October 24, 2020

Yankees On HOF Ballot

The Baseball Hall of Fame election process should be a celebration. It should be a time when we reminisce about careers, have a good debate about a player’s candidacy, and then celebrate the new members of, what still is, the best museum in professional sports.

Unfortunately, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) have made that a bit impossible with their misguided notions of what their role is in the process. Because many feel the need to be morality police or gatekeepers to Cooperstown, a backlog of worthy candidates has been created. Sadly, some worthy careers won’t get a thoughtful consideration or a deserved celebration. Even worse, some worthy Hall of Fame candidates may have to wait or are in danger of never getting in at all.

This year, there are quite a number of candidates with Yankees’ ties. While most aren’t getting into the Hall of Fame, they are all worthy of celebration.

Mike Mussina is one of two players on this list who should be a slam dunk for the Hall of Fame. He is an interesting case because he is one of the few who challenges old line thinking and modern thinking. Traditionalists will view the fact that he never won a Cy Young Award, didn’t win 300 games, won 20 games just once in his career (his last season), and was never viewed as the elite pitcher of his generation as a reason to keep him out of the Hall. But, beyond the win total, one will find a resume that betters a 300 game winner and Hall of Famer, Tom Glavine. Pitching his entire career in the American League East, Mussina’s age 26 through 32 seasons averaged out to 218 innings pitched, 206 hits allowed, a 3.56 ERA, 131 ERA+, and 4 complete games per season. For his career, Mussina won 270 games for the Orioles and Yankees, pitched to a 3.68 ERA (3.54 FIP), a 1.192 WHIP, and compiled a value of 83 WAR, 4th best on the ballot.

Glavine  won 305 games, pitched to a 3.54 ERA (3.95 FIP), a 1.314 WHIP, and compiled a value of 81 WAR. While the 305 wins are impressive, Mike Mussina was simply the better pitcher as evidenced by his similar, in most cases better, statistics and the fact that he spent his career in the American League as opposed to Glavine spending his entire career in the National League. Glavine deserved to get in, Mussina deserves it even more.

Mussina pitched from 2001 through 2008 for the Yankees. During those eight seasons, Mussina averaged 31 starts per season, averaging 194 innings, 195 hits, a 3.84 ERA (3.55 FIP), and a 15-9 record. While the Yankees missed his prime seasons, the right-hander had a solid second and final act of his career from ages 32 through 39. He looked done at age 37, but he reinvented himself at 39 years old, winning 20 games in his final season.

Roger Clemens’ 24 years, 354 wins, a .658 winning percentage, and a WAR of 133.9 are enough to state the validity of candidacy. But, that would ignore that he pitched 4,916.2 innings, struck out 4,672 batters, and pitched to a 3.12 ERA during Major League Baseball’s most offensive era. Even that wouldn’t include his MVP Award and his seven Cy Young Awards. In short, one can make the case that Roger Clemens was one of the handful of greatest pitchers of all-time. Like Barry Bonds, he is under suspicion for steroid use, but was never proven guilty by the United States Government. Unlike Bonds, Clemens fought and won. Without proof, he must be in the Hall.

Of course, the morality police will keep him out, but a Baseball Hall of Fame without one of the era’s most dominant pitchers is incomplete and insulting to fans.

Clemens’ Yankees career was the least dominant portion of his career, but he did win one Cy Young Award as a member of the club in 2001, a season in which he won 20 games against only 3 losses while striking out 213 batters in 220.1 innings and posting a 3.51 ERA (3.29 FIP). In six seasons as a Yankees’ starter, Clemens posted an 83-42 record, a 4.01 ERA (3.80 FIP) in 175 games (174 starts). He pitched 1,103 innings, allowed 1,044 hits, and struck out 1,014 batters.

Perhaps, one day, voters will realize that the fans know the history of baseball. They know the innuendo and what went on. Roger Clemens pitched during that era. That era happened. Keeping him out of the Hall of Fame doesn’t erase that. Putting him in the Hall of Fame doesn’t impact the sanctity of the museum.

The ballot is simply too crowded to consider Gary Sheffield this year. But, a lifetime .292/.393/.513 slash line with 467 doubles, 509 home runs, 1,676 RBI, and 253 stolen bases are more than worthy for induction. Perhaps next year. Seriously, there is no reason why Sheffield is still waiting for the call. His production was elite. With only 10 spots, Sheffield has to wait.

Sheffield was a Yankee from 2004 through 2006. While he missed most of 2006 due to injury, the slugger posted two stellar seasons as the Yankees’ right fielder. At ages 35 and 35, Sheffield averaged .290/.386/.523 with an average of 154 games played, 110 runs scored, 28 doubles, 35 home runs, 122 RBI, and 8 stolen bases. He would finish second and eighth in the MVP voting in those two seasons.

Sheffield deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. But, he suffers from a few things. First, he played for eight teams, thus never getting a true attachment from a fan base. Second, he wasn’t a media darling. None of that should preclude enshrinement.

Hideki Matsui was one of the most popular Yankees from 2003 through 2009. That popularity continues today as Matsui continuously gets one of the more loud ovations when he returns to Yankee Stadium. He is one of the few players to enter the Yankees organization with incredible fanfare and exit it with even more.

Matsui was an International free agent signing by the Yankees before the 2003 season, coming from the Japanese League as the League’s premier home run hitter. Nicknamed “Godzilla”, Matsui was expected to be a prolific home run hitter. While he didn’t live up to that nickname in the Major Leagues, Matsui showed a proclivity for the big moment. His first game in Yankee Stadium saw him hit a grand slam. His last game in pinstripes saw him drive in six runs to help the Yankees win a World Series title.

One of the classiest players to ever play in the Bronx, Matsui began his Yankees career as the model of durability, appearing in every game the Yankees played for the first three seasons. He wasn’t the 50 home run-plus hitter, but he was an above average player, hitting .297/.370/.484 with an average of 40 doubles and 23 home runs during those first three seasons. He was off to an even better start in 2006 before breaking his wrist on a diving attempt in the outfield. He would come back to post another solid season in 2007 before battling injuries in 2008. His final season in the New York, 2009, Matsui was as the designated hitter and batted .274/.367/.509 with 28 home runs and 90 RBI. He would also win the World Series MVP award after getting 8 hits in 13 at bats, including 3 home runs and driving in 8 runs.

Hideki Matsui’s 10 year Major League career doesn’t have the Hall of Fame numbers, but when adding his 10 year career in the Japanese League, the numbers do say something else. In 20 professional seasons, Matsui hit .304/.413/582 with 507 home runs. While Cooperstown doesn’t factor in statistics from the Japanese League, perhaps there will be a precedent someday. With Ichiro Suzuki Hall of Fame bound when he finally decides to retire, there may be a movement to honor stars from the Japanese League. Hideki Matsui would deserve such an honor.

Johnny Damon won’t likely get serious consideration for the Hall of Fame, especially with today’s crowded ballot. But, Damon had a great career and his overall excellence was overshadowed during a time in the sport where the long ball clouded the judgement of many evaluators. For his career, Damon hit .284/.352/.433 with 1,668 runs scored, 522 doubles, 109 triples, 235 home runs, 1,139 RBI, and 408 stolen bases. A key contributor on two World Series winners, Damon was one the game’s most durable players. From 1996 through 2011, he played in at least 141 games in every season.

Damon was signed by the Yankees before the 2006 season to a four year $52 million deal. During his four years in pinstripes, Damon averaged .285/.363/.458 with 31 doubles, 4 triples, 19 home runs, 102 runs scored, 74 RBI, and 23 stolen bases per season. He was also a key contributor to the 2009 World Championship team, hitting .364/.440/.445 with 3 stolen bases in the World Series.

Johnny Damon had a career worthy of celebration. He was consistently excellent for nearly two decades and has two World Series rings. There are not many players in baseball history who could claim that.

What could have been…From age 19 through age 29, Andruw Jones put up an average season of .267/.345/.505 with 28 doubles, 3 triples, 31 home runs, 93 RBI, and 12 stolen bases. In that span, he would hit 342 home runs. And, he was an elite defensive center fielder. All he needed was a credible last few years.

That didn’t happen. Once he hit 30 years old, Jones just lost it. His final six seasons were an average of .214/.314/.420. He finished his final two seasons in the Major Leagues as a role player for the Yankees, appearing in 171 games over the course of the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He would hit .220/.322/.427 with 27 home runs in 497 at bats.

Many will dismiss Jones as a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate. But, a case could be made that his first decade was enough to be considered. He finished his career with 434 career home runs, 47th all-time. He was an elite outfielder for a period of time, but defensive metrics were still in their infancy so it is difficult to get a true measure. Ultimately, he will fall short of the Hall of Fame despite an outstanding first decade.

Another what could have been…Kerry Wood was going to be the next big ace when he came up as a 21 year old flamethrower for the Chicago Cubs in 1998; he actually lived up to the billing. 20 strikeouts in a game. He led the Cubs to a post season appearance. But, then, injuries hit. He missed the 1999 season. He came back to be an above average pitcher for four seasons before injuries took their toll. When he could stay healthy, he was a quality starter. But, he was ultimately forced to transition to the bullpen, eventually becoming the Cubs’ closer in 2008. He would leave Chicago to sign with the Indians in 2009. At the deadline in 2010, the Indians traded him to the Yankees for a player to be named later.

Wood was a dominant reliever once coming to the Bronx, helping the Yankees get back to the postseason. In 24 appearances, he would post 2 wins, a 0.69 ERA in 26 innings, allowing just 14 hits, and striking out 31 batters. In the postseason, he would appear in 7 games, spanning 8 innings. He allowed 6 hits, 2 runs, and struck out 7. He would return to the Cubs the following season to finish out his career.

Overall, Kerry Wood appeared in 446 games (178 starts). He posted a record of 86-75 with 63 saves. In 1,380 innings, he would allow 1,083 hits, strike out 1,582 batters, and post a 3.67 ERA. It didn’t turn out to be a Hall of Fame career, but he certainly provided quite a few dominant performances during his career.