The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 9, 2013

A Steve Goldman column: Our HOF voter offers his selections

For the Star Beacon

— The voting for the 2013 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, which was submitted in December by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, will be announced today.

Those who were named on at least 75 percent of the ballots will join Hank O’Day, Jacob Ruppert and Deacon White, who were voted in by the Hall of Fame’s pre-integration panel, as new members on July 28 in Cooperstown, New York.

As was the case last year, I will now share my ballot with you. I voted for eight players, consisting of the five for whom I cast my ballot last year who were not elected, as well as three first-time eligibles.

First, let’s take a look at the newbies on the ballot:

CRAIG BIGGIO — For me, this one was a no-brainer.

Longevity helped Biggio collect more than 3,000 hits, but longevity is part of the equation. He was a seven-time All-Star selection and won four Gold Gloves at second base. His 1,844 runs scored include eight seasons in which he cracked the 100 mark, including a 1997 campaign in which he crossed the plate 146 times. He also drew 1,160 bases on balls, smacked 668 doubles and stole 414 bases, and his 291 homers and 1,175 RBI are awfully good for someone who was primarily a second baseman during his career.

One thing I like about Biggio is that he spent the beginning of his big-league career as a catcher before moving to a position other than first base. That’s unusual and indicates versatility, especially since he was an All-Star at both positions. (He also played primarily in the outfield for a time late in his career before moving back to second.) It is also noteworthy that he spent all of his 20 years in the majors as a member of the Houston Astros.

MIKE PIAZZA — Was there ever a better-hitting catcher? That’s debatable, but the fact that his name is mentioned as a candidate for that honor along with others such as Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra and Mickey Cochrane says a lot right there.

In a career that spanned 1992-2007 spent mostly with the Mets and Dodgers, Piazza swatted 427 home runs including a record 396 as a backstop. He batted .308, posting a .377 on-base percentage and slugging .545 while scoring 1,048 runs and batting in 1,335. He was a unanimous choice for 1993 Rookie of the Year, was a 12-time All-Star, won 10 Silver Slugger awards and finished in the top 10 in the NL MVP voting seven times, including second-place finishes in 1996 and 1997, behind Ken Caminiti and Larry Walker respectively.

Considering the position that he played, Piazza is way past the threshold for inclusion as far as I am concerned.

n CURT SCHILLING — This choice isn’t as clear-cut as Biggio and Piazza, and makes for an interesting analysis.

It’s interesting to note that like his one-time teammate, Randy Johnson, Schilling had the bulk of his success after he turned 30. At that age, he was 52-52, and with exactly 800 strikeouts, hadn’t yet fanned as many as 200 batters in a season.

The next 11 years, however, were special. By the time he completed his 20 years in the majors, Schilling had posted a 216-146 won-loss record and a 3.46 ERA.

Based on those numbers alone, I probably wouldn’t vote for Schilling, although it should be noted that .597 winning percentages are not easy to come by. Throw in 3,116 strikeouts, 4.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 1.14 WHIP, as well as the fact he was a six-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award runner-up, and his case gets stronger. But to this point, we have been looking only at regular-season achievements. In his case, the post-season provides more reasons that work toward his case.

Schilling was a key member of four playoff teams, and all — the 1993 Phillies, 2001 Diamondbacks and 2004 and 2007 Red Sox — won league pennants. Moreover, three — all except the Phillies — won the World Series. And it isn’t as though the right-hander was an innocent bystander on any of those squads. In addition to helping them get to the playoffs, his postseason record was a combined 11-2 for a record .846 winning percentage among pitchers with at least 10 postseason decisions, with a 2.23 ERA. He struck out 120 and walked just 25 in 133.1 innings, with an outstanding 0.97 WHIP.

Most famously, Schilling won three games in the 2004 playoffs despite tearing the tendon sheath in his ankle in Game 1 of the ALDS. This led to the phrase “bloody sock” becoming a familiar one in the sports world. Weeks short of his 38th birthday, he won Game 6 of the ALCS against the Yankees by allowing one run on four hits and no walks in seven innings. He then won Game 2 of the World Series against St. Louis by allowing just one unearned run on four hits and one walk in six innings, helping Boston to a four-game sweep, thus ending the Curse of the Bambino.

Although Schilling discarded the bloody sock he wore against Boston, the one he had on while pitching against the Cardinals is in the Hall of Fame. Whether or not you think that’s gross, it is a testament to his grit and determination. As heroic efforts in sports go, it ranks right up there with the best of them.  

Schilling deserves to be united with his sock by being awarded a plaque in the Hall of Fame.

As I went over the statistics and honors a year ago for the other five who got my 2013 vote, I won’t rehash them. However, they all deserve some commentary:

TIM RAINES (6th year) — Raines isn’t a first-year candidate, but he has something in common with A FEW of the newbies: a history of drug abuse. Among the 24 new candidates are a good number of talented ones, but three of the most prolific — Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens — have been linked to the steroid scandal. Raines wasn't involved in that black mark on the game, but he did admit to using cocaine during the 1982 season.

As I alluded to last year, my position regarding users of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), in a nutshell, is that that should be taken into account in considering HOF worthiness, but that I do not feel that every player who used them should be excluded. I consider each such person on an individual basis.

Though cocaine and steroids are obviously not the same, I should point out that the consensus seems to be that cocaine is nevertheless a PED. Raines admitted to using it extensively in 1982, which it is interesting to note was, at least statistically, the worst of his first seven full years in the majors, indicating that it may not have actually enhanced his performance. Whether it did or didn’t, however, it serves as a negative juncture in his career. But that isn’t the end of the story, nor is it the whole story.

Following that 1982 season, Raines underwent treatment, and has allegedly been clean since. He went on to play in 19 more seasons, finally calling it quits after the 2002 campaign.

Given those circumstances, I am not going to use Raines’ drug problems as a reason not to vote for him.

LEE SMITH (11th year) — I said it last year, and I will say it again: 478 saves pretty much speak for themselves.

I’ve heard the arguments against Smith’s inclusion. Mostly, they pretty much say that he didn’t pass the “eye test,” which basically means that he didn’t resemble a Hall of Famer when he played.

I’m not dismissing the merits of the eye test, but there is more to the story than that, otherwise why even use statistics? One thing that helped Smith was the aforementioned quality of longevity, which is a factor that doesn’t usually impact the eye test.

Really, we just need to look at Smith’s 478 saves. Despite all of the stellar closers who have pitched since the era of the modern version of the closer began, that number ranks third, behind only Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.

Eye test? Really? Feast your eyes on 478 saves. How’s that for an eye test?

JEFF BAGWELL (3rd year) —  I believe Bagwell will be voted in at some point, although I doubt it will be this year. As I mentioned last year, the fact that some people suspect he used steroids is hurting him. (It may hurt Piazza as well.) But there is no tangible evidence that he did.

ALAN TRAMMELL (12th year) — Trammell wasn’t flashy like Ozzie Smith and didn’t collect 3,000 hits like Cal Ripken or Robin Yount. But he was an excellent all-around player at a position that doesn’t generally get enough respect in the voting.

FRED McGRIFF (4th year) — Another who is being hurt by suspicions regarding steroid use although there has been nothing that ties him with them. I continue to see him as a borderline choice, in part because he never drove in more than 107 runs in a season.

Goldman, who has covered Indians home games for the Star Beacon for 14 years, is a freelance writer from South Euclid. Reach him at