Hall of Fame locks temporarily locked out

BASEBALL

January 16, 1994|By JIM HENNEMAN

There's only one route leading into the village of Cooperstown, N.Y., so it doesn't take much to create a traffic jam. And at the current pace, it won't take long to start one with those who came close but failed to gain election into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

This year's close call for Orlando Cepeda, who missed by seven votes in his 15th and final year on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot, again emphasized just how difficult it is to enter the Hall of Fame. And the near-misses by the other leading candidates -- Phil Niekro (69 votes short) Tony Perez (79) and Don Sutton (83) -- is an indication that the logjam is not likely to be resolved soon.

There was a time when 300-game winners were considered automatic selections. But that hasn't been true lately, as evidenced by the fact that Gaylord Perry (314 wins) had to spend time on the waiting list, as Niekro (318) and Sutton (324) are now doing.

Nobody can argue that those elected to the Hall of Fame should have to meet stringent requirements. And it's often necessary for them to pass the test of time, which is why there is a 15-year election-eligibility period once a player has been retired for five years.

It's difficult to survive the screening committee to get onto the ballot -- and tough to stay there. A player must be named on at least 5 percent of the ballots in any given year to stay active. This year, nominees who failed to get the necessary 23 votes were dropped from consideration.

The glut of contenders, including first-timers Steve Garvey and Bruce Sutter, almost certainly will take perennial borderline candidates such as Ron Santo, Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat out of the picture. And the domino effect likewise will affect the Veterans Committee.

After a three-year wait, Cepeda's candidacy will be considered by that group, which has had trouble compiling its "short list" the past few years. Two years ago, ex-Orioles manager Earl Weaver got some votes from the Veterans Committee, but last year he didn't make it to the voting stage.

The current situation merely draws attention to how difficult it is for 75 percent of an electorate to agree on a candidate, even with 10 spots available on the ballot. That is especially true when several legitimate candidates become eligible at the same time, as was the case this year.

As Steve Carlton was this year, Mike Schmidt will be the class of the 1995 class, which also will include Jim Rice (.298 career average, 382 home runs and 1,451 RBIs in 16 years). Until there is a breakthrough year when the BBWAA elects more than two -- which has happened just twice since 1973 -- there will be a lot of candidates who will be forced to wait, perhaps longer than they deserve.

The Orioles' Hall

Cooperstown isn't the only place having trouble getting new members. The Orioles Advocates have been having difficulty settling on candidates for the club's Hall of Fame, a subject that comes up every year at this time.

There are 24 members in the Orioles Hall of Fame, but there are some noteworthy exceptions. Room has yet to be found for Tippy Martinez or Lee May, both of whom rank among the club's all-time leaders, or Davey Johnson and Bobby Grich, who combined to win seven Gold Gloves while playing second base in Baltimore.

In addition, Bill Hunter and George Bamberger made significant impacts as coaches, and are now joined by Cal Ripken Sr. This is also the year that Mike Flanagan and Rick Dempsey become eligible (after the required one-year absence), so this logjam also is likely to continue.

To pitch or not to pitch

The Toronto Blue Jays have had an interesting development in their minor-league system in the past two years that is reminiscent of a similar experience they had 15 years ago.

Two years ago, Lee Daniels was a weak-hitting outfielder whose future was dubious. After hitting .168 and .247 in his first two minor-league seasons, the Blue Jays decided Daniels was a pitcher.

Now he's on the big-league roster, a 22-year-old late-inning relief specialist. That's heady stuff for somebody who was a 68th-round draft choice in 1989.

Back in their infancy, the late 1970s, the Blue Jays made the same kind of decision. They drafted a young prospect as a pitcher, but he preferred to play the outfield, so Toronto gave him a year to prove himself.

After he failed to hit .200 for Single-A Dunedin, Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick asked: "Are you ready to pitch now?"

Dave Stieb agreed and advanced to the big leagues to become the biggest winner in Blue Jays history.

Border-ing on greatness?

Mike Brito, the scout who led the Los Angeles Dodgers to Fernando Valenzuela 15 years ago, has a few more Mexican phenoms on the way. The most heralded is outfielder Karim Garcia, 18, who played for Dempsey at Single-A Bakersfield last year.

"When he makes contact, he hits the ball like Babe Ruth," Dempsey said. "He strikes out too much, but he's just a baby. He's going to play in the big leagues."

Another of Brito's discoveries is left-hander Dennis Reyes, who was signed at age 16.

D8 "He has more potential than Valenzuela," Brito said.

Just don't do it

With all due respect to Michael Jordan's ability, the notion that he might be able to win a job with the Chicago White Sox is ludicrous. He'd have a tough time making that kind of career move at 21, let alone 31.

You might recall that Jordan participated in the celebrity home run hitting contest during last summer's All-Star festivities. He didn't leave the impression he could be the next Barry Bonds.

However, even though he will be overmatched, don't rule out the possibility Jordan will show up in spring training. The White Sox's owner is Jerry Reinsdorf, who also owns the Chicago Bulls, and these kinds of marketing gimmicks seem to appeal to him as much as they do to a certain shoe company.

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