Neither Jack Morris nor Alan Trammell were known for their words. But both men better be brushing up on their speech skills as the summer approaches. The former Tigers teammates and key members of the 1984 World Series champions will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the last Sunday in July in Cooperstown, New York. Speeches will be expected.
Morris and Trammell will have company on the stage in that rural upstate village in New York. The baseball writers election results will be announced Wednesday and it’s likely that several happy phone calls will have to be made to new inductees.
I see four players who will fill out The Hall of Fame Class of 2018. Here’s a quick reminder of these baseball legends.
Growing up in Florida, Jones was a true “gym rat,” following his baseball coach father into the game. His nickname was given to little Larry because he was a “chip off the old block” in regards to his father. The pressure was on him from the start, he was the first overall selection in the 1990 MLB Amateur Draft. Three years later he was in the big leagues and Jones spent 23 years in the major leagues, all of them with the Braves. He was a power-hitting switch-hitter. I’d rank him fourth among all switch-hitters in baseball history behind Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, and Eddie Murray. But he ended up with more hits than Mickey, a higher batting average than Rose, and more RBIs than Murray.
Jones will become the 14th major league third baseman elected to the Hall of Fame, but the position still remains the least represented on the diamond. He rates well among the greats at his position: I have him seventh all-time at the hot corner behind only Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Adrian Beltre, and Brooks Robinson.
Tigers fans remember this guy, though nor fondly. The hulking slugger hit what seemed like 1,000 home runs against the Tigers in his career, most of them as a member of the hated Indians. Actually, he hit 66 homers off Detroit pitching, but that was still the most he hit against any single team. He was a one-man wrecking crew when the two teams squared off.
Thome hit 612 home runs in his 22-year career with six teams. He was a fixture in the middle of the order for the Tribe in the 1990s, helping that club to two pennants. Later he went to the National League and gave the pitchers in that circuit nightmares. He;s one of the rare sluggers from the Steroid Era who has never been suspected or implicated as having used performance-enhancing drugs.
Here’s a fun fact: Thome and Jack Morris were teammates for one season, in 1994 with Cleveland. It was the last season of Morris’ career.
As Dan D’Addona pointed out recently right here on this blog, some players carry a mystique that elevates them to another level. Guerrero was like that. A truly great player with excellent career numbers, Vlad was also one of the most unique performers of his generation, the sort of player you couldn’t take your eyes off. In his prime with the Expos, Guerrero did everything well: play right field, throw, run the bases, hit, and hit for power. He never met a pitch he didn’t like, he hit pitches above his shoulders and he hit balls in the dirt, usually for line drives. He was a career .318 hitter with lots of doubles and home run power, topping 30 homers seven times. He narrowly missed being a 40 homer/40 steals guy, missing by one homer in 2002. In his first season after signing an expensive free agent contract with the Angels, Vlad won the MVP award. He narrowly missed election last year but will get in this time.
Opinions on relief pitchers vary. Some people think they’re the most important part of a team, while others think relievers are overrated. I fall more in the latter group, but Hoffman is one of the better pitchers to work in that role. Still, I’d rather see a few relievers who worked a lot of innings from the 1970s and 1980s elected, such as Dan Quisenberry, Lee Smith, or Tiger John Hiller.
On the longevity scale, as a sort of accumulator, Hoffman is a good candidate. He saved 601 games and pitched in more than 1,000 games in his 18-year career, mostly spent in sunny San Diego. But consider this: Hoffman’s career 28.4 WAR ranks below Hiller, Smith, and 12 other relievers. Hoffman did notch those 601 saves, but more than half of them were one-inning saves in which his team led by three runs or more. Only in 146 games, or about 14 percent of his games, did Hoffman record more than three outs. There were about 25 pitchers of equal ability in the 1970s who had twice that number in shorter careers.
But Hoffman represents his era as one of the icons of that generation of relievers. Several notches below Mariano Rivera, to be sure, but important still. He fell a few votes short last year but Hoffman will be elected this time.
The Hall of Fame Induction ceremony takes place on Sunday July 29th. For more information, visit baseballhall.org.