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Fun Cards: 1983 Fleer “Super Star Special” Keith Hernandez and Rodney Dangerfield

Hernandez and Dangerfield

When I saw this photo pop up a few weeks ago, I knew I had to make a baseball card out of it. For some reason, I got a very 1983 Fleer vibe from it, even though Keith Hernandez didn’t wear the Captain’s “C” until 1987.

“No Respect” is, of course, the late Rodney Dangerfield‘s catchphrase. But it can easily be applied to Mex, one of the greatest defensive first basemen in baseball history. Despite his fielding excellence, coupled with a solid offensive career, Hernandez was shunned by the BBWAA when it came to Hall of Fame consideration. He received more than 5% of the vote from 1996-2003 to stay on the ballot, but dropped to 4.3% in 2004.

Is he a slam-dunk Hall of Famer? Obviously not, but he certainly wouldn’t be a bad choice either. Hopefully the Veterans Committee will do the right thing and induct Hernandez when he is again eligible for consideration. The only question then is whether he would wear a Cardinals cap or Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Falling off the ballot

Later today, the Hall of Fame Class of 2014 will be announced. Most people will be interested to see who receives the 75% support to gain induction, but in this age of the internet the likely outcome has already been revealed: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas will fly in on the first ballot, with Maddux challenging Tom Seaver’s record of 98.6% support. Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Jack Morris are all in the gray area; I believe Biggio will likely get in this year. But I’m more interested in seeing who fails to receive 5% of the vote, thereby falling off the ballot for future consideration by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

This 5% rule has only been in effect since sometime in the 1980s; I have been unable to pinpoint the exact year it was introduced or enforced. Bobby Thomson was on the ballot for fourteen years (1966-1979) but never received even 5% of the vote in any single year; several other examples could be cited of players that hung around for a few ballots but only garnered a handful of votes.

Mattingly New York YankeesThe so-called “stacked ballot” this year puts several big names in danger of falling below 5%, such as steroid poster boys Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and the very popular (but not popular enough for Hall of Fame voters) Don Mattingly. Sosa, if he were to fall below the 5% threshold, would make history as the biggest drop in support between his first and second years on the ballot. Only two two-timers have lost more than 5% support between their debut and sophomore year on the Hall of Fame ballot. In 2013, Bernie Williams fell from 9.6% to 3.3% (losing 36 votes); in 2007, Orel Hershiser went from 11.2% to 4.4% (losing 34 votes).

[Update: Mattingly, McGwire, and Sosa all exceeded the 5% threshold. The only holdover to fall below 5% was Rafael Palmeiro, who was in his fourth year.]

Mattingly is in his fourteenth year, while McGwire is being considered for the eighth time in 2014. Several other players throughout the history of the institution have fallen below the 5% for support after more than two years of consideration.

One of the greatest oversights of the BBWAA is Dwight Evans, who was on the ballot for a measly three years (1997-1999). His percentage went up his first two years from 5.9% to 10.4%, but was dealt a blow in 1999 with only 18 voters checking his name for 3.6%. To be fair to the writers, that was a tough year with a lot of big names, including inductees Nolan Ryan, George Brett, and Robin Yount, and eventual Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk, Tony Perez, Gary Carter, Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, and Bert Blyleven.

HernandezBobby Bonds, better known nowadays as Barry Bonds’ father, was considered by BBWAA writers eleven times, but never exceeded 10.6%. Rusty Staub hung around for seven years, but never topped 7.9%. The final stop for both Bonds and Staub, as well as multi-timers Fred Lynn and Graig Nettles, was 1997.

Keith Hernandez received enough support for nine tries on the BBWAA ballot, topping 10% of the vote twice, but finally falling below the 5% threshold in 2004. Ron Guidry also stuck around for nine ballots; his highest support was 8.8% in 2000 and he fell off in 2002.

Harold Baines hung on for five years, but his highest percentage was 6.1% in 2010 before falling to 4.8% in 2011. The six-time All-Star was somewhat of a trailblazer as a designated hitter, and collected 2866 hits in his 22-year career. Perhaps if the strikes of 1981 and 1994 never happened, he could have reached 3000. Never a dominant player, but very good at what he did.

A surprise to me was Bob Boone, who received more than 5% support from 1996-1999. In 2000, he finally dipped below the 5% line and was removed from consideration. Yet, Ted Simmons was dismissed after only appearance in 1994? For shame, writers. For shame.
One of the strangest situations is that of Jose Rijo, who appeared on the ballot twice, but failed to receive 5% either time. In 2001 he received 1 vote for 0.2%. In July 2001, he signed a contract with the Reds and pitched in 44 more games during the rest of that season and 2002. His name came back up for Cooperstown consideration in 2008, but he failed to garner a single vote.

I will be sad to see Mattingly fall off the ballot, whether it happens this year due to a lack of support or next year after his eligibility runs out. His baseball cards always had a spot in my “Future Hall of Famer” shoebox when I was a kid, along with other eighties giants like Alan Trammell and Dale Murphy still waiting for that phone call.

TWJ 2012: Keith Hernandez

The first year I remember watching the World Series was 1986. I started collecting baseball cards in 1985, but have no memory of the Royals and Cardinals playing in the Fall Classic. 1986, however, is vivid. I remember rooting for the New York Mets, for their team full of sure-fire future Hall of Famers like Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, and Gary Carter.

Of that group, of course, only Carter has made it to Cooperstown so far. However, I believe Hernandez will one day join him. One of the greatest defensive first baseman of all-time, Hernandez is the all-time leader for Gold Glove awards at his position. He was no slouch with the bat, either, ending his 17-year career with a .296 average. His counting stats are a bit low, but I believe his defense gives him a bump over the borderline.

Mets first baseman

Large photo credit: Icon SMI
Inset photo credit: Unknowm

Remember the GW-RBI?

Game Winning RBIFrom 1980 to 1988, MLB scorekeepers kept track of “Game Winning RBI,” supposedly highlighting players who were dependable in clutch situations. There were evidently too many quibbles about how to count a GW-RBI, and the statistic was eventually discontinued.

During that time period, however, a few names stood out as highly dependable in driving in game-winning runs. Keith Hernandez (who should be in the Hall of Fame) holds the mark for the most in a season (24 in 1985) and in his career (129), at least during the portion of his career in which the statistic was recognized. Mike Greenwell (who should never even be mentioned in the same sentence as the Hall of Fame except to note that he should never be mentioned in the same breath as the Hall of Fame) holds the American League mark with 23 in 1988, while the best rookies were Wally Joyner, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire, each driving in 14 during their first full major league seasons.

Here is “The Cobra” Dave Parker with a GW-RBI in 1987, driving in Kal Daniels and Eric Davis in the bottom of the 9th inning against the Giants:

Steroids and the Hall of Fame

The use of performance enhancing drugs has thus far kept Mark McGwire out of the Hall of Fame. The general consensus is that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will also lose major support and probably miss the train to Cooperstown.

Now we have Alex Rodriguez, perhaps the biggest star of them all, the golden boy of all baseball writers. And baseball writers are the one who vote on the Hall of Fame. Will the steroids scandal hurt A-Rod?

Personally, I always thought he used. He was a teammate of Jose Canseco – and that alone puts one under the eye of suspicion. However, without the proof, he had my support (but not vote, since I don’t vote) for the Hall of Fame. The numbers are too big to ignore.

Now? He’s off my faux ballot. As well as Keith Hernandez’s imaginary ballot.

How about you?

Steroids vs. cocaine

Baseball is going through a crisis right now. Some of the brightest stars in the game over the past two decades have been implicated in the steroid scandal. The names of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens are irrevocably associated with performance enhancing substances, some illegal under the law of the land.

It brings to mind the cocaine scandal of the 1980s. Several players were called before a Pittsburgh grand jury to provide testimony regarding their relationship with the drug. Some of the brightest stars of that time–Vida Blue, Dave Parker, Keith Hernandez, and Tim Raines–went on the stand and testified under oath to what extent they were involved with the drug.

Some say Parker’s chances for the Hall of Fame were harmed by his drug abuse. The former Pirates slugger received 24.5% of the vote in 1998, his second year on the ballot, but that is the highest level of support he has ever received. This year he came in at 15.1%, twenty votes more than he received last year, but still far short of the 75% needed for election.

The subject of the cocaine scandal has come up lately as Tim Raines appeared on the ballot for the first time. The former Expos star, who is fifth on the all-time stolen base list, received 24.3% of the vote in his first year, which is not a terrible showing. However, not many have risen from that level to induction by the BBWAA vote.

There are two main differences between the steroid scandal today and the cocaine scandal of 1985:

1) Steroids “help performance rather than hamper it, corrupting the legitimacy of results and records” (“Remembering the pain of the Pittsburgh Drug Trials”).

2) The players involved are immensely bigger stars and more likely Hall of Fame candidates. Who would you rather have on your team, Vida Blue or Roger Clemens? Keith Hernandez or Mark McGwire? Dave Parker or Barry Bonds? If you look at numbers alone, disregard what illicit activities they may have been involved in, the steroid users will get the nod nine times out of ten.

To read more on the Pittsburgh drug trials, check out the link above and the Wikipedia entry.

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