Wednesday could be the day the Baseball Hall of Fame becomes dead to me. Don't feel bad; I've loved and lost before, and the shock has worn off. A few years back, Dick Vitale was up for the Basketball Hall of Fame, and I drew my line in the sand: If Vitale goes into that Hall, then that Hall is dead to me.
It happened, of course, and now this. Now comes Wednesday, which could be the day when this world moves beyond cruel and makes a left turn for ludicrous:
|Dale Murphy was a threat on the bases as well as at the plate. (Getty Images)|
So this is the reality I'm left to contemplate: Dick Vitale is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, but Dale Murphy is eliminated from Cooperstown forever.
Does that make sense to you? Is it supposed to make sense to me? I've read that sentence 10 times. I've read it backward and forward. I've even tried switching the words around, like a gigantic anagram:
Cooperstown is eliminated from Baseball Hall of Fame Dale of the Murphy forever Basketball Hall of Fame but consideration Dick Vitale is a member.
Complete gibberish, but it makes as much sense to me as the original sentence. (Especially the last five words. Ahem.) But seriously, folks ... Dale Murphy, off the ballot? Forever? That's what will happen, as soon as this year's results are announced Wednesday, if the voting trend continues and Murphy falls below the 5 percent mark. That's the voting level where a baseball candidate for immortality is thrown onto the wailing, teeth-gnashing heap of other mortals, dead to all of us.
So this is where I make like a tom cat and spray my anger, but who gets it first? The Hall of Fame voters? OK, sure. The Hall of Fame voters. They're the ones who have treated Murphy with disdain since Day 1 -- he received just 19.3 percent of the votes in his 1999 debut on the ballot -- and dropped him to 11.5 percent last year. In other words, only 1 in 5 voters ever thought Murphy was good enough, and almost half of them have gone gutlessly into the night. Instead of fighting for Murphy, they're letting him fade away.
They fought for Red Sox slugger Jim Rice. Of course they did. The baseball media loves nothing more than Boston-New York, and so when Rice received just 29.8 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 1995, and then dipped to 29.4 percent in '99, the front-running media was mobilized. His vote tally steadily increased until he made it into Cooperstown last year, and I'm not here to tell you Jim Rice doesn't deserve it -- he does. I'm here to tell you Dale Murphy deserves it just as much.
Stats can be manipulated any way you want -- Murphy had more home runs than Rice (398 to 382), Rice had a much higher batting average (.298 to .265) -- but Murphy was a more versatile player. He had more stolen bases (161 to 58) and more Gold Gloves (five to none). You can tell me Rice is better. Maybe he is. But better to the point where last year he received 76.4 percent of the votes, and Dale Murphy got 11.5 percent?
No. He's not that much better.
|Hall of Fame links|
So I'm mad at Hall voters, but to be mad at them, I have to be mad at the two baseball writers here at CBSSports.com, Scott Miller and Danny Knobler, both of whom have a Hall vote -- and both of whom didn't vote for Murphy this year. And I can't be mad at Miller and Knobler. Love those guys. I've sat with them at many a game, and they know more baseball than I do.
But maybe that's the problem. Maybe too much knowledge muddies the water. Nobody has more baseball knowledge than Bill James, the world-famous statistician to the stars, but James was quoted last week in the New York Times with mealy-mouthed indifference toward Murphy's candidacy: "It certainly wouldn't offend me to have him in the Hall of Fame. I just wouldn't advocate it."
Why the hell not? Murphy played on horrible teams in Atlanta, which wasn't his fault, but he was more than a great player -- he was one of the two or three greatest players from an entire decade, the 1980s, when he was second to Mike Schmidt in overall home runs and second to Eddie Murray in RBI. Both of those guys are in the Hall of Fame, by the way.
Murphy also won two MVP trophies, and of the 20 ballot-eligible players who won that award more than once, 18 are in the Hall. The only ones left out are Murphy and Roger Maris, who also belongs in the Hall for a combination of results and historical oomph, but I'll let someone else fight that fight.
My fight is for Murphy, and my beef is with an egghead like James, who sniffed to the Times that the decade Murphy dominated was devoid of superstar talent.
How convenient. And idiotic. Maybe individual production looked down in the 1980s because expansion had yet to dilute the talent; there were only 12 National League teams in 1985, compared to 16 today. Or maybe -- and that last explanation was only a theory, whereas this one is a stone cold fact -- the offensive numbers from the 1980s are unfairly dismissed because of the steroid explosion of the 1990s and beyond.
Schmidt led the 1980s with 313 home runs, just five more than Murphy's 308 -- Johnny Bench led the 1970s with 292, by the way -- but Barry Bonds hit 361 in the 1990s and Alex Rodriguez hit 435 in the 2000s. And those guys cheated. Who did they cheat? They cheated Dale Murphy, obviously.
All told, Murphy hit 398 home runs, two short of 400, which in the 1980s was a magical number. Now, it's garbage. Jason Giambi has 409 home runs. Andruw Jones has 388. Luis Gonzalez is at 354. Any Hall of Famers in that group? Of course not.
Murphy drove in 1,266 runs, an impressive number in the 1980s but devalued by today's baseball, where Murphy's RBI total is somewhere between that of Garret Anderson (1,353) and Bobby Abreu (1,187). Anderson has finished in the top 13 in MVP voting one time. Abreu's best MVP finish was 12th place.
Murphy won two MVPs. But the dominant player from the 1980s -- a guy who hit for power and stole bases (he turned in a 30-30 season in 1983, when that actually meant something) and won five Gold Gloves at a premium position like center field -- is about to slip off the ballot for good.
Screw it. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I have an idea: Let's get Vitale into Cooperstown!