Sunday, July 25, 2010

Induction Day In the Post-Steroid Era

In Paul Dickson's Hidden Language of Baseball, Ban Johnson is noted for his 1912 complaint that games were running too long. The American League president said that too many games in the 1912 season were lasting longer than two hours. Two hours. Dickson's book couldn't possibly have anticipated that in the 2010 season, umpire Joe West would complain, nearly a century after Ban Johnson's complaint, that games between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were "embarrassing and pathetic" in their length. How long on average are games between the American League East rivals? Over three hours.

Something I have always enjoyed about our national pastime is how deeply-rooted the traditions are and how unchanging the game tends to be. There are 162 games per regular season, an all star game, and a post-season, yet every season there are still things happening that have never happened before in the more than century-old profession. The game might get longer, technology might revitalize the game, and Yogi Berra may get older and seemingly shorter, but the fundamentals remain the same.

Today in the small town of Cooperstown, New York, a pantheon of former players convene for an induction ceremony for the newest members of Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. Today Whitey Herzog, Andre Dawson and Doug Harvey will join the Hall. In addition to the former manager, player and umpire (respectively), ESPN's Jon Miller receives the Ford C. Frick Award for his time as the "Voice of the Giants" and a music legend is recognized for his contribution to the game--a well-known in baseball stadiums song called "Centerfield."

This year only one player is being inducted and that player is the great Andre Dawson. In his 9th year on the ballot, Dawson was voted into the Hall beating out Burt Blyleven by 40 votes. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about this year's balloting:
"The newly-eligible candidates included 11 All-Stars, who were selected a combined total of 51 times – a notable decrease from 2009, when 22 All-Stars became eligible. Among the first-ballot candidates were 12-time All-Stars Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin, 7-time All-Star Edgar Martínez, and 5-time All-Stars Andrés Galarraga and Fred McGriff. With respect to major end-of-season awards, the new field contained one Cy Young Award winner (Pat Hentgen), one MVP (Larkin) and one Rookie of the Year (Eric Karros)."
Andre Dawson was in 3rd in the 2009 voting (behind inductees Jim Rice and Ricky Henderson in his 1st year of eligibility), 3rd in 2008 (behind Rice again and that year's inductee Goose Gossage), 5th in 2007, 4th in 2006, and 6th in 2005.

Perhaps what is most interesting about this year's induction ceremony is what has been said prior to it. Dawson has been on record as saying the balloting is going to become much more complicated for the baseball writers who vote because of the steroid era. Since 2007 when he was first eligible for induction, Mark McGwire has never finished higher than 9th. If the cloud of steroids ever lifts from McGwire, something I highly doubt will ever happen, his chances of being inducted into the Hall may come down to his final and 15th year of eligibility just as Jim Rice's induction did (though Rice was never under a cloud of suspicion). To quote Dawson on the steroid era:
"The writers have their work cut out for them to see which direction they're going to go with this. It's definitely been damaging to the history of the game...Whether those players are Hall of Fame-worthy, that remains to be seen. But if my mind doesn't escape me, integrity is still a big part of the game."
Dawson's comments, I believe, speak to why Dawson is the newest member of the Hall--integrity. He may have played in Boston for two seasons, but Dawson spent the bulk of his career playing in small markets. He was in Chicago before I was first introduced to his style of play and I caught quite a few of his games on WGN. A former Rookie of the Year, 8-time Gold Glove winner, 8-time All Star, and 1987 National League MVP, Dawson's 21 seasons were stellar. Had he been playing in bigger markets his entire career, he may have been a 1st-ballot inductee.

With 438 home runs and 1591 RBIs in his career, Dawson was something special on the field. Dawson's last season in the game, 1996, was the first season of another former Expo who is still in the game today--Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero is having some kind of comeback season, but sitting at 427 home runs and 1394 RBIs in his 15-season career, Vlad my finish with more home runs than Dawson, but his RBIs, doubles (435 currently to Dawson's career 503), 9 all star selections, and MVP award stack up nicely. Had Dawson spent more time in the American League with the designated hitter slot, as Vlad has, he may have finished with a higher batting average and ended up in the 500 home run club.

Guys like Andre Dawson belong in the Hall of Fame and it is refreshing for those of us who came of age during the steroid era to see good and decent players like Dawson enter the Hall of Fame without even a hint of suspicion.

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