Gorillas in Our Midst


“Don’t it always seem to go . . . ?” OK, this story’s not going to start with a quote from Joni Mitchell. But understand this, fellow baseball fans: This is a special time in New York City. There haven’t been as many bona fide Hall of Fame candidates in this town since, oh, 1957. We’ve got no fewer than 10 legitimate prospects, and we’ll discuss whether they’ll get in, and whether they deserve it. To shed a little statistical light on the subject, we’ll also use the Hall of Fame Monitor (HOFM), a tool devised by Bill James that assigns point values to particular accomplishments, with the idea that players who top 100 points are likely to make the Hall. The candidates, in alphabetical order:

Roberto Alomar

FOR: The issue isn’t whether Alomar belongs in the Hall, it’s whether he’s the best second baseman of all time. Only 33, he’s poised to pass Joe Morgan in the most important offensive categories, which leaves only Eddie Collins and the defensively challenged Rogers Hornsby, neither of whom ever played against an African American player or in a night game. Oh, and Alomar’s a little more than three seasons away from 3000 hits. AGAINST: Two words: John Hirschbeck. The spitting incident will undoubtedly be the defining moment of a career that’s included two World Series rings. And multi-dimensional players like Alomar, who’s led the league in only one major category (runs in 1999), don’t get the same props from voters that sluggers get. In 1990, Morgan got a mere 82 percent of the vote, compared to 93 percent for Jim Palmer the same year. HOFM: 165 VERDICT: He’ll make it, even if there’s a spittoon below his plaque.

Roger Clemens

FOR: With 282 wins, a .658 winning percentage, six Cy Young awards, six ERA titles, and an MVP award, Clemens is overqualified for the Hall. He combines Koufax-like dominance (20 Ks, sub 2.00 ERAs) with Seaver-esque career numbers (18 wins to 300, and counting). AGAINST: Two words: Mike Piazza. Clemens’s act grates on a lot of voters, but there aren’t enough knuckleheads in the press box to keep him out on the first ballot. HOFM: 260, fourth all-time among pitchers, behind only Walter Johnson, Cy Young, and Christy Mathewson. You could make a case that he’s better than all three. VERDICT: He’ll be there—right next to the shard of the bat snatched by Keith Olbermann.

John Franco

FOR: What does a Hall of Fame reliever look like? A cross between Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers, I guess. Franco’s second in all-time saves with 422, and normally that would be reason enough for a plaque. AGAINST: Saves aren’t wins. None of the rest of the top five on the all-time save list—Lee Smith, Jeff Reardon, Dennis Eckersley, and Randy Myers—have been voted into the Hall, and only Eck, with an MVP award and 165 wins as a starter, seems like a good bet. And with only six saves in the past two years, Franco’s not helping his cause by hanging around as Armando Benitez’s caddy. HOFM: 115 VERDICT: Fuggedaboudit.

Jason Giambi

FOR: Giambi’s numbers in the past two years are the epitome of Hall of Fame production. And the move to Yankee Stadium with its short right-field porch on a great team with a star vacuum should help his cause. AGAINST: Giambi’s career got off to a relatively late and slow start—he didn’t bat .300 or hit 30 home runs until he was 28. His career numbers could end up looking a lot like, say, those of Edgar Martinez, who might just be the greatest hitter of his day and won’t make the Hall on the first ballot, if at all. HOFM: 65 VERDICT: Halfway there, but closing.

Derek Jeter

FOR: Call it the Phil Rizzuto factor. Middle infielders, shortstops especially, are judged not only by what they do, but what their teams do. By that standard (five World Series appearances in six years), Jeter is in a class by himself. Add in a .320 career batting average, a good-guy image, and moments like the Shovel Pass and his World Series walk-off homer, and it’s hard to imagine him slipping so badly he doesn’t make the Hall of Fame. AGAINST: Well, you never know. At 28, Don Mattingly also looked like a cinch, and Chuck Knoblauch and Carlos Baerga once seemed even money. Jeter’s tendency to swing at bad pitches and his sometimes shaky defense won’t matter to voters, nor will the growing distance between him and Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra. HOFM: 113 VERDICT: Pick his good side and start casting the bronze.

Mike Mussina

FOR: His winning percentage of .641 is fourth among active pitchers, behind Pedro Martinez, Clemens, and Randy Johnson, and ahead of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. And no modern-day pitcher with that kind of winning percentage and 200 wins has been denied a spot in Cooperstown. AGAINST: Unlike those other guys, he’s never won a Cy Young and rarely leads the league in anything. So to get to Cooperstown, he’s going to have to maintain that winning percentage and add 50 wins to his 167-93 career record. HOFM: 83 VERDICT: A better bet than David Wells.

Andy Pettitte

FOR: His .639 winning percentage (115-65) is virtually identical to Mussina’s, and Pettitte’s averaging 17 wins a year. Signing on to Clemens’s conditioning program—and a subsequent rebirth as a power pitcher—probably saved his career. AGAINST: A latter-day Jerry Koosman, Pettitte’s not the ace of the staff, hasn’t won the Cy Young, and has only a 3.99 career ERA. More troubling is that since winning 21 in 1996, his win totals have declined steadily. HOFM: 58 VERDICT: Keep it up for six more years, and we’ll talk.

Mike Piazza

FOR: With a .329 career average and 314 home runs at age 32, Piazza would be on the fast track to the Hall if he were a left fielder or a first baseman. Only fools would argue that he isn’t the best-hitting catcher ever. AGAINST: In a word, defense. That’s why he’s never been MVP. And the wear and tear of catching, coupled with a career spent in pitcher’s parks, should render his career numbers merely spectacular instead of otherworldly. HOFM: 131 VERDICT: Just make sure his bronze is a bat’s throw from Clemens’s.

Mariano Rivera

FOR: He’s a Rollie Fingers on steroids. Rivera’s post-season record of 6-1, with 24 saves and an ERA of 0.91, will actually weigh more heavily than his regular-season accomplishments. (His .617 winning percentage is much better than that of most other top closers.) AGAINST: Ironically, his glitch against the Diamondbacks—it took a throwing error and a broken bat single to beat him—may have been a wake-up call to voters who had come to take him for granted. He’s still got only 215 career saves, and it may take well into the 300s to guarantee immortality. HOFM: 90 VERDICT: He’ll get a plaque—and cousin Ruben will sell it on eBay.

Bernie Williams

FOR: He epitomizes the fin de millennium Yankees. Those World Series rings are mighty impressive, and he’s got a .305 average and a batting title. And did we mention those World Series rings? AGAINST: He epitomizes the fin-de-millennium Yankees. He’s excellent in any number of areas but not outstanding in any. His career average is only .305, and heading south. He’s 32 and he’s got just over 1600 hits, only 207 home runs, and less than 900 RBIs. Compare his numbers to, say, two-time MVP Ken Griffey Jr., who is a year younger and has more than twice as many homers, or Larry Walker, who has a .315 average, three batting titles, an MVP award, and a home run crown, and you’ll see why Bernie, like the rest of us, may have to pay to get into Cooperstown. HOFM: 111 VERDICT: He needs more rings.