Oakland Athletics’ Greats Who Should Be In Cooperstown

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Oakland Athletics’ McGwire and Blue Deserve Induction

On Sunday, baseball honored four more deserving players, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Last year saw Frank Thomas into the hall as the last player inducted who played for the A’s. Thomas, whose career was most notable as a Chicago White Sox first baseman, was the A’s designated hitter in 2006 and 2008. The last player to go into Cooperstown as an Oakland Athletic was Rickey Henderson in 2009.

In 2016, there will be four eligible players who played for the Athletics, Mark McGwire (1986-1997), Mike Piazza (2007-2008), Tim Raines (1999) and Nomar Garciaparra (2009).

Piazza, the best hitting catcher in Major League history, narrowly missed getting into the Hall this year after needing just 28 more votes, as he was only 70 percent of the voters’ ballots. He is likely to make it in for 2016, but no one is more deserving of the honor than McGwire, who the BBWA continues to reject due to his suspected PED use during his career. This year’s inductee, Biggio, wasn’t known as a home run hitter, but he too had lost votes in previous years due to unsubstantiated suggestions that he took steroids during his playing career. Unfortunately, without a major turn in the voting tide or some intervention on the part of the Hall itself to clarify the character clause in the voting criteria, the former A’s slugger is likely to be shunned again.

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While the BBWA hasn’t allowed a McGwire plaque in Cooperstown, the irony is that in a visit to Cooperstown (which is on my short bucket list), one would see artifacts of McGwire. These include the bat and cleats from his September 8, 1998 record breaking 62nd home run, as well as the bat from his September 27 69th and 70th home runs of the 1998 season – not to mention photos of the slugger greeting his son, and ones displaying the class he showed to Roger Maris family when he broke the previous home run record. Mark McGwire should be in there. PEDs or not, he was a huge part of those late 80s and 90’s Athletics teams that people love and will talk about forever.

What disappoints me is that if McGwire is ever admitted, many think his HOF plaque will be of him wearing a St. Louis Cardinals cap, despite playing more seasons with the A’s (11.5 compared to only 4.5 with the Cards). He also hit more home runs (363 versus 220), appeared in more All Star games (nine versus three), made three World Series appearances, and won both a Rookie of the Year and a Gold Glove award — ALL with the Athletics. It’s Reggie Jackson all over again.

This article wouldn’t be complete without addressing two individuals that should be considered by the HOF Veterans Committee, which elects Hall of Famers each year using a rotating list of categories – Pre-Integration (1871-1946), the Golden Era (1947-72), and the Expansion Era (1973-present).

Vida Blue

(right) has far better stats than some already in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Vida Blue, mentioned several times in today’s speech by Johnson, played 9 seasons (1969-1977) with the A’s in a 17 year career. His career accomplishments include 209 wins and two no-hitters, a 3.27 lifetime ERA and 2175 total strikeouts. They also includes being chosen as the 1971 AL MVP and AL Cy Young winner, six All-Star game appearances, and three 20-win seasons. Blue won the Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award in 1971 and 1978, and made it to the postseason in five straight seasons from 1971 to 1975 with the Mustache Gang, pitching in 8 World Series games. He is the first of only four pitchers in major league history to start the All-Star Game for both the American League (1971) and the National League (1978).
(Roger Clemens, Johnson, and Roy Halladay would also later do the same)

Blue’s statistics parallel or exceed other pitchers who are currently in the Hall of Fame. Fergie Jenkins, who played 19 seasons, may have had 284 wins but only made three All-Star teams and was never an MVP or Cy Young winner. He also had no postseason appearances, and he had a higher career ERA at 3.34. Jenkins was the Sporting News NL Pitcher of the Year the same year as Blue in 1971.

One of the last pitchers named by the Veteran’s Committee was Hoyt Wilhelm in 1985.  The knuckleball-throwing Wilhelm, though mostly used as a reliever, only had a 77 percent conversion rate for his 228 saves and 143 career wins. He had no notable awards, as well as no postseason appearances during his career and 600 less strikeouts than Blue, with 1610.

The Expansion Era election was last year and will happen again in 2016. The Golden Era group will again be up for election in 2017. So Blue, and a few others, will have another shot then.

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Another deserving consideration by the Veterans Committee should go former A’s owner Charles O. Finley who owned the A’s franchise from 1960 to 1980.  The Baseball Hall of Fame has inducted 33 baseball executives, including many owners such as the Dodgers’ Walter O’Malley, Bill Veeck of the White Sox, and past Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. Many other team owners are on the list of inductees, but not Finley.

A’s owner Charlie Finley (right) with cousin and GM Carl Finley, was considered for HOF admission in 2011. Photo Courtesy of Finley Family

After taking ownership of a floundering franchise, the dynamic and intriguing owner turned his team into winners with his up-and-coming squad of mustachioed players that won five straight division titles and three consecutive World Series Championships, from 1972-1974.

Finley was also instrumental in bringing to MLB:

  • The designated hitter rule
  • Geographical divisions within leagues
  • Playing World Series and All-Star games at night
  • Colorful, specialized or throwback uniforms
  • Opening MLB to Latino players
  • Inter-league play

No one can mitigate the transformations that Finley made to the game. The brash, profane and overbearing Finley, who passed away in 1996, was considered by the committee in 2011, but fell short of any further consideration.

In addition, the Ford C. Frick Award is presented annually by the Hall of Fame to a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball.” There has been a strong push in recent years for longtime A’s play-by-play man Bill King to be honored as the Frick winner. King, with his distinctive voice and flair for the dramatic, called the action of A’s games from 1981-2005. He has repeatedly been denied admission, with some voters feeling that the fact that he called three sports (A’s, Raiders and Warriors) actually hinders his candidacy, because they do not view him purely a baseball broadcaster.

Next: Does Chris Bassitt Belong In the Rotation?

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