One of my favorite things about the various Halls-of-Fame, be it the Rock and Roll Hall, the Pro Football Hall, College Football Hall, Basketball Hall, et al., is the ongoing debate among fans and writers about who "belongs" in that Hall; i.e.., who is "deserving" of such an honor. It's a never-ending argument, as most persons considered for induction into a Hall of Fame have people who champion their cause, and others who feel strongly that that particular individual is NOT a "Hall of Famer." A couple of performers (Bob Seger, Dave Clark 5) have actually been selected for induction into the Rock Hall (eventually), for example, after large groups of devoted fans "lobbied" for their induction, so one can't say that the old adage "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" doesn't work - sometimes.
Anyway, the issue I'm going to address in this column deals with a couple of baseball men who may be overlooked in Hall of Fame voting in the future. These two guys were both great ballplayers in the 60s and 70s - one in the American League and the other in the National - between them winning things like league batting titles, the Rookie of the Year award, World Series championships, All Star selection, etc. Both of them great players, but - I'll admit - probably not Hall of Fame players. After their playing careers ended, both of these players turned to managing. Neither managed in the minor leagues, starting right at the major league level. And both have had a lot of success managing at several stops - in both major leagues.
The two men to whom I've been referring are Lou Piniella, who just retired from 20+ years of managing last week, and Joe Torre, who is reportedly mulling over making the same career decision during the coming off-season. Both of these guys have had "baseball in their blood," as the saying goes, and have been fortunate to earn a living in the game they love for 50 years now.
Joe Torre was originally a catcher with the Braves (the Milwaukee Braves) - a pretty good one who won a Gold Glove in 1965 and hit for average (.321 in 1964 and .315 in 1966), with some power, making five straight NL All-Star teams. Torre was traded to the Cardinals in 1969 for another pretty good player, former MVP Orlando Cepeda. The Cards got the better of that deal, as Cepeda was near the end of his career, and Torre , slimmed down from his former chunky self, switched to playing third base and hit .325 in 1970, then led the National League in batting in 1971 with a .363 average, adding 34 doubles, 8 triples, 21 HRS and 137 RBI to take the NL Most Valuable Player Award. After three more solid, but not spectacular years in St. Louis, Torre moved on to end his playing career with his hometown New York Mets. He hit .306 in his final full season (1976), and then, early in the 1977 season, he was named as the Mets' manager. Torre ended his 17 year playing career with 2342 hits, 252 HRS, 1185 RBI, and a career BA of .297, which is pretty good, considering that he was a heavy bodied catcher for the first half of his career. As a manager for 29 seasons, Torre has won 2310 games, six league pennants, four Word Series, and two Manager-of-the-Year Awards. One thing I think speaks volumes for Joe Torre's character and abilities is that each of the teams for which he played - the Braves, Cardinals and Mets - later hired him to manage their players.
Lou Piniella finally made it to the Major Leagues, after a couple of the proverbial "cups of coffee" with Baltimore and Cleveland, as a 26-year-old outfielder with the expansion Kansas City Royals in 1969. His .282 BA was good enough to win him American League Rookie of the Year honors that season, and he put together four more solid seasons with the Royals before being sent to the Yankees in 1974. "Sweet Lou" played the remaining 11 years of his career with the Bronx Bombers, and helped lead the team to a restoration of their former glory with American League pennants from 1976-78. Piniella placed among the Top ten AL hitters four times in the 1970s, and finished his career with 1705 hits and a .291 Batting Average. Not Hall-of-Fame numbers, but good and steady, like Joe Torre. Like Torre, too, Piniella's first managing job was with a team for which he played - in this case, the Yankees. His one and only World Series championship as a manager, though, came in 1990 with the Cincinnati Reds, when his team upset the Oakland Athletics. Lou managed Seattle for ten years, and his Mariners team of 2001 set a Major League mark with their 116 wins . He was named AL Manager of the Year two times at Seattle, and, following three years in his home town as the Tampa Bay manager, Sweet Lou managed the Cubbies, winning the NL Manager of the Year award in 2008. His teams won 1835 games during his 23 years as a Major League skipper.
My Hall of Fame dilemma with both Joe Torre and Lou Piniella is this: while they were both steady, sometimes great, players for 15-20 years and also steady, sometimes great, managers for another 20+ years, were they great enough as either managers or players to merit Hall of Fame induction?
A simple answer is no. However, if voters take into consideration their overall 50 year Major League careers, I think they definitely merit strong consideration. The cases for the two remind me of the late Gil Hodges. A long-time solid player for pennant-winning Dodger teams, a nice guy, and manager of the "Miracle Mets" of 1969. Hodges received a lot of support for election to the Hall through the years, but has never quite made it - yet.
Here's hoping that Joe and Lou don't meet the same fate.
Maybe Hall selectors need to consider "career achievement" criteria for guys like Torre, Piniella, Jim Kaat and Bert Blyleven - all solid players who had long, successful playing careers, followed by equally long and successful careers in other areas of the game - managing for Torre and Piniella, and broadcasting for Kaat and Blyleven.