Earlier this month, the newest installment in the long line of Baseball Hall of Fame elections was announced. There are now four special committees where the Veteran’s Committee once was. 2017 will be the first go-around of the Today’s Game Era Committee, and the announcement will come on January 18. The Hall of Fame is trying to focus more on the modern game, and this Today’s Game version of the ballot will accompany the regular one in four of the next eight years.
Every year, 10 people associated with baseball who for whatever reason have been unable to find their way to Cooperstown get another chance. Entry into the Hall requires that at least 12 of the 16 people in the panel that votes deem the subject worthy. Four of the 10 men who are on the inaugural Today’s Game ballot were members of one of the New York baseball teams. Those who didn’t are Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Mark McGwire, John Schuerholz, and Bud Selig. Let’s take a look at each of those who were Mets or Yankees.
The Today’s Game Era has been defined as 1988 to present, which is fitting for this right-hander. It was in 1988 that Hershiser had his best season. He broke Don Drysdale’s record for most consecutive scoreless innings pitched, throwing 59 straight frames without allowing a run. He led the National League with 23 wins, 15 complete games, eight shutouts, 267 innings pitched, and 1,068 batters faced, and he coasted to the Cy Young Award. But that was with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In fact, he went 1-0 with a save and a 1.09 ERA in four games (three starts) against the Mets in the NLCS. He was named MVP of the series, and he then threw two complete games and won the MVP in the last World Series that the Dodgers won.
Hershiser went to three All-Star Games with the Dodgers, and he won one Gold Glove Award and one Silver Slugger Award. He also won the 1995 ALCS MVP Award with the Cleveland Indians. But his contributions to the Mets were fairly minimal- 13-12 with a 4.58 ERA in 1999, followed by three scoreless relief appearances in that year’s postseason.
Hershiser, who was booted from the ballot in his second season on it in 2007 after receiving only 4.4% of the vote, has had his Hall case aided by the current nature of the game. With pitchers throwing less innings and making fewer starts than ever before, 300 wins is not a benchmark like it used to be. This makes Hershiser’s 204 wins look more impressive. But do I think that he will receive the necessary 12 votes? No, no I do not. His 3.48 ERA doesn’t guarantee him a spot, and he led the National League in losses twice. He also never came close to his 1988 season again.
The best argument for this 73-year-old may be that he had a great career as both a player and a manager. But if he is elected, it will be primarily because of his prowess as a manager. He his .261 with 136 home runs in 1,435 games, exploding for 43 home runs in 1973 with the Atlanta Braves. He was also a three-time Gold Glove Award winner at second base and a four-time All-Star.
He played in his final big league game in 1978, and in 1984 he became the Mets’ manager. In his first five seasons at the helm, he led the Mets to five straight 90-win seasons. In 1986, they won 108 games and the second World Series in franchise history. They then won 100 games in 1988, but Hershiser ruined their plans. After the team got off to a slow start in 1990, he was fired. One of, if not the, best managers the Mets ever had, Johnson went 595-417 in six and a half seasons with them.
He went on to manage the Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Washington Nationals. He made the playoffs four more times and won one Manager of the Year Award in each league, including the 2012 NL honor as a 69-year-old with the Nationals. All five teams that Johnson managed had a winning record during the time that he was their skipper. Only a dozen managers who served that role for more than 1,000 games have a higher winning percentage than Johnson’s .562 mark. Of those dozen, 11 of them are in the Hall of Fame. He has as good a shot as anyone else to get elected.
Like Davey Johnson, Sweet Lou was a good player and better manager. As a corner outfielder and designated hitter, Piniella hit .291 with 102 home runs and 766 RBI. He won the 1969 AL Rookie of the Year Award with the Kansas City Royals, went to one All-Star Game, and won two World Series. A .305 career postseason hitter, Piniella was also known to make a great play in the outfield every once in a while as well. He received only two votes for the Hall of Fame in 1990.
But that season, he led the Cincinnati Reds to the world championship over a great Oakland A’s team. And that is where his Hall discussion heats up. After retiring in 1984, George Steinbrenner gave the man who was already basically a hitting coach who got an occasional at bat the opportunity to manage the Yankees. The biggest piece of advice he got from the Boss was to give the fans a show when he got thrown out of games. As we all know, he did just that, becoming a legendary antagonist of umpires. There are YouTube videos galore of him throwing bases, kicking dirt on umpires, and anything else that generally annoys the men in blue.
Despite winning 90 and 89 games in his two full seasons with the Yankees, Piniella was let go because they failed to make the playoffs. He managed the Yanks again in the second half of 1988 before joining the Reds. They swept the heavily favored A’s in his first season at the helm, and they had a .525 winning percentage in three years with him serving as the field manager. He took over as Seattle Mariners skipper in 1993. The franchise had never been to the postseason at the time. In 1995, they won the division and beat the Yankees in a thrilling ALDS. After making the dance in 1997 and 2000, the Mariners had a season for the ages in 2001. Led by Ichiro Suzuki on the field and Piniella in the dugout, the Mariners went 116-46, tying the 1906 Chicago Cubs for most wins in baseball history. Unfortunately, that was somewhat undercut by their being knocked out by the Yankees in the ALCS. In 23 years as a manager with five teams, Sweet Lou went 1,835-1,713 with one world title.
If he doesn’t make it, he will come close. He will probably receive double digit votes, and I think if he does make it, it would be well deserved.
George Steinbrenner was quite possibly the best owner in Major League Baseball history. He led a coalition of investors that bought the Yankees from CBS in 1973 for a net price of $8.8 million. They hadn’t been to the World Series since 1964, and they hadn’t won the World Series since 1962. When he died in 2010, they were worth about $1.6 billion and they had won 11 pennants and seven World Series.
The Yankees have been the most successful team in baseball since they have been controlled by the Steinbrenners. However, the Boss was involved in several different controversies during his life. Because of this, this is already his third appearance on a Veteran’s Commitee ballot. Steinbrenner was famous for mandating that his players shave all facial hair, and just as famous for firing managers if they didn’t win immediately. Steinbrenner also found himself in hot water after he was caught making illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. This got him suspended for two years (it was later reduced to 15 months). In 1990, Steinbrenner was banned for life for paying gambler Howie Spira to dig up dirt on outfielder Dave Winfield, whom Steinbrenner had given a 10-year contract to prior to 1981. Steinbrenner became disgruntled with Winfield after he went 1-22 in the 1981 World Series and then failed to get the Yankees to the playoffs for the remainder of his tenure there.
For this, Steinbrenner was essentially banned from Major League Baseball by commissioner Fay Vincent. The ban was lifted in 1993, and it ended up helping the Yankees. With no meddling from the embattled owner, Gene Michael and the rest of the men pulling the strings were able to stock their farm system with guys like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Still, Steinbrenner deserves a lot of the credit for the Yankees’ success because his deep pockets and willingness to spend that money also helped the team. For example, in the 1995-1996 offseason, the Yankees signed four free agents, including David Cone, Dwight Gooden, and Mariano Duncan. All of those men played significant roles in the Yankees’ first championship in 18 years.
Steinbrenner has a pretty decent chance at gaining admittance to Cooperstown. He is dead, which helps to forgive sins, but he also owned the most successful franchise in the sport during his tenure as owner and was instrumental in the advancement of free agency and the creation of the YES Network.
It should be interesting to see which, if any, of these blasts from the Yankees’ and Mets’ pasts make it to the Hall of Fame. It would look bad if none of the 10 men are elected in the first year of the Today’s Game ballot. In the next month or so, I will be reviewing the regular Hall of Fame ballot like I did last year.