Sprucing Up the Museum

Credit: BaseballHall.org

On Sunday night, it was announced that the Today’s Game Era ballot had been voted on and they would be inducting Lee Smith and Harold Baines into the Baseball Hall of Fame this upcoming summer in Cooperstown, New York.

The 16-member committee for this ballot consisted of Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Tony La Russa, Greg Maddux, Joe Morgan, John Schuerholz, Ozzie Smith and Joe Torre; major-league executives Al Avila, Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail and Jerry Reinsdorf; and veteran media members/historians Steve Hirdt, Tim Kurkjian and Claire Smith. 

Smith getting inducted was no surprise, as he had reached as high as 50.6% on the BBWAA ballot and was a borderline candidate for years, mattering on where you stood on the induction of relievers into the hall. But Baines was another story.

Credit: MLB.com

Baines never received more than 6.1% of support on the BBWAA ballot and is probably the definition of a player with a good career that hung around long enough to compile some good numbers. Good, but not great. 

So how did Baines get in? Well, it probably helped that he had a former teammate (Alomar), a former manager (LaRussa) and a former owner (Reinsdorf) on his side. Also, Baines was always known as a good guy and a good teammate. For those within the game, that carries quite a bit of weight.

But for many of us, being a “great guy” doesn’t always qualify you for being a Hall of Famer. Cooperstown is the best of the best, and the numbers say that Baines isn’t one of the elite. But what if the hall honored those players who might not have been “the best of the best”, but were good for the game? What if there was a separate wing for those that were admired and loved outside of their accomplishments on the field? What if they included the true “characters” of the game? Maybe an award for the “nice guys” of the game?

Credit: Associated Press / Chris Cummins

This subject was actually broached to me last year by a friend and it was amusing because I had thought of the idea years ago. What initially sparked adding a separate wing for me was Buck O’Neil. Lets be honest: Kansas City loved Buck. He was not only a symbol of Kansas City baseball, for his ties to the Monarchs and his attendance at Royals games, but he was the benchmark of what is great about baseball in general.

Buck was friendly, cordial, and loved talking baseball with anyone  who wanted to. For him it wasn’t as much about giving back to the game as sharing something he loved with others. Who doesn’t remember Buck’s appearance in the Ken Burn’s documentary “Baseball”?:

In fact, despite not being inducted at Cooperstown, Buck did give a speech at the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony back in 2006 to honor the pioneers in the Negro Leagues:

Buck O’Neil might not have been one of the greatest players in history, but he was the definition of what was great about the game. It was unfortunate that while O’Neil helped honor the greats involved with the Negro Leagues, he himself had been overlooked for induction despite all he did for baseball.

Buck would pass away in late 2006 and in 2008 the Baseball Hall of Fame would honor his legacy with the creation of the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. A statue was dedicated to the museum and every three years a new winner is announced. This is a great honor and one worthy of a man of O’Neil’s stature and character.

Now the Hall of Fame has done its due diligence when it comes to honoring those that are just as big a part of the game as the players. The Veterans Committe, which has lineage all the way back to 1939, would put together a subcommittee to consider candidates that not only involved players, but managers, umpires and executives as well. 

The hall has also handed out the Ford C. Frick award annually to honor a broadcaster for their contributions to the game. So there is no stone left unturned, starting in 1962 they would also honor a baseball writer annually, also known as the J.G. Taylor Spink award.   

But it would be nice if the hall could go a step further. The Baseball Hall of Fame is a museum and it would be fitting to include some of the more charitable and “class acts” that made the game better.

There would have to be a few guidelines to follow for this to happen. For one, the inductees for this achievement should be in a separate wing from the elite players who get inducted. There would have to be a definite difference between the two so fans are aware of this separate honor.

Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame

Also, to show this is a different award it would probably be smart not to give them the same plaques as the greats of the game. Maybe instead of a plaque, present videos on each player and why they are worthy of this honor. Since this would be a different wing, it should have a different feel to it.

So who exactly should be honored for this award? The criteria would obviously be quite a bit different, as statistics wouldn’t matter as much as the footprint you leave on the game. In my vision of this honor, it would be about everything that is great for baseball. The eligible should be those that are great ambassadors, those that were genuine big-hearted and charitable that didn’t cause any issues and even the players who made the game more fun.

In my eyes, this honor would be about players like Andrew McCutchen, who has spent years giving back with his charitable work and when he was in Pittsburgh, giving back to the community. It would also be for someone like former Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney, who has put together baseball camps for kids and has always been one of the great guys in the game. 

Credit: Sports Illustrated

It would also include some of the players who made the game so much fun to watch. Take Bartolo Colon for example. Colon has played into his mid-40’s and has a child-like demeanor when he is out on the field that makes it easy to cheer for. The same could be said about former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych. “The Bird” had a short career with a number of highs and lows, but was one of the most entertaining players in baseball history.

These players make the game better and while they won’t go down as one of the “all-time greats” in baseball history, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be honored. Some of the greats weren’t good human beings, like Ty Cobb and former Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, who both have been elected to baseball’s hallowed halls. Since this is a museum, you sometimes have to take the bad with the good, which is why it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to include more of the benevolent people involved within the game.

From every story or conversation that has been thrown out this week, Harold Baines appears to be one of the great guys that helped build a solid foundation for baseball. Maybe if a separate wing is put into the hall for guys like him, there won’t be a need to slide someone in where they might not fit. This way we could talk about why they deserve an honor instead of why they don’t.  

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Minnesota Love

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It’s a tough time to be a Minnesota Twins fan. After an unexpected second place finish in the American League Central in 2015(and competing for a playoff spot into the last week of the season), the belief was that the Twins would take another step forward in 2016. Minnesota was expected to grow from last year’s success, especially with the addition of some top-level prospects being around all year(Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton) and the addition of Korean slugger Byung Ho Park, so it appeared that second year manager Paul Molitor had a contender on his hands. I definitely had bought in, as I expected the Twins to garnish a playoff spot this year, with my belief being that they had a great mix of veterans, youngsters and a great leader in Molitor. Instead this year has felt like a horror show, as they are 14.5 games out of first in the Central, 13 games below .500. But this isn’t a brow beating on this year’s Twins team as much as it’s a look back at my fondness for a team that was a big part of my childhood.

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Now, I am a devoted Kansas City Royals fan and have been since I was 7 years old; that will never change. But in 1987 I couldn’t help but root for a fun Minnesota Twins team that would go on and win the World Series that year. What really started my ‘Minnesota Love’ was Kirby Puckett. Puckett was everything great about baseball; a cherubic center fielder who could hit, run and play defense and had elevated himself to be one of the great players in the game. I loved watching Puckett run around the outfield, then step to the plate and rack up hit after hit. He fit in perfectly in the 1980’s, an era of contact hitters like Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly. Puckett also seemed to have a child-like grin on his face at all times, leaving the impression that he was having as much fun playing the game as we did watching him. Puckett was a perennial All-Star, a guy who averaged 192 hits a season throughout his 12 year career, multiple time Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner and was voted in the top ten of the American League MVP ballots 7 of his 12 major league seasons. I know some have questioned whether or not he should have been a Hall of Famer, but in my eyes there was never a question. Puckett was one of the best throughout his career and one can only imagine what his final numbers would have been had glaucoma not taken his sight. There were some less than flattering moments for Puckett post-career but Puckett the ballplayer was a joy to watch play.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins
(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Once you looked at the rest of the roster, there was a nice group of players who were easy to root for. Kent Hrbek was the lovable, goofy first baseman with power. Dan Gladden, current Twins radio broadcaster, played like his hair was on fire and was the spark plug at the top of the lineup. Frank Viola was the left-handed ace who had elevated himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Bert Blyleven was nearing the end of his career but still fun to watch. I also can’t forget Juan Berenguer, a guy who did not fit the normal physique of a major league ballplayer but was a pivotal part of the Minnesota bullpen. Even the 1991 World Series team was easy to root for, with Puckett, Hrbek, Gladden and pitchers like Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani holding down the rotation and Rick Aguilera closing out of the pen. The Twins had players who were fun to watch and it always appeared as if Tom Kelly led teams played more as a team and weren’t as focused on individual numbers. As the Royals have shown these last few years, if you play as a team there is a good chance that winning is part of the formula.

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Speaking of Kansas City, there is a deep connection between those late 1980’s/early 1990’s Twins team and the Royals. Many of the Twins who helped Minnesota win those two World Series’ would eventually spend time in Kansas City. Gary Gaetti, the Twins third baseman for both championship teams, would eventually move onto the Royals and would even hit 35 home runs for Kansas City in 1995. Greg Gagne was a pivotal part of those Minnesota teams and he would go on to play three seasons in Kansas City at shortstop; his offense wasn’t anything to write home about, but his defense got him 4.8 dWAR during that period. Chuck Knoblauch would play his last major league season for the Royals, producing a -0.7 bWAR in just 80 games. Chili Davis would end up in Kansas City in 1997, hitting 30 home runs and posting 2.4 bWAR. As if that wasn’t enough, Berenguer pitched for the Royals earlier in his career, while backup catcher Sal Butera’s son, Drew, would later play for the Twins and is the current backup receiver in Kansas City. So in a roundabout way, I got to see a few of the bigger pieces of those championship Twins team’s contribute in a Royals uniform.

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But it wasn’t just the players or the style of baseball they played that made me intrigued by the Twins. As a kid, I was enamored with the Metrodome, warts and all. Here was this domed stadium that had character and didn’t have the feel of cookie cutter stadiums like Three Rivers or Veterans Stadium. Minnesota had the “baggie” out in right field(which is now a handbag), and a roof that looked spectacular but was easy for fielders to lose a pop fly in. The crowd always seemed raucous and during the playoffs the fans would wave their “Homer Hanky” to get the team going. There seemed to be a whole atmosphere to that stadium that I wanted to be a part of  and that lured me into wanting this team to succeed. Sure, I had heard stories about the stadium being broken down, cold, drab and being nothing but a big slab of concrete, but that didn’t seem to matter to me much. It just seemed like a fun place to watch a baseball game from. I still get goosebumps when I think back to Game 163 of the 2009 season, when the Twins and Tigers battled it out in the dome for the Central Division title. Here was a stadium that being replaced the next season but it was going to get one more thrilling, iconic moment before it was gone. The Metrodome might not have had the beauty of Kauffman Stadium(yes, biased), the legend of a Wrigley Field or the visual classicism of a Camden Yards, but it had its own nuances that would grow on you. I never got to attend a game at the Metrodome, which saddens me, but I was able to be at Target Field a few years back. While I liked Target Field and think it is a solid replacement for the Metrodome, I have a feeling it won’t match up when it comes to the character of that old dome.

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You would think that with the Twins being in the same division as my Royals I would loathe them and wish for them to just go away, but I don’t. I have very fond memories of the Twins and most years wish them the best. Well, I always hope they don’t do as good as Kansas City, but otherwise I want them to have success. It blows my mind sometimes when I think back and remember there was a period where baseball considered contracting the Twins. This is an organization with rich history and the idea of a baseball team not being up in Minnesota is unfathomable. When I go back and think about baseball highlights in my life that I will play over and over in my head, there are a number of Twins highlights that will live on forever. Puckett’s catch, Larkin’s single, Morris’s pitching and Casilla’s single; all are memories etched in my head forever. For that, I thank Minnesota. Thank you for making my childhood brighter and my adulthood memorable. I still kinda love ya.

 

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