Year Inducted: 2007 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 537/545)
Coming back from the 1994 player’s strike was the most difficult thing baseball has ever had to do. Literally, the sport had to be brought back from the dead. In order to do that, it needed something to rally around; in short, a hero. While the Home Run Race of 1998 would be a big draw, it wouldn’t have had the same effect if one man made himself into a legend simply by going to work every day, and playing one of the hardest positions on the diamond. In one of its dark times, baseball turned to Cal Ripken Jr and his quest to become the Iron Man.
Year Inducted: 1982 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 370/415)
Sometimes, it takes years after a trade is made to tell how impactful it was for both sides, despite how lopsided it looked at the time. Sometimes, it’s easy to tell right away. After the 1965 season, the Reds had one of the best right handed hitters of all-time on their roster. This player had compiled a batting line of .303/.389/.504 in the prior 10 seasons, and hit more than 300 homers. Reds owner Bill DeWitt thought the player was now an “old 30”, so he traded him to the Baltimore Orioles, where he immediately won the Triple Crown in 1966 and led them to two World Series titles. Frank Robinson certainly had a lot of great years left in his bat when traded, and as a result shunned the Reds for a long time.
Year Inducted: 2003 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 423/496)
When the topic of switch hitters is brought up, the usual name linked as the best one ever is Mickey Mantle. And there really is no debate about it, Mantle is the best. But who would come next? Is it Pete Rose, who got tons of hits but provided little power? Is it Lance Berkman or Chipper Jones, both of whom had great batting eyes and lots of power? Or would it be Eddie Murray, one of the most consistent hitters in baseball history?
Year Inducted: 1983 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 344/374)
Great defenders and the Hall of Fame can make for interesting debates. Ozzie Smith, for example, was an easy selection for the BBWAA and got in as the best defensive shortstop ever. Other positions, like catcher and center field, are also considered to have a high defensive component to them, and the best defenders at those positions are inducted (or in Pudge Rodriguez’s case, going to be in the near future). Yet, defense does matter all over the diamond, even at easy positions like first base and left field. The fact that defense is important is why a player like Brooks Robinson got inducted with more than 90% of the vote on his first ballot.
Year Inducted: 1939 (BBWAA, ballot #4, 235/274)
Just recently, on MLB Network, Brian Kinney had Tim Raines on his show and discussed his upcoming final year on the ballot, and was explaining why he thought Raines should be inducted. In this episode, Kinney compared Raines to Tony Gwynn, saying that the power Raines had (however slight) was more than Gwynn’s, as was his OBP. Kinney basically said that Gwynn’s batting average was what separated the two in the minds of the writers. This is, of course, absolutely true but it misses a key point. When a player can consistently put up a high batting average in their careers and finish with a high batting average, that makes them a great player (despite how flawed batting average is). Gwynn carried a batting average of .300 or better in all but one of his years, including several above .320. It bears repeating, if a player continuously hits for a high average (Ichiro in his prime, for instance), then that player is doing great. Such was the case for one of the original inductees, George Sisler.
Year Inducted: 1990 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 411/444)
The 1950’s saw a few teams relocate to new cities. The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved out west to capitalize on the new markets in Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectfully. The St. Louis Browns, a perpetually losing franchise stuck in a city that had a successful franchise already, moved out east to Baltimore and became the the Orioles. The O’s began building upon a solid core (including having both Brooks and Frank Robinson) in the 1960’s to become one of the top teams in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s American League. But, it wasn’t until one man began pitching that the O’s saw some dominance. That man was, of course, Jim Palmer.
Year Inducted: 1971 (Veterans Committee)
Baltimore has a rich history of baseball. The original Orioles (a National League team that got contracted before the turn of the century) were probably the best team in their league and featured many future Hall of Famers; including John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Dan Brouthers and today’s entry Joe Kelley.