Will Cepeda ever get Hall call?

BASEBALL

November 21, 1993|By JIM HENNEMAN

With ballots due in the hands of the voters within the next two weeks, it's not too early to look ahead to this year's Hall of Fame election -- and an early plug for a guy who's running out of time.

This time, the numbers should add up for Tony Perez, who has been passed over the past two years. His 1,652 RBIs are the most of any eligible player who has not already been enshrined. That, plus a respectable .279 average and 379 home runs, should be enough to get Perez a ticket to Cooperstown.

But if Perez somehow misses this year, he would have 12 more years on the ballot. The man who is running out of time is Orlando Cepeda, whose creaky knees kept him from being a Hall lock.

Cepeda is the best all-around hitter (power, average, run production) of those eligible who does not have a plaque in the Hall of Fame. This will be the 14th year on the ballot for Cepeda, who retired in 1974.

If the Baseball Writers Association of America, the guardian group of the election, doesn't vote him in this year, Cepeda will have only one more chance. A player remains on the ballot for 15 years before his name is turned over to the Veterans Committee after a three-year waiting period. He shouldn't have to wait that long.

Over a span of 17 seasons, Cepeda hit .297, matched Perez with 379 homers and drove in 1,365 runs. Among those with 7,500 at-bats (the equivalent of 15 full years), his batting average is eighth-best of all those eligible but not in the Hall of Fame (ninth counting Pete Rose). He is fourth among eligibles in home runs and fifth in RBIs.

But you have to go beyond the numbers to fully appreciate Cepeda's career. During his 17 years, he played only 13 full seasons, six of which came after his knees went south in 1965. In those completed seasons, Cepeda hit 359 home runs and had 1,289 RBIs, averaging 28 and 99, respectively.

The statistics are even more impressive when you look at the seven years before his bad knees. Between 1958 and 1964, Cepeda hit 222 home runs and drove in 747 runs, averaging 32 and 107.

However, even with his wobbly knees, Cepeda doesn't have to apologize for his credentials. His ratio of one RBI for every 5.8 at-bats is better than any other player eligible for the Hall of Fame, including Perez, as is his average of one home run for every 21 at-bats.

Cepeda doesn't have any of the magical numbers -- 3,000 hits, 500 home runs or 1,500 RBIs (Perez is the only eligible player over that total who isn't in the Hall of Fame). But, under any guidelines, he has powerful credentials.

They should be good enough to get Cepeda elected to the Hall of Fame, and time is running out.

What it will take

There is some speculation in Texas that the Rangers' interest in Clark is not as high as they've indicated and that they're still angling to re-sign Rafael Palmeiro.

When Palmeiro turned down a $25 million, five-year offer, he basically established a starting point for the bidding. The Rangers reportedly will make the same offer to Clark that Palmeiro turned down.

Meanwhile, a lot of teams are trying to avoid being used as pawns to up the ante for free agents who really don't want to leave their original teams.

The Orioles felt they were victimized in that regard last year by the Tigers' Lou Whitaker, and the Dodgers have to feel the same way after courting Robby Thompson, only to see him re-sign with the Giants.

Thompson, however, was only able to get a deal guaranteed for three years, which is said to be the Giants' limit. If that is the case, Clark almost certainly will leave.

If the Orioles are willing to go for a five-year contract, they probably can sign Clark.

Why Sid?

If you've wondered about everybody's (including the Orioles') fascination with left-hander Sid Fernandez, you have to look beyond his 98-79 record, which isn't too shabby even though it is spaced over a 10-year period.

On a staff that has been dominated by Dwight Gooden since they joined the Mets in 1984, and in a span that has featured other power pitchers such as Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, Fernandez has some amazing statistics.

During the past 10 years he has allowed fewer hits per nine innings (6.52) than any other pitcher in the game. Ryan is second (6.56).

Over that same period, only Ryan (9.9) and David Cone (8.7) have averaged more strikeouts per nine innings than Fernandez (8.4).

Those numbers are not inflated by his early years in the big leagues. Fernandez also has the best hits-per-nine-innings ratio (6.66) over the past six years, and his strikeout ratio (the same 8.4) is fourth-best.

Combine those numbers with a career 3.17 ERA and it's easier to understand why the Orioles think Fernandez might have a career year ahead of him. The biggest knock is that Fernandez has never pitched more than 219 innings in a season.

End notes

The Orioles have not backed off in their pursuit of a deal for outfielder Bobby Bonilla. But Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine is looking for a mix of young players, some to perform now, others later.

Left-handers Arthur Rhodes and Brad Pennington, shortstop Manny Alexander, outfielder Mark Smith, third baseman Leo Gomez and first basemen David Segui and Paul Carey are among the Orioles players believed to have been discussed.

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