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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Just a Few Thoughts on Derek Jeter

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Last week, longtime New York Yankees shortstop and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter announced that the 2014 season will be his last. Not a shock if you have paid any attention to the Bronx Bombers, as Jeter struggled to stay healthy last year and his defense(which was never as top shelf as many thought)has gotten to a point to where he might be better suited to be the team’s DH. But this isn’t about Jeter’s poor defense or his body falling apart. Nope, this is about how much respect I have for Derek Jeter despite my hatred of the New York Yankees.

FILE: Jeter Signed To One-Year $12 Million Deal Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees

As a very young man, I understood why I needed to hate the Yankees. Growing up a Royals fan, there was no greater nemesis for Kansas City than the Yankees. Kids today might not believe us, but back in the late 70’s/early 80’s the Yankees and Royals were about as heated a rivalry as you can get. Knowing this, I hated the Bronx Bombers. I’ve held onto that hatred all these years later and for the most part the Yankees make sure I should hate them. But like anything in life, they are exceptions to the rule. Derek Jeter is one of those exceptions.

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I specifically remember the Yankee teams of the late 90’s. These weren’t your normal Yankees. They consisted of homegrown talent(Rivera, Jeter, Williams, Posada) and veterans that weren’t star players but were fantastic role players(Brosius, O’Neill, Martinez). They weren’t a team consisting of the biggest contracts or the biggest stars. They weren’t a team built by outbidding all the other teams. They were a team made of savvy veterans and top prospects. As much as I hated the Yankees, I had to show these Joe Torre led teams respect. They did it the right way and were fun to watch. Sure, I still wanted the other team to win but I wasn’t upset the Yankees won during this period. In my eyes, they had earned it and Jeter was a big part of it.

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Over the years, the legend of Derek Jeter grew. Whether it was rallying his team to victory or running into the stands to make a catch, Jeter did what needed to be done.

There is the great defensive play against Oakland that is ingrained in most of our minds:

and there is Game Four of the 2001 World Series that anointed Jeter “Mr. November”:

Derek Jeter might have very well been the face of Major League Baseball during a period of giant behemoths, clobbering their way to baseball immortality(even if it wasn’t the way they wanted to be remembered). If you were to explain to someone foreign to the game why we love baseball, we would show them clips of Derek Jeter. Jeter has been what is best about the game for years now and I say that with full confidence. Derek wasn’t the best hitter, or hit the most home runs or stole the most bases. But what he did do was play the game like you should and performed at a top level for two decades. When the only thing you can really knock him for is his defense being about average for many years than you have a great example of a great ballplayer.

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I plan to root against the Yankees this year like I do most years. But deep down, I will probably be rooting for ‘Number 2’ to be able to go out on a pedestal the way Mariano Rivera was able to this past season. I hope that even the people who jeer for Jeter realize we probably won’t see one of his caliber for years to come. Derek Jeter was great for baseball and everything he stood for. I can try to guess what his greatest achievement was all these years later(and being single most of this time while staying out of the tabloids might rank up there with his achievements on the diamond) but it’s hard to pick just one. I think if forced to, I would say his biggest accomplishment was elevating his teammates up to his level. Being the captain of the Yankees all these years means greater responsibility but it also means being able to pull greatness out of players who might not be great. Jeter was a great motivator and made his teams better just by being around them. That should be his lasting legacy. He was what most baseball players should strive to be. For that I respect the hell out of Derek Jeter. Even if he was a Yankee.

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