There are multiple topics I wanted to cover today, the first of which is the sad news about the passing of Los Angeles Dodgers fan and broadcasting icon Larry King.
Whenever I think about prominent Dodgers fans, King is always near the top of my list, as his allegiance goes back to the team’s Brooklyn days.
Howard Stern is the only other interviewer I can think of who could rival the type of introspection that King evoked from his guests.
If you ever want to learn more about a figure who was famous in the 80s, 90s, or 2000s, search YouTube to see if they were ever on “Larry King Live.”
It’s as useful of an educational tool as there is to learn about iconic pop culture and political figures, and Larry is going to be missed.
RIP, Larry. Thank you for all the good times, and for entertaining us through your multiple decades as an interviewer and TV legend.
The second topic I wanted to cover was the departure of Enrique Hernandez, who signed a two-year deal worth $14 to join the Boston Red Sox.
Hernandez was a versatile utility piece that helped the Dodgers sustain this run of excellence that most recently resulted in a World Series title.
Hernandez was acquired by the Dodgers back in December 2014 in a trade that also landed Austin Barnes, Chris Hatcher, and Andrew Heaney and sent Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Miguel Rojas, and cash back to the Miami Marlins.
Hernandez added a spark to the lineup with his ability to play multiple positions and do damage against lefty pitchers.
He was also an invaluable asset to the clubhouse, always providing the ability to lighten the mood through his personality.
This most recent postseason, he became the first player to ever hit a pinch-hit home run that either tied the game or took the lead in a winner-take-all postseason game.
Hernandez played an integral role in helping to deliver this championship, and it’s impossible to thank him enough for all he did to help this team.
The third topic I wanted to discuss is the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is scheduled to announce their Class of 2021 on January 26.
There are a few former Dodgers players on the ballot who I believe deserve enshrinement to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I wanted to reveal who I would vote for this year (if I had a vote) and provide a brief explanation explaining each of my picks.
To preface, I believe that the Hall of Fame is meant to serve as a museum to tell the story of baseball, and is not an endorsement of a player’s character traits.
There are scoundrels, racists, cheaters, and overall despicable people who have earned induction, but their story is necessary to adequately illustrate the history of baseball.
With that context, I believe that statistical impact and influence should be the primary factor in enshrining a player in this museum.
Here are the ten players who I would include on my ballot for the Hall of Fame Class of 2021, each one placed in alphabetical order.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, if you don’t agree with me on some of these) I don’t have an actual Hall of Fame vote.
Nevertheless, these are the people who I would vote to send to Cooperstown if I had the power at my fingertips to do so.
We may disagree on some of these, but the beauty of baseball is that it evokes such great discussions on topics such as these.
Setting aside the guys linked to steroids, this is the pick I expect to get the most pushback on. Abreu fails the subjective “Does one immediately consider him a legend of the game?” test. There’s a lot of reasons why a player goes through their career under-appreciated, from playing on many different teams to the lack of big market exposure to not having any instantly recognizes iconic moments. For whatever reason, people don’t appreciate just how tremendous of a player Abreu was, and perhaps his biggest detriments are things like never finishing in the Top 10 in MVP voting and making only two All-Star teams in 18 years.
However, the actual stats reveal a player who deserves enshrinement. Abreu came 12 home runs away from joining the elusive 300 homers/400 stolen bases club. Abreu hit over .300 in a season six separate times. For context, Craig Biggio accomplished that feat four times. Abreu also has a higher career OBP than Rod Carew, a higher career SLG than Dave Winfield, and a higher career OPS than Roy Campanella. Abreu belongs in the Hall of Fame.
He’s statistically the greatest player of the last half-century. Even if you were to take away everything post-steroid allegations (from the 1999 season onwards) he would be a first-ballot Hall of Fame player if he had retired after the 1998 season. You can’t tell the history of baseball (warts and all) without including the Home Run King and the player with the most MVP Awards. Every extra year he gets excluded from this museum makes it that much sillier as an institution. His induction is far past due. There are already people linked to cheating that are in the Hall of Fame. The Bonds exclusion seems increasingly petty at this point.
Pretty much in the same predicament Bonds is in with voters. He’d have been a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee had he retired immediately before the steroid allegations began (for Clemens it’s after the 1996 season). Clemens has the most Cy Young Awards in the history of the game. The baseball Hall of Fame has not yet managed to induct their home run leader, Cy Young leader, and hits leader (Pete Rose needs to be in the Hall of Fame yesterday).
Even if a voter has a problem believing inflated stats, Clemens was Hall of Fame-bound before being linked to steroids. Like Bonds, it’s not a matter of not knowing if he was Hall of Fame-worthy without steroids, it’s punishing him for choosing to cheat. Again, there are already cheaters in the Hall of Fame who bent the rules with tools available to them in the era they played.
The knock against Helton is that he’s perceived as a Coors Field creation. While his home splits are extraordinary compared to his road splits, the narrative of him only being a Hall of Fame guy because of where he spent his career just isn’t true. If you looked just at his road splits throughout his career, he’d still have a higher career OBP than Tim Raines, a higher career SLG than Ron Santo, and a higher career OPS than Jim Rice. Take away Coors Field, and his stats are still worth of Hall of Fame induction. Add the stats that are inflated through no fault of his own, and it’s a no-brainer. Helton belongs in the Hall of Fame.
It legitimately confuses me why Jones hasn’t had more support up to this point. He spent a decade as arguably the best defensive center fielder in all of baseball with elite power at the plate to compliment those defensive skills. He won the Gold Glove for ten consecutive seasons. During that same ten-year span of defensive excellence, he hit a combined 345 home runs. Am I missing something? He received just 19.4% last year in the Hall of Fame voting. The career BA and OBP is relatively low for a Hall of Fame player, but the power more than makes up for it in assessed offensive potency. He has a higher career SLG than Andre Dawson. He needs to be among the next former Dodgers to be enshrined.
Here’s another former Dodgers great that deserves induction. The lack of support from voters relative to guys like Bonds and Clemens linked to steroids must stem from the uncertainty about how much of Ramirez was a steroid creation. Ramirez had so many direct ties to failed drug tests that it’s difficult to assess if he’d have been Hall of Fame-worthy without chemicals. Like I said above, though, this is a museum dedicated to telling the story of baseball. It’s impossible to tell that story without including the exploits of a guy like Ramirez. He’s statistically one of the greatest hitters of all time.
Admittedly, I’ve come around on Rolen, and I’m embarrassed to admit that maybe I fell victim to the same type of biases that I addressed in advocating for Abreu. It never seemed like Rolen was truly legendary during his impressive career, but he has the credentials that merit induction. He won eight Gold Glove Awards at third base. That’s a feat only surpassed by Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt (and equaled by Nolan Arenado). He has a higher career OBP than Biggio, a higher career SLG than Yogi Berra, and a higher career OPS than Orlando Cepeda. That blend of offensive production and defensive excellence deserves Hall of Fame induction.
There’s some chatter that Schilling is purposefully being kept out of the Hall of Fame because of comments he’s made in recent years. I sincerely hope that’s not true. The Hall of Fame is purely a museum for baseball accomplishments that illustrates the lore of the game. Schilling has said repugnant things, but there are plenty of people in the Hall of Fame who have said and done terrible things. It’s irrelevant for this discussion. I also think that he’s not falling victim to any type of voter obstruction for reasons outside of baseball. He just doesn’t have the raw stats of a slam-dunk Hall of Fame case. However, I believe that he’s worthy. Along with being a postseason legend, he has more career wins than Roy Halladay, a lower career regular-season ERA than Tom Glavine, and a lower career WHIP than Greg Maddux.
Here’s another former Dodgers star that deserves induction. Sheffield is probably in the same sphere as Ramirez in terms of voter perception. It’s just unclear how great of a player he had been without the influence of steroids. Bonds and Clemens can point to their stats before any allegations started. They’d have been able to waltz into the Hall of Fame without steroid help. That’s more of a difficult question to answer for Sheffield. He’s also probably impacted at a voter subconscious level by not having a prolonged run with any one team. I think about guys like Fred McGriff in that respect.
Sheffield played 22 seasons in the Majors for eight different franchises. The longest he spent with any team was the Florida Marlins for six of those seasons. He became the first player to ever have a 25 home run season with six separate teams. His lack of a long-term home shouldn’t distract from the pure stats, but it probably does for some. Sheffield was a nine-time All-Star, won five Silver Sluggers, and hit 509 career home runs. I’m sold.
Add Sosa to that same category as Ramirez and Sheffield in that it’s just difficult to gauge how much of his production and basic Hall of Fame case was aided by steroids. It’s a futile mission to arbitrarily go through player careers and take out certain stats for some guys and not others, though. The entire era was so filled with steroids that it’s impossible to know how many of the pictures guys like Sosa were hitting against who also were on the juice. The Hall of Fame should adequately reflect the contributions of notable figures, and it’s impossible to tell the history of baseball without Sosa. He played a remarkable role in helping the sport recover after the 1994 Strike. Along with Mark McGwire, he was instrumental in rebuilding the game and getting fans interested in baseball again during that home run chase of 1998. Sosa finished his career with 609 home runs. He needs to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.