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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Basic Biittner : More Hall Talk

Friday, August 12, 2011

Yes, it's me again, and yes, I am going to talk again about my obsession, the Baseball Hall of Fame. In my last two articles, I discussed several possible candidates for future election to the Hall and most of the names I mentioned were men who have received a good deal of support from the baseball writers in past elections, or those who I believe will receive support in future elections.

In this column, I am going to talk about four players who were big stars in the 70's or 80's, but who for one reason or another - many of which I'm not even aware - have received very little support for the Hall of Fame.

The first player is Dale Murphy. Murphy was a player with a "squeaky clean" reputation who just seemed too good to be true. A catcher when he first came up with the Atlanta Braves, after a few attempts as a first baseman, the 6-5 Murphy moved to centerfield, where performed well for several years. From 1982-85, Murphy was awesome at the plate. He didn't miss a game over those four seasons, and averaged 36 home runs, 110 RBI, 20 stolen bases and a .293 batting average. Not surprisingly, he also won the NL MVP in back-to-back seasons (1982-83) during that stretch, and made the All-Star team every year. His next two seasons in Atlanta were also good, as he hit a career-high 44 home runs in 1987 and was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. Then, at age 32, the bottom dropped out. Murphy batted .226 and .228 in '88 and '89, and he was traded to the Phillies. His career never rebounded, though. He had two "good, but not great" years in Philly, and his career ended with a whimper, not a bang, at the age of 36, after one season with the Colorado Rockies. The Braves retired his number after he retired, and he really hasn't received much consideration for the Hall of Fame. Dale Murphy's complete fadeout has always been a mystery to me. Murphy never had the chance to shine in the glare of the post-season spotlight and one of the real ironies in his career is that the Braves became a great team after he left, as did the Phillies, and, to a lesser extent, the Rockies.

Another star of the 70's who, like Murphy, was perceived as an all-around "good guy," was the Dodgers' Steve Garvey. Garvey, in fact, had a lot in common with Dale Murphy. Like him, Garvey came up to the majors at a different position (a not a very good third baseman), but after switching to first base, Garvey became a 10-time All-Star, a 4-time Gold Glove winner, and was the 1974 NL MVP. Unlike Murphy, Garvey also played on five World Series teams (four with the Dodgers and one with the Padres), including the 1981 World Champion Dodgers. He hit .319 in those five World Series, but was phenomenal in the League Championship Series in which he played, hitting .356 with 8 home runs and 21 RBI and posting a slugging percentage of .678. Like Murphy, Garvey had a five year streak of never missing a game, and - also like Murphy - Garvey's career fizzled out fast, ending in his fifth season with the Padres, at the age of 38. He, too, had his uniform retired in 1989 by the Padres, but, interestingly, not by the team with which he is most associated, the Dodgers. On second look, his stats really aren't that impressive. Although they are good, Garvey was only in the top five in the league in any major hitting category on two occasions, both times when when he finished third in RBI. I think the main reason that he's been ignored by Hall voters, though, is that his clean - cut image took a major hit after his career ended, when it was discovered that he had been involved with several different women, none of whom was his wife , and impregnated at least two of them. Once nicknamed "Mr. Clean," and viewed as a potential U.S. Senator, Garvey became the butt of comedians' jokes and - if he would have ever even been considered for Hall of Fame induction - those days are long gone.

Next up is Don Mattingly, aka "Donnie Ballgame." In the mid-1980's, the former Yankee first baseman was considered by many to be the equal of George Brett and Wade Boggs - both now in the Hall of Fame - as the top batsmen in the American League. Over a 13 year career with the Yankees, Mattingly - now the manager of the Dodgers, ironically - averaged .307, won the league MVP in 1985, the league batting championship in 1984, won nine Gold Glove Awards and three Silver Slugger Awards, and set a record for the consecutive games hitting a home run. Unfortunately, his career was cut short by a back injury at the age of 34, and as a result his career totals are not as impressive as most Hall-of-Famers. For a few years in the mid-1980's, though, he was one of the best. Had Don Mattingly been able to stay healthy and continue to play at his previous level for a Yankee team which was just jelling and subsequently went on to win four straight World Series after he prematurely retired, I feel that he would probably be in the Hall of Fame today.

Our final player, like Mattingly, spent his entire career with the Yankees. Thurman Munson, the only Yankee ever to win both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards, was a not-very-fast catcher, yet topped the .300 mark several times in his career without the benefit of any so-= called "leg hits." He was considered by many to be the "heart and soul" of some good Yankee teams of the late '70s. Munson played in an era that had several good catchers, including Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter - all now Hall-of-Famers - and fans often compared the four to each other. Munson's career ended 32 years ago this month - at the age of 32 - when he was killed in a fiery crash while he was practicing landing his small plane in his hometown of Akron, Ohio on a day off. He was mourned throughout the stunned baseball world, and the Yankees immediately retired his number 15 jersey. It hung in a locker at the old Yankee Stadium for 25+ years until the new Yankee Stadium was built, and it was then transferred to the Yankee Museum in the new park.

With Rookie of the Year, league MVP and World Series MVP awards and yearly All-Star selections - not to mention a tragic ending to his career - I am really surprised that Munson, who was the first captain for the Yankees since Lou Gehrig's death, hasn't received more consideration for the Hall. Sure, he was feisty - and probably not the best interview for sportswriters - but I otherwise find it awfully hard to dispute Munson's Hall credentials. His career was short (11 seasons), but considering the circumstances under which it ended, I think the shortness of his career could be overlooked, as it was (eventually) for an old-time pitcher named Addie Joss, whose career ended due to a fatal illness.

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Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner