I would still like to do a longer piece sometime on Mr. Butts, the great anti-tobacco character that Garry Trudeau invented 20 or 30 years ago in Doonesbury.
Trudeau brought Mr. Butts out of the closet Sunday for a great cartoon on the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. One of the great frustration with the $280 billion settlement is that everyone assumed the money being paid out to the states (to offset Medicaid and other health care costs generated by tobacco use) would go toward anti-tobacco education. Well, unfortunately, there was nothing in the agreement mandating that the money had to go to anti-tobacco education. A fair chunk of it did get spent for that use initially, but eventually, more and more states figured out they could send it however they wanted.
Eventually, the money got used as a catch-all windfall — A way for states to increase their budgets while avoiding increasing property taxes, etc. I’m not completely down on the 1998 MSA because some good did come out of, but this was a huge lost opportunity.
Anyway, Trudeau, through tobacco spokesman Mr. Butts, points out to the Sunday comics readers that only 1.9 percent of the MSA settlement dollars has been spent on anti-tobacco education. Good for Trudeau for publicizing this and keeping up his long fight against Big Tobacco.
Very much under the radar all season in baseball was a really great story in Colorado — the comeback of Justin Morneau, one of the best Canadian players ever in baseball history.
Morneau was putting together a solid Hall of Fame career with the Minnesota Twins when he suffered a major concussion in 2010 after he was kneed in the head in a play at second base. His post concussion symptoms were so severe there was talk about whether he would ever be able to play again. A second concussion in 2011 nearly ended his career.
Morneau was very much talked about in the past sense the last few years. He was called a shell of his former self. It was tragic. He hit more than 30 home runs three times with the Twins, drove in over 100 runs four times, hit over .300 twice, won an MVP in 2006 and finished second in the MVP vote in 2008. Really, he seemed certain for the Hall of Fame. He hit for average, he hit for power, he drove in a ton of runs (470 RBIs in four seasons). He even helped Team Canada beat Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He wasn’t just the best Canadian in MLB, he was one of the top 5 players in the game, period.
Then 2010 came along. Morneau was having his best year ever — he was hitting .345 with 18 HRs and 56 RBIs in early July (literally the 81st game of the year — the midpoint of his season) when he took a knee to the head while making a hard slide at second base against the Toronto Blue Jays. He developed severe post-concussion syndrome symptoms and did not return to play the rest of the year.
Morneau tried to play in 2011, but a variety of injuries held him back, including a second concussion. For anyone who has dealt with concussions knows, when they pile up, they become more severe. Morneau had two in less than a year (plus a third concussion in 2005).
After playing only 69 games in 2011, and only hit .227 with four home runs, he managed to come back to the Twins in 2012, but he was nowhere near the same player who was dominant from 2006-2010. He hit .267 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs. Not bad for a lot of guys, but down considerably from his glory years where Morneau was almost an automatic .300/30/100 guy.
The next year, Morneau, despite signing a huge, long-term deal with Minnesota in 2010, was traded. He had another OK year, hitting .259 with 17 HRs and 77 RBIS. Late in the year, the Twins parted ways with him and traded him to Pittsburgh, where he played 25 games and didn’t hit a single home run. The end appeared near for Morneau.
Morneau quietly signed a two-year deal with Colorado for $14 million, well down from the 6-year, $80 million contract he signed several years earlier with Minnesota. He simply wasn’t the same player he once was and couldn’t demand a huge contract any longer.
Well, amazingly, without hardly anyone outside of Colorado noticing, Morneau went out and had a great year. He didn’t hit a huge number of home runs (17), but he did bat .319, his highest average since 2010 and the highest in a full season since 2006, which was good enough to win the National League batting title. So, on top of his MVP award, Morneau is now also a batting champion in a different league. Not very many people have ever done that. He also had 82 RBIs, the most he’s had since 2009.
So, is Morneau all the way back? 2015 will tell. He didn’t show the same power he had between 2006-2010, but the .319 average showed he is finally all the way back from his concussions and post-concussion syndrome. A guy who essentially lost four years of his career and who was counted out repeatedly the past four years won the batting title.
At this point, I don’t know if Morneau is headed to the Hall of Fame. He’d have to have four or five really good years to make his case. He is still only 33 and could have several more years left.
Later this month, a special committee will be voting on baseball’s “Golden Age” Hall of Fame nominees. These are players primarily from the 1960s and earlier (though a few played into the 70s). At the top of that list is yet again Gil Hodges.
I’m part of a Facebook group of very dedicated people working hard behind the scenes to help get Hodges finally into the Hall of Fame (I mostly just read and learn). Why he isn’t is in the Hall of Fame is beyond me, there are a few flaws in his overall statistics, but honestly, they’re minor, and his numbers stack up pretty well with a LOT of players who are in the Hall of Fame. Frankly, his numbers are pretty comparable to his teammate Duke Snider’s, who made the Hall of Fame 34 years ago.
The only reason I can think of is Hodges died quite a while ago, in 1972, a relatively young man at 47. At the time, he was a fairly successful manager. I believe if he had lived longer and had been in the public spotlight longer, he might have been in the Hall of Fame by now. Unfortunately, “out of sight, out of mind,” likely hurt him with a lot of voters over the years. It’s such a huge oversight that he isn’t in the HofF.
One thing hurting Hodges in the Golden Age Committee vote is there are some extremely strong candidates in the 2014 nominees (the committee now only votes every three years, so if Hodges doesn’t make it, his family will have to wait until 2017.). The vote is taking place later this year.
(As an aside, I noticed there seem to be a LOT of Chicago White Sox on this list. I think White Sox players tend to get overlooked because the Cubs get more attention.)
Here’s some of the biggest names being considered, including a couple of Steve Lardy’s Minnesota Twins boys! I use sort of a guide as “HofF worthy years,” “Good years, but not HofF,” and “Injured/bench player/poor years”. One thing most of these players had in common was relatively short careers that ended in their mid-30s, which is why they have trouble getting in the Hall of Fame. It’s totally subjective, but I just use it as a point of discussion, nothing more:
HofF worthy years: 7
Good years, not HofF: 4 (tough one, because of a couple of these years were actually pretty good — .254, 32, 102 and .265, 32, 87 — and could easily go in the HofF category, but I’m trying to be tough)
Injured/bench player/poor years: 7
370 HRs, 10th all-time at the time of his retirement
370 HRs, No. 1 for right-handed home runs all-time at the time of his retirement. Yup, No. 1.
30 or more HRs, 6 times
100 or more RBIs, 7 straight years
80 or more RBIs, 10 times
20 or more HRs, 11 times
Was a big part of a team that won 7 pennants and two World Series titles
3 Gold Gloves
And this helps, too … managed a World Series winning team in 1969 with the New York Mets.
Hodges even walked a lot (he had seven seasons of 70 or more walks, I see him as a prototype of the high walk/high strikeout power hitters that are the rage today), to make up for an OK batting average. His career OPS was .846 (higher than HofF’ers Carl Yazstremski, Reggie Jackson, Kirby Puckett, Roberto Clemente, Eddie Murray and several others.)
Never won an MVP, never even in the top 6
The only other weakness I can find is his career batting average was just .273, and he only ever hit over .300 twice. However, he did hit over .280 six times and his career OBP was a solid .359 — hey, that’s the same as Ichiro’s OBP! Keep in mind Harmon Killebrew is in the HofF with a batting average of .256 and Reggie Jackson with .262, Cal Ripken Jr. with .276 and Andre Dawson with .279.
Other very good candidates
Tony Oliva (A Steve Lardy boy!)
HofF worthy years: 6
Good, not HofF worthy: 4
Poor years/bench/injured: 4
Won three batting titles
Hit over .300 6 times
.304 career average
Twice finished second in MVP vote
Rookie of the Year winner
Led AL in hits five times
Led AL in doubles four times
20 or more HRs five times
80 or more RBIs eight times
Only two seasons with over 100 RBIs
Only one Gold Glove award
Only seven seasons with more than 500 at-bats
Oliva had a very short career, only had 6,300 at-bats (the equivalent of 11 full seasons), and he played in fewer than 1,700 games. He didn’t become a full-time player until he was 25 and was done by the time he was 36. This has likely kept him out of the Hall of Fame; he simply didn’t compile a lot of numbers. Oliva got hurt a lot — he only had seven seasons in which he played more than 132 games. You can see why Tony Oliva is in a grey area for the Hall of Fame. A brilliant, yet short, career. Playing in Minnesota likely didn’t help him, either with the lack of publicity.
Jim Kaat (Another Lardy boy)
Jim Kaat actually got the most votes during the Golden Era Committee’s last vote in 2011 for someone who didn’t make the Hall of Fame. Only Ron Santo garnered enough votes to get in.
HofF worthy years: 6
Good, but not HofF-worthy: 6
Poor years/injured: 13
15 Gold Gloves
Won 283 games
Won 20 games three times
14 or more wins 11 times
25th all-time in innings pitched (4,500, the equivalent of 250 innings a year for 18 years)
Led the AL in wins in 1966 (25)
Had 13 bad and/or injured seasons or was coming out of the bullpen
Only made 3 All-Star teams
Never won a Cy Young (his best year, there was only one award, and that went to Koufax, other than that, never seriously a Cy Young candidate)
Career ERA of 3.45 in pitching-heavy era is just OK.
Jim Kaat, another of Steve Lardy’s boys from Minnesota, is what’s known as a “compiler,” the opposite of Tony Oliva, guys that aren’t necessarily considered elite players of their era, but they avoided a lot of injuries and played a long time. Kaat was a horse who started 625 games and completed 180. Kaat pitched into his early 40s, though his last really good year was at the age of 36. He had some poor seasons (9-17, 13-14, 12-14 and 6-11).
My feeling is many of Kaat’s statistics are comparable to Burt Blyleven’s (other than strikeouts). Blyleven only was an All-Star twice, only won more than 17 games twice, but made the HofF with 287 wins by sticking around forever, pitching a ton of games and innings and compiling a lot of stats in the process. Blyleven’s election to the HofF will make it easier for guys like Kaat, Tommy John and Jack Morris to get in. Guys who were good for a long time without necessarily being elite. Kaat’s amazing 15 Gold Gloves helps him, too.
HofF-worthy years: 8
Good, not HofF-worthy: 3
Poor years/injured/bench: 4
.298 career hitter
Hit over .300 8 times
Led league in stolen bases three times
Four times in the top 4 in MVP vote
Finished second as Rookie of the Year
Won three Gold Gloves
Good power/speed combo numbers: 10 times 10 or more HRs, 9 times 10 or more steals, 7 times 80 or more RBIs, 11 times 89 or more runs scored
Led AL in triples three times
Like Oliva, a very short career, only 6,579 ABs in his career. Wasn’t a full-time player until he was 25 and was done as a full-time player at 35.
For a speed guy, actually had a poor percentage of successful steals — barely 60 percent
I have to be honest. I never heard of Minnie Miñoso until recently, but in looking up his stats, they were very solid. Very similar to Oliva’s. (And they are both Cuban, too) More speed numbers, not quite as much power, but close.
Miñoso is definitely a solid candidate. A guy with decent power, drove in runs, scored runs and hit for average. He simply didn’t have a long enough career to compile numbers, which is why he has waited so long to get in the HofF. That and he played a lot of his career in Cleveland and for the White Sox.
Luis Tiant (A Pepe guy)
Pepe’s favourite player when he was a kid.
HofF-worthy years: 6
Good, not HofF-worthy: 5
Poor years/injured/bullpen: 8
Won 20 games four times
Twice led the AL in ERA, including an incredible 1.60 one season
3.30 career ERA is solid
187 complete games and 49 shutouts (21st all-time)
Only made 3 All-Star teams
Only won 15 or more games 6 times in 19-year career
Had some bad seasons (9-20, 1-7, 8-9, 11-11)
Never won a Cy Young, never finished higher than fourth in voting
Tiant is another borderline guy. He had a few really brilliant seasons, but had a number of mediocre or bad years, too, which is why he is a fringe Hall-of-Famer. His career reminds me a bit of Curt Schilling’s, only Schilling has a postseason resume Tiant wasn’t able to compile.
HofF-worthy years: 8
Good, not HofF-worthy: 3
Poor years/bench/injured: 4
Solid .292 batting average
Hit over .300 7 times
Career OPS of .912 (Still 53rd all time despite all the inflated OPS’s of the Steroid Era, ahead of Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Harmon Killebrew and many other Hall of Fame sluggers)
Rookie of the Year award
1 HR title; 1RBI title
30 or more home runs 6 times
20 or more home runs 10 times
351 HRs; 25th all-time at the time of his retirement
Only 6,330 ABs, only played in 1,750 games. His last full-time season was at the age of 30 and he was out of baseball by the time he was 35. He only had 1,597 ABs after the age of 31.
Only had five seasons in which he played more than 128 games
Played for five teams
Very much like Oliva and Miñoso, one of the reasons Dick Allen isn’t in the Hall is his relatively short career (and the fact that he was controversial and was embroiled in a lot of conflicts with teams he played for). He had some astonishing power numbers in the middle of his career (40 HRs in 524 ABs in 1966, 32 HRs in 438 ABs in 1969, 34 HRs in 459 ABs in 1970, , 37 HRs in 506 ABs in 1972, 32 HRs in 462 ABs in 1974). Those are some amazing numbers.