dissent. Oddly enough, Griffey had a better April and May of 2004 than Albert Pujols or Alfonso Soriano. He's got to give up the glove.

While I'm on the topic of enshrinement (and DH's), Seattle mainstay Edgar Martinez has announced he's hanging 'em up after '04. Seattle will miss the quiet superstar who outlasted Griffey and A-Rod in their hearts and on their roster. Edgar did play 3b for a while, but is known primarily as a DH. Are his digits worthy of the Hall? As of 8-04 he's got 2,207 hits (not much more than longtime teammate Griffey), 1,246 RBI, 306 jacks, scored 1, 204 runs, batted .312, and won two A.L. batting crowns. He hit .343 in '92, .356 in '95, .330 in '97, and .337 in 1999. In 2000 he batted .324 with 37 homers, 145 RBI, and 100 runs scored (a lot of runs for a non-speedster, more on that later). He'll leave the game with more than 500 doubles, and he averaged 100 RBI for every 162 games played. His two-baggers are solety attributable to his eye and bat- 46 doubles in '92, 52 in both 1995 and 1996, 47 again in 1998 (playing in the shadows of Junior and A-Rod). In both '95 and '96, this non-runner scored 121 runs.

That said, Edgar's not HOF caliber. As a designated hitter, Harold Baines merits more attention. Baines scored 1,299 runs, hit 488 doubles (he wasn't a baserunning threat either, just a "professional hitter"), 384 homers, knocked in 1,628, and batted .289. No Harold, no Edgar. Baines played for a bunch of teams, and his non-fielding role will keep him off many HOF ballots for years (maybe forever). He didn't see much post-season action either. But his case, however shaky, refutes that of Martinez (and I was a big Edgar fan). As strong an argument could be made on behalf of Vada Pinson, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson or Gil Hodges as for Martinez.

Where does Crime Dog fit into all this? Too many teams, not enough homers. Fred McGriff has about 2,490 hits, 493 homers, 1,550 RBI's and 441 doubles. He'd need 500 jacks and 2,500 safeties, minimum, to be a "strong argument" player. Though he's agonizingly close, his play on mostly mediocre teams (except his Atlanta stint) means no cigar. Let's look at his contemporary, Rafi Palmeiro. Though not "famous", he'll be voted into the Hall someday. One can't exclude a player with 1,589 runs, 2,881 hits, 542 homers, 560 doubles, and 1,750 RBI and a .290 average- no matter how many times they were traded. That's like 28 doubles a year for 20 seasons. What the dissenters will argue is that at no time was Rafi one of the few best players at his position (an argument that also hurts McGriff). While true, that is always an obstacle for first baseman, even during All-Star voting, because most first baseman are very good hitters. Palmeiro played the position at the same time as Frank Thomas, Kent Hrbek, McGriff, Don Mattingly, McGwire, Mo Vaughn and fellow Mississippi State alum Will Clark, to name several. But the numbers don't lie, and Rafi has the stats.


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