It’s great that last week the Baseball Writers Association of America finally woke up — enough, anyway — and voted Rich “Goose” Gossage into the Hall of Fame. Gossage was the most fearsome reliever of his time, with a rear-back-and-heave-it windup distinguished by an elegant little flick of the glove on his left hand toward home plate. (Jim Palmer had a similar small gesture, in the midst of a much more methodical delivery.) In addition to a blazing fastball, Gossage also developed a wicked slider. What’s more, I’m old enough to remember when Gossage arrived in Chicago as a flame-throwing wunderkind after an incredible 18-win season at Class A Appleton, joining a staff that included Terry Forster and Bart Johnson. (Too bad the White Sox squandered those pitching resources.) Following Bruce Sutter‘s induction in 2006, Gossage’s election displayed a growing appreciation for relievers within the BBWAA electorate.
Yet after that the writers remained almost clueless. Andre Dawson got a big boost and appears set for induction in the next two years, but finished behind Jim Rice. That’s ridiculous, and reflects the usual New York-Boston favoritism on the part of the media. Dawson hit more homers, drove in more runs, and stole more than 250 more bases than Rice. True, he played five more seasons, but he was also a vastly superior fielder, with a feared throwing arm in right field, while Rice was a plodding if capable left fielder. (I recall Jerome Walton lobbing warmup tosses to the Hawk and receiving lasers in return.) In his 2001 Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James ranked Rice 27th all-time among left fielders and called him “probably the most overrated player of the last 30 years,” pointing out how he led the American League in grounding into double plays four straight years and had one of the highest GIDP rates in history. James ranked Dawson 19th all time among right fielders, and while he pooh-poohed his 1987 Most Valuable Player Award, I feel compelled to point out Dawson won it on sentiment resulting from the way he took a pay cut to a then-paltry $600,000 salary to join the Cubs that year during the owners’ collusion era, and clinched the MVP with a homer in his last at-bat of the season at Wrigley Field — a memory that still gives me goosebumps. Dawson was a better player than Rice, hands down, and deserves to go in first, but perhaps an even better player, Tim Raines, ranked in the top 100 players of all time by James (neither Dawson nor Rice made that cut), finished only a few votes ahead of Mark McGwire with less than 25 percent of the vote. (Three-quarters is required for induction.)
Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus led the backlash against Rice and in favor of Dawson and Raines, but we’ll see if it has any effect next year. As for Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander, who declined to take part in voting because he couldn’t be certain none of the players was tainted by steroids, all I can say is that certainty under such circumstances is the obsession of tiny minds, and “ennui” is a weak excuse not to take part in something so important. At least he didn’t mail in an unmarked ballot, like the handful of grandstanding writers trying to sabotage both deserving and undeserving candidates. Maybe Telander should give his ballot next year to someone more capable and deserving — like me. I’d vote for Rickey Henderson (an absolute first-ballot Hall of Famer), Dawson, Raines, and Lee Smith, but not Rice, Bert Blyleven, or McGwire.