Cooperstown time. Somebody has to join the Rabbit.
- The news is that Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice will be inducted as this year's class in the Hall of Fame. Henderson has a remarkable career. He is, pretty much without question, the greatest lead-off man in baseball history. Offensively, he had it all -- excellent power, great speed, top-notch instincts and a will to win that was second to none. Between the lines, he was the real deal. But in a lot of other ways, not so much. He was a vagabond, playing for nine different teams over the course of his 25 year career, including about 4 separate tours of duty with the Oakland Athletics. The reason for this was simple -- he was a mercenary and he tended to wear out his welcome. He was a very self-absorbed player and there were times that it appeared that he was in it for the stats as much as anything else. But the Hall of Fame is about performance, not deportment. And over the course of his 25-year career, Rickey Henderson was a hell of a performer. He stole more bases than anyone else, by a lot. He had over 3000 hits. He hit nearly 300 home runs as a leadoff hitter. He wasn't a great defensive outfielder, but he could make a good play when he had to. He's probably one of the 10 greatest players of all time. He's gotta be there.
- Rice, the long-time strongman of the Boston Red Sox, made the Hall in his final year of eligibility. Rice was a feared slugger who hit a lot of his home runs in Fenway Park, but many of the home runs he hit would have been homers in any ballpark. He had a reputation for being surly and a tough guy for the media to cover and there's little reason to doubt that this reputation probably kept him out of the Hall for a number of years. His career stats look pretty good now, especially in the context of the time he played. He hit 382 home runs, all prior to the steroid era. I think he deserves to be in Cooperstown, although I think his contemporary Andre Dawson was a better player, especially defensively. Dawson is getting closer, though and will probably make it in the next year or two.
- Bert Blyleven is still on the outs. I'm torn about this, because I grew up watching Blyleven and can see it both ways. His overall numbers are outstanding, especially given the many seasons he toiled for bottom-dwelling teams. I have little doubt that had he traded places with Don Sutton, Bert would be in the Hall and Sutton would not. Having said that, what I remember about Blyleven's career was that he was a guy who you thought you could beat. I grew up watching the Milwaukee Brewers and Blyleven faced the Brew Crew many times in his career. It always seemed to me that Blyleven would either pitch a four-hit shutout or he'd lose. The main knock on Blyleven is that he compiled big numbers primarily because of his great longevity. Still, he did put the numbers up. The problem is that there are two other pitchers with similar overall numbers who are also on the outside looking in -- Jim Kaat and Tommy John. Personally, I'd argue that all 3 are Hall worthy, but it's hard to see why you'd pick Bert over either of the other two.
- The best player still not in the Hall? That would be Ron Santo, the great Cubs 3rd baseman. It still amazes me that Santo, who was a dominant player throughout the 1960s, is not there. Every year I wait for the Veteran's Committee to rectify this problem. Maybe it will happen soon. It had better.
- Next year's first time eligibles are: Roberto Alomar, Kevin Appier, Andy Ashby, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Shane Reynolds, Robin Ventura, and Todd Zeile. Of this group, I'd say that Larkin is probably a shoo-in. Alomar might make it in the first year but if he doesn't, will make it soon thereafter. The two interesting cases are Edgar Martinez, a great hitter who was only a DH for most of his career, and Fred McGriff, who put up big numbers but never seemed to be a guy who was a dominant player. Personally, I'd take Dawson and Blyleven before I'd take either McGriff or Martinez. I'd also suggest that Tim Raines deserves a little more consideration than he's received. As for the others on the first-timer list -- no chance.