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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The Tipping Point

There has been a lot of talk within the past month of just how much pain us Kansas City Royals fans can take. The Royals just wrapped up an awful 7-19 July, pushing fans even closer to the edge. It’s easy to sit there and just say ‘What’s new? The Royals are always bad!’, but this season goes deeper than that. It’s not just about winning and losing. It now becomes an issue of at what point do we, as fans, say enough is enough. Just what would it take to reach our tipping point?

I still remember the summer of 1994 fondly. That summer, I got my first real job. I also got my first vehicle, even if someone ran me off the road and totaled it less than a month later. It was also the summer of the baseball strike, and before that happened, the Royals were making a push. Manager Hal McRae was leading Kansas City up the standings, eventually getting the Royals to third place in the American League Central, only 4 games out of first place. When the strike happened, the Royals sat at 64-51, and it seemed the sky was the limit for Kansas City, as they were red hot. But it was not meant to be, as the strike forced the commissioner to call the season done, including no World Series that year. To make matters worse, Hal McRae was fired that offseason, being replaced by Bob Boone. That should of been a sign of what was to come, as the slide downward of our Royals began at that point. In fact, since 1995, the Royals have had only one season above .500. One season, 2003. That is it. Outside of that, there has been no joy in Mudville. Seventeen seasons of losing, which is enough to make a normal man hand in his Royal blue hat and find another team to cheer on. But we are a sadistic bunch, as we continue to take the abuse. In 2006, it seemed a ray of light shined on us, as Dayton Moore was hired as the General Manager. Or so we thought.

Dayton Moore coming in gave us faith that he could turn around the Royals. Moore had been a scout in the Atlanta Braves organization for years, moving up the ladder in Atlanta, sitting under the learning tree of former Royals GM John Schuerholz. Moore had the reputation of having a great eye for young talent, which is what the Royals needed. Moore’s first task was to build Kansas City’s farm system back up, as it had been depleted for years. Six years later, it is safe to say that he has done that. But being a GM isn’t just about developing young talent. It’s also about acquiring veteran talent that you can piece together with the youngsters to mold your team. That is where Moore has lacked.

A finger can be pointed at Moore and Owner David Glass for how the past few years have gone for the Royals. Going into this season, the young players were to continue to grow and we would at least see improvement within the team. Unfortunately, the wheels started to come off the cart in February, as injuries started to pile up. More injuries occurred once the season began, and add in bad roster choices and a rotation with 5 bottom rung starters, and you have a team that is back in the basement of the American League Central. Through it all, we fans continue to watch. But what would it take for us to turn our backs on our team?

The easy answer to this is for the team to continue to lose. The Royals have lost a lot of fans over the past eighteen years, and the longer the losing continues, the more fans don’t care anymore. They always gain new, younger fans. My son is the perfect example. He used to not care what happened with the Royals. Now, he wants to know everything that goes in with the team. The team will always gain fans like this, but keeping them will be the hard part, and the best way to do that is to win. Winning gets you more fans than you even need. Ask the Yankees. Winning makes all the bad that we have endured go away. In the end, that is the real answer.

To be truthful, the tipping point would be if the team continued following the path they are now. Continuing to act like nothing is wrong, that all is fine, will make fans even more apathetic, as it gives across the feeling that management doesn’t care about this team, nor does it care about its fans. This is a good way to alienate the fanbase, and it’s doing the trick at the moment. Many a fan has stepped away from this season and is already looking forward to the upcoming Chiefs season. That is not a good sign. If they go into the offseason with that same attitude, and don’t upgrade this team, then next season will not be pretty. Fans will not flock to the K, and David Glass seems to think if the stands are empty, then there is no reason to spend money. It’s actually the opposite; if there are no fans, you need to give them a reason to attend the games. You can’t just hope that they will come on name alone. Not with all the losing we have seen over the years.

The first time the Royals broke my heart was in December of 1991. Longtime team ace Bret Saberhagen was traded to the New York Mets, and I was crushed. Sabs was one of my favorites, and one of the players connected with my initial love of the team. Now he was gone, and no matter what we got back, it wasn’t enough. Trades happen in baseball, and I realize that now. But to a kid, it’s not that simple. Twenty one years later, and I now can’t even count how many times this team has broke my heart, even by management just not trying. I’d like to say I would never walk away and be done with the team I’ve loved since I was a kid. But it’s tough to watch your team lose year after year, with no end in sight. We need a sign, maybe even a miracle. Either way, something has to happen, and has to happen soon.

“Happier Days.”

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