Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gossage A Deserving Hall of Famer, But Morris Has A Good Point, Too

What is a baseball Hall of Famer?

Pose that question to 100 voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and see how many different responses you get. Oh, you'll get overlapping adjectives, like longevity, consistency, and dominance. You'll also find that some put special weight onto MVP Awards, or Cy Youngs, or championships. This diversity is one reason -- maybe the BIGGEST reason -- that it's almost impossible to quantify what qualifies a player for Hall induction.

The votes came in last week, as you know, and only one person was elected: pitcher Rich "Goose" Gossage.

It's not really fair, or accurate, to label Gossage as just another closer who's finally getting his due, post-career. Because not only did Gossage begin as a starting pitcher, a la Dennis Eckersley, he also pitched more than just the ninth innings of games.

Gossage was a "closer" at a time when it wasn't unusual for him or those of his ilk to come into games in the eighth, seventh, or even sixth innings. In 1978, for example, when Gossage was named AL Fireman of the Year, he logged a Herculean (by today's standards) 134 innings pitched, according to retrosheet.org. Along the way he saved 27 games and won 10 others, with a dazzling 2.01 ERA. Mariano Rivera, widely regarded as the greatest closer of his era and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, routinely pitches anywhere between 70 and 80 innings, or just over half what Gossage logged in '78.

1978 wasn't an aberration for the Goose. He never quite touched 134 IP again, but he was near 100 on several occasions. His saves weren't the three out, ten-pitch variety. His 21 decisions in '78 indicate that; managers Billy Martin and Bob Lemon wouldn't hesitate to bring Gossage in at the first sign of trouble -- and that was rarely just in the ninth.

Why am I going on and on over Gossage, who was finally elected after several rejections?

Well, I suppose it's to express my support for the voting results, and also to make Jack Morris feel a tad better.

Morris, the almost-Hall of Famer who fell a little short again last week, made several comments publicly in the wake of the tabulation. One of the concerns he expressed was what he perceived to be a sort of over-compensating tendency the voters have toward relief pitchers. Basically, Morris doesn't want the recent, perhaps trendy movement to recognize relief pitchers -- some belatedly -- to overshadow the exploits of some arguably deserving starters.

Like himself, of course. But also others he cited, like Bert Blyleven.

It's a legitimate, reasonable point, and one that I believe isn't rooted in sour grapes.

For the record, Morris didn't begrudge Gossage his achievement -- in fact, he lauded the results when it came to the Goose. But he also wasn't shy to express disappointment over his exclusion -- and who can blame him?

I took, with great difficulty, an official position on Morris's candidacy a few years ago, and I'm not comfortable changing it -- though it's tempting. I wrote that Morris, in my mind, was just barely not a Hall of Famer. It wasn't that some of his numbers didn't impress me -- they did -- but the one number, his 3.90 career ERA, was a little too high for my comfort level. His 254 career wins, though, had they been perhaps 25-30 more, might have cancelled out the ERA. I could go with a 280-290 win guy with a 3.90, but not a 254 win guy. You're free to disagree with my logic, of course.

So the writers didn't just overcompensate for relievers by electing Gossage, Mr. Morris. Yet I agree with you that they shouldn't ignore worthy starters while they're simultaneously recognizing the stalwarts of the bullpens.

Even if you're one starter who doesn't quite make the grade. No harm in that, though.


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