George and Billy: Reunited?

What  a perfectly ironic and devilish twist: George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame on the same day. Reunited at last after a  five-part tragicomedy that spanned more than a decade in the big, bad burning Bronx.

Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on how nostalgic you are for the Bronx Zoo — it won’t happen. Steinbrenner and Martin, linked forever in Yankees lore, legend and lunacy, are among the 12 names on the Expansion Era Committee’s ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2011. Voting will be announced on December 6 and my guess is that George will be  and Billy will be out. So what else is new?

Joining the two Bronx Zookeepers on this year’s ballot are a host of  players — and one very notable union executive — who make for a  fence-sitters delight.  The also-rans ballot usually includes one or two guys for whom you can make an honest case and  a bunch of guys who have no right being immortalized. But this year’s group really makes you reach for the Baseball Encyclopedia (watch out, it’s heavy!) and say, “Well, maybe he did just enough,” or better yet, “If he had a just a few more great years. . .  .”

Here’s my take on the chances that George, Billy and the rest will be enshrined in Cooperstown come next summer:

Steinbrenner: as much as it pains this Mets fan who suffered through the late 70’s as the Yankees ran roughshod over baseball to admit it, Boss George deserves a place in the Hall. Despite his monumental bombast, profligate spending  and two suspensions from the game for various indiscretions, Steinbrenner’s role in rebuilding the Yankees  changed the game forever. Through sheer force of will, he restored luster to the storied Yankee  dynasty — probably forever. You cannot underestate his contributions to the team and to the game. And besides if Tom Yawkey’s in the Hall, how can you deny Steinbrenner?

Martin: Great manager, no argument here. Wherever he went he won, taking four teams to the post-season and winning two pennants and a World Series with the Yankees. But he also had  a nasty habit of wearing out his welcome at every stop. And winning just one ring does not compare favorably to other Hall of Fame managers, who also boast longevity with one or more teams. Sorry Billy, but you and George and not getting back together.      

Ron Guidry: One amazing year, a handful of very good-to-great years. Louisiana Lightning probably needed a few more Cy Young calibre seasons to be seriously considered. He had 170 career wins and fewer than 2000 strikeouts. Unless your name is Koufax, those totals won’t get you much past Albany, let alone all the way to Cooperstown

Vida Blue: See Guidry. Came out of the blocks like a Hall of Famer, but his career began to tail off too soon. Had four or five great years and a handful of mediocre ones.

Ted Simmons: I had to pause on this one. Simmons truly was one of the best catchers in history. Terrific hitter, solid power, an RBI machine, a rifle for an arm. But catchers don’t get an easy pass to the Hall. Guys like Bench, Cochrane, Berra, Fisk, Piazza (eventually), were just a cut above. Simmons falls a little short among the very best of baseball’s masked men.  If he had a a lifetime average of .295 instead of .285, or if he hit 300 career homers instead 248, he may have tipped the scales.

Dave Concepcion: An above average hitter and fielder, with good power for shorstops of his era, his creds are dimmed  a bit by comparison to his marquee teammates — Bench, Rose, Morgan, Foster, Perez. But the gold standard for Hall of Fame shortstops are Ripken, Banks, Ozzie, and eventually Jeter and A-Rod.  Offensively, he compares favorably to Famers Reese and Rizzutto, but he doesn’t have their New York folk hero status or friends in high places on the Vets Committee.

Steve Garvey: Watching Garvey play, he looked and felt like a Hall of Famer.  Excellent hitter, terrific fielder. Won a World Series and a few pennants for a glamour team.  But the Hall is not kind to first baseman who don’t hit 350+ homers. Just ask Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly. Garvey didn’t even make it to 300 and his production over the last seven years of his career, which included a pennant in San Diego, was mediocre as Hall of Fame candidates go. Nice hair but no plaque for you, Garv.


No elbow room in Cooperstown for this guy.


Tommy John: Might deserve entry just for helping to revolutionize sports surgery. One of the great comeback stories in history. Steady and amazingly durable, despite his rebuilt elbow. But he never won a Cy Young and was 12 wins short of 300 and that’s the magic number for pitchers, especially one who didn’t quite stack up to the very best pitchers of his day (Gibson, Koufax, Seaver, Drysdale, Carlton, Palmer, Marichal).  

Rusty Staub, Al Oliver: both solid, steady players who had a few great years between them. They each had more than 2700 hits and might both be in the Hall by now if they had about 200 more homers or 300 more hits. But they didn’t, so sorry guys. Now if there was ever a place in the Hall for a guy who makes a great crawfish etouffe, then Rusty would be a lock.

Pat Gillick: one of the best GM’s of his era, but I would not vote any GM into the Hall unless he had at least five World Series titles or did something revolutionary like build a championship team with no lefthanders or a nearsighted catcher who doesn’t wear a cup.

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