On Sunday, Dec. 9, the Today’s Game Era committee members will vote on 10 individuals for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Among them is the Yankees former long-time principal owner George Steinbrenner. “The Boss” passed away in 2010.
To vote on executives, managers, umpires and players retired 15 or more years, Major League Baseball formed the Today’s Game Era committee. They also takes a look at the individuals who had a significant impact on the game since 1988.
In the past, Steinbrenner fell short of the required support, including the vote by the prior Today’s Game Era committee two years ago.
Steinbrenner, The Enigmatic Boss
The Boss was a polarizing figure and a bit of an enigma during his time as the Yankees owner (1973 – 2010). On one hand, he was extremely generous, lending his financial support to the families of fallen members of the New York police and fire departments. On the other hand, stories like the rumored firing of a secretary for not bringing him a tuna fish sandwich fast enough did him no favor.
There was a period of time in the 1970s and 1980s where he often paid free agents more money than his own established stars. But, boy did he ever spend money… to the delight of Yankees’ fans and the player’s union.
The money spent by Steinbrenner also made him the target of criticism/jealousy from the small market teams and those who felt he was “buying” the Yankees championships.
He fired general managers, managers, pitching coaches, and other employees left and right. His hirings and firings of Billy Martin were legendary as was the love/hate triangle relationship the two had with Reggie Jackson. No manager that worked for Steinbrenner lasted more than three seasons except for Buck Showalter(four seasons) and Joe Torre (12 seasons).
As the owner, Steinbrenner helped the Yankees end a pair of pennant misses (1964 – 1976, 1981 – 1996) and World Series (1962 – 1977, 1978 – 1996) droughts.
He also managed to come back from two damaging suspensions. In 1974, Steinbrenner pled guilty to conspiracy to make illegal political campaign contributions, and to making a “false and misleading” explanation of a $25,000 donation to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign and trying to influence and intimidate employees of his shipbuilding company to give that false information to a grand jury.
As a result, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn handed down a two-year suspension from baseball, though Steinbrenner’s ban lasted just 15 months. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan pardoned Steinbrenner of the conviction.
In 1990, Commissioner Fay Vincent handed down a lifetime ban on Steinbrenner for conspiring with a two-bit sleazebag named Howard Spira. Steinbrenner’s goal was to take down Yankees’ outfielder Dave Winfield, who he had accused of running a fraudulent charitable foundation.
Vincent lifted the suspension in 1993, allowing Steinbrenner to join Gene Michael and other advisors to help rebuild the Yankees’ dynasty.
It’s incredibly difficult to figure out what is on the minds of the voters. My guesstimate is that Steinbrenner’s chances are 50/50, though it may be more or less than one out of two chances. It’s difficult to get a read on the situation.
Today’s Game Era
“Who are these people?” – Jerry Seinfeld
Beginning in 2016, those considered for the Hall of Fame fell into four categories with four corresponding committees. Today’s Game Era features individuals from 1988 on, and the Modern Baseball committee, which covers the period from 1970 through 1987. The two committees vote in alternating years, with the Today’s Game Era selection coming in even-numbered years.
Additionally, there are the Golden Age (1950 – 1969) and Early Baseball (1871 – 1949) committees, which will begin voting in 2020. When these latter committees are voting, there will be no ballots for consideration by the Today’s Game Era and Modern Baseball committees.
The remaining nominees
Lou Pinella: In 23 years of managing the Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Devil Rays, and Cubs, “Sweet Lou” compiled a 1,835-1,713 record (.517). He led a Reds squad that swept the Oakland A’s to capture the 1990 World Series title. It ended a 14-year championship drought for Cincinnati, and the Reds have not won a title since.
Pinella’s 1,835 wins are 16th all-time. 13 of the 15 managers ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame and Pinella should join them.
Harold Baines: Discovered at an early age by White Sox owner Bill Veeck, Baines recorded 2,866 hits and 1,628 RBI over a 22-year career. The former first overall pick (1977) in baseball’s amateur draft, Baines played for the White Sox, Rangers, A’s, Orioles, and Indians.
Baines played on six All-Star teams and won two DH of the Year Awards (now named after Edgar Martinez). He’s 46th on the all-time hits list, with 35 of those players ahead of him already in the Hall of Fame. Of the other 10, half are either active, not yet eligible, or expected to gain entrance in the near future. The other five players are suspected/proven PED users or gamblers.
Baines’ is 34th on the career RBI list with 23 of the first 33 players already in the Hall. Of the 10 not in the Hall, six are suspected/proven PED users, two are still active, and two are not eligible as of yet.
One item of note: If the Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA) elects Edgar Martinez for enshrinement this year, then Baines must gain entrance to the Hall as well. Either way, I would expect that at some point Baines will have his day in Cooperstown.
Albert Belle: The Indians, White Sox, and Orioles slugger had his career shortened to 12 seasons due to a hip injury. Among his accomplishments, Belle became the first player in MLB history to record 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season.
Belle was not the most convivial person, including with the voting members of the media. His attitude most likely cost him the 1995 AL MVP Award despite having led the league in HR, RBI, doubles, Slugging Pct., Total Bases, and runs scored.
Belle’s career numbers are excellent. A .295/.369/.564 split, 100 or more RBI (a stat with much more importance during his playing time) in nine straight seasons (his last nine), and he struck out more than 100 times only twice. However, his 381 career home runs and 1,281 RBI, and his defense are not good enough for the Hall.
Joe Carter: The 16-year veteran played for the Cubs, Indians, Padres, Blue Jays, Orioles, and Giants. He’s best remembered for his game and World Series-ending home run in 1993.
Carter amassed 396 HR and 1,445 RBI but put together an average career batting split of .259/.306/.464. He’s a no vote.
Will Clark: The Mississippi State product hit .303 over a 15-year career with the Giants, Rangers, Orioles, and Cardinals. Though a stellar defender at first base (he won a Gold Glove Award in 1991), Clark doesn’t have the offensive numbers to gain entry to the Hall.
“The Thrill” hit 284 home runs, drove in 1,205 runs, totaled 2,176 hits, and scored 1,186 runs. He’s in the Hall of Very Good.
Orel Hershiser: The 18-year veteran put the LA Dodgers on his back in 1988 and led them to upset wins in the NLCS (vs. Mets) and the World Series (vs. A’s). He ran away with that year’s NL Cy Young Award and finished 6th in the league’s MVP voting.
Among the top pitchers in the game from 1985 – 1989, Hershiser’s performance was outstanding. His 204 wins (.576 pct.), 2,014 strikeouts, and a 3.69 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) are good career numbers, but are not Hall of Fame caliber.
Davey Johnson: The former second baseman spent parts of 17 seasons as manager of the Mets, Reds, Orioles, Dodgers, and Nationals. He compiled 1,372 wins (.562 pct.), captured six division titles and won it all with the 1986 Mets.
Johnson also took home two Manager of the Year Awards (1997, 2012) and though he was every bit the manager that his peers were, he doesn’t have the resume for the Hall of Fame.
Lee Smith: One of the most intimidating closers in the game, Smith recorded 478 career saves in an 18-year career spent with the Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Reds, and Expos.
He led the NL in saves three times and topped the AL once. Smith averaged 35 saves from 1983 through 1995 and was selected to seven All-Star teams. He finished in the top-five in Cy Young voting three times.
Smith’s 1,022 career appearances are tied with Jose Mesa for 12th on the all-time list (he and Mesa are eighth among right-handers). Unfortunately, he played on a number of poor teams and pitched in only two postseasons. But, compared to other closers in the Hall, such as Gossage, Smith matches up quite favorably.