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Bert Blyleven Enters Baseball Hall of Fame After 14-Year Wait

Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were voted in as the only two players in the 2011 National Baseball Hall of Fame class. Alomar made it in just his second year on the ballot, garnering 90 percent of the vote.

Blyleven, on the other hand, had to wait until his 14th year of eligibility, picking up 79.7 percent of the vote.

I believe that both deserved the honor. If not for Alomar’s infamous spitting incident in 1996, he likely would have been a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

Blyleven, who threw his final major league pitch in 1992, joins the exclusive club with just one year to spare before his name would have been wiped off the ballot.

So while there was very little debate as to Alomar’s Hall-of-Fame worthiness, Blyleven had to play the waiting game for 14 years without actually doing anything on a Major League diamond to sway the last few writers to put a check mark next to his name. In his first year of eligibility, back in 1998, he only received 17.5 percent of the vote. Somehow, 13 years later, that percentage more than quadrupled.

This isn’t the first time a former player has waited for over a decade for his vote totals to take baby steps toward the needed 75 percent, and it won’t be the last. And I just don’t get it.

The question isn’t whether you think Blyleven deserved to get in or not, but it’s about the unnecessarily long 15-year time frame a player remains on the ballot. Other than some of the new-age sabermetric statistics that can be applied to Blyleven’s career, his body of work can be looked at today in the same way it was looked at after his final game in 1992.

Did it honestly take 14 years for some of the baseball writers to think, “Hey, maybe these really are Hall of Fame numbers after all.”?

In reality, it probably didn’t go that way. Without being one of those writers or knowing any of them, I can only speculate, but it’s likely that two things pushed Blyleven into the Hall:

1) Other than Alomar, the 2011 ballot was littered with a bunch of known or suspected steroid users, so Blyleven seemed more appealing in comparison and

2) writers talk to each other, and perhaps peer pressure and politicking by pro-Blyleven writers eventually pushed some of the anti-Blyleven camp to the other side.

I would argue that a lot of writers are ignoring one of the vital aspects of voting. Taken right from the Hall of Fame’s website:

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

If the voters didn’t think Blyleven had Hall-of-Fame credentials in these areas when they voted in ’98, why do they think he had them during the 2011 vote?

If it sounds like I’m in favor of only allowing one year of eligibility, I’m not. In fact, now more than ever, voters need more time. There are simply too many questions about many steroid-era players (Jeff Bagwell was hurt by this in this year’s vote), and the last thing a voter needs to do is make a split-second decision to vote for a player only to find that the player was on the juice for most of his career.

The problem is that you often hear from baseball writers and baseball people in general that the Hall of Fame is reserved for the true greats of the game, yet for someone like Bert Blyleven, it apparently takes 14 years for some voters to realize his greatness. If it takes that long to decide, how great could the guy have been anyway?

Again, I’m glad Blyleven’s in. Although I didn’t watch him pitch during his prime, seeing his statistics and knowing the era he played in, I have always thought of him as a Hall-of-Famer. If someone can give me one good reason it took nearly a decade and a half for this to become a reality, I would love to hear it.

Bert Blyleven wasn’t Tom Seaver. I understand that. I admit that a vote for Blyleven isn’t a no-brainer. But it’s as if the voters are creating a tier system. First-year induction has typically been reserved for the best of the best. Perhaps I’m being too simplistic, but I say that a Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer.

I’m pretty sure Rickey Henderson will be served the same dinner as Ryne Sandberg the night before the induction ceremony, even though Sandberg had to wait longer to get in. Despite the writers’ insistence on trying to divide the group into “legendary,” “great,” and “good enough,” every Hall of Famer has the same sized plaque and the same time allotted for his speech (as far as I know).

I heard baseball writers/Hall of Fame voters Jon Heyman and Tom Verducci on MLB Network yesterday talking about how Barry Larkin getting 62 percent of this year’s vote means he’s gaining momentum and he should get in within a year or two.

Gaining momentum? Is this is a political campaign? Is Larkin doing more marketing for his Hall candidacy on Facebook these days? Baseball writers, you are allowed to vote in 10 players each year; if you think Larkin should be in, vote for him! Don’t worry about too many players making it in one year. Don’t categorize him as a player not good enough to get in on the first or second ballot. If you think he’s a Hall of Famer, give him a vote! If you truly don’t believe his career warrants his induction, don’t vote for him. But either way, stick to your guns!

If it weren’t for the steroid era, I’d be in favor of five years of eligibility. With the steroid era, I still don’t see why 10 years wouldn’t be long enough. That might help eliminate some of these issues I’ve mentioned.

I am well aware that some people will read this and think I’m being too harsh on the Hall-of-Fame voters. If that is the case for you, I ask that you please bookmark this article and read it once every year. Maybe by the 14th year, you’ll come around.

Get my thoughts on sports and life in general at my blog, What’s Wrong with What’s Right

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Hanley Ramirez Benching Should Be a Lesson for All of Baseball

By now, most baseball fans have seen the highlights of Hanley Ramirez lollygagging after a ball he literally booted down the left field line in Monday night’s game between the Florida Marlins and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

After Ramirez’s snail-like retrieval of the baseball, during which he probably could have enjoyed a three-course meal, he was promptly benched by his manager, Fredi Gonzalez.

While last night’s spectacle was as egregious as they come, it was only one glaring footnote in a growing trend around Major League Baseball.

Although the 2010 season is only a month and a half old, there have been a number of plays that should have resulted in benchings.

Lastings Milledge was thrown out jogging around second base earlier this month after he thought he had a hit a home run. He claimed that he was fooled into thinking the ball was gone because celebratory fireworks went off at PNC Park.

The Pirates blew out the Cubs that day, and Milledge had a great game. Bucs manager John Russell didn’t bother to penalize Milledge in any way.

The Braves were somehow uneducated about the “infield fly rule” in a game against the Mets in April, and it cost them a run. It is hard to believe a team managed by the great Bobby Cox could have problems comprehending the rule, but it happened.

No one was reprimanded.

A book could be written detailing all of Manny Ramirez’s baseball transgressions, but look no further than Monday night’s game for the most recent example. Manny “attempted” to score from first on a two-out double, and although the throw to the plate beat him fairly easily, he slowly jogged toward home and made no effort to plow into the catcher.

As usual, it was “Manny being Manny,” and everybody just laughed it off.

These are just three examples, and there are others that could be referenced. The major difference between those instances and what happened with Hanley Ramirez down in Miami on Monday is that Hanley was benched.

Kudos to Fredi Gonzalez on his decision.

How many managers would have done what Gonzalez did? It’s hard to say, but odds are that a large number of them would not have the guts to put their star player on the pine.

Baseball, at its highest level, requires a lot of skill—just like football, basketball, and hockey.

One thing baseball doesn’t require that the other three do is a large amount of cardiovascular activity. That cannot be debated.

Typically, a player might have to run the bases four times per game. Perhaps he’ll have to chase after a few balls in the field. That’s it.

So if a player fails to give maximum effort when running to first on what looks like a routine pop-up, or when he poses at the plate on what he thinks is a home run, or if he does what Ramirez did on Monday night, he should be punished.

Did Gonzalez set a precedent? Hopefully other managers have taken notice and will not simply shrug it off the next time one of their players does not give it his all.

Perhaps more importantly, maybe players all around baseball took a moment to pause and think about their own playing styles.

Fortunately, a population of Major Leaguers who play all out, all the time, still exists. But the number is shrinking.

Guys like Manny Ramirez are beyond help at this point. However, young players—even Hanley Ramirez himself—still have time to improve their images in regards to their heart and hustle.

Fredi Gonzalez’s brand of discipline might be just the thing baseball needs to make sure effort is an obligation—not a choice.

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Rubber Bawl: Why Can’t the New York Mets Win Series-Deciding Games?

The New York Mets were defeated by the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on Wednesday afternoon by the score of 6-4, thus losing two of their last three and ending their six game home-stand at an even 3-3.

Sure, it was just one series loss. Heck, it was just one game.

But it was the continuation of a rather unsettling trend for the Mets—they have now lost all six of the rubber games they have played in 2010.

If you throw out those six games, the Mets are 18-10. They know how to play winning baseball, so why do they have such problems when three game series are on the line?

Successful teams win series (thank you, Captain Obvious). The Yankees are 6-1 in rubber games; the Phillies are 3-2; the Cardinals are 4-0.

The only other teams with winning records who are under .500 in series deciding games besides the Mets are the Padres (1-4) and the Rangers (1-3). Only the lousy Orioles (0-1) and the underachieving Cubs (0-3) join the Mets as win-less in such contests.

But no team in baseball comes close to the Mets rubberized mark of 0-6.

Perhaps it is just a statistical anomaly—but recent history would tell us otherwise.

Last season the Mets went 7-11 in rubber games, including an 0-4 start. This is a disturbing trend. Although 2009 was marred by injuries, the club was 18-14 exactly one year ago, so parallels can be drawn to the current team.

One would think Oliver Perez, their least reliable starting pitcher, would have to somehow be a part of this growing problem. However, he hasn’t pitched in any of these games.

Believe it or not, Johan Santana has lost two of them—one to Livan Hernandez and another to Jamie Moyer, two pitchers whose ages are barely lower than the average speeds of their fastballs.

The majority of the six losses are stuck in the minds of Mets fans alike.

There was the 5-3 loss at St. Louis, the day after the Mets won a 20 inning game, where Jerry Manuel clearly out-managed Tony LaRussa. The Mets staked John Maine to an early 3-0 lead, only to lose on a Ryan Ludwick two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Then there was the Sunday night massacre at Philadelphia where the Mets gave Johan Santana two separate three run leads, only to see him completely melt down in the fourth inning by giving up eight runs.

On the last game of their most recent road trip, they lost at Cincinnati on a walk-off home run by Orlando Cabrera. It’s worth noting that both losses in that series came via a walk-off blast.

And finally, in Wednesday afternoon’s galosh-like loss at a misty Citi Field, Nationals reserve outfielder Roger Bernadina hit a two-run home run off Francisco Rodriguez to break a 4-4 tie in the top of the ninth inning. It was Bernadina’s second career home run. The first one just happened to come earlier in the very same game.

In actuality the baseball season is 162 distinctly unique games. But for fans, players, and managers it’s impossible not to look at it as a series of…well, series.

You always hear players and managers say how important it is to win series. It can build morale and momentum. It can be the difference between a joyous flight to the next city and perhaps a somber one.

Of course the Mets have won their share of series this season. They do have a winning record, after all.

But when it comes to rubber games, the Mets are in the basement. They score less runs in those games (3.1 compared to 4.6 in all others) and their normally reliable pitchers have not gotten it done. Combine that with last year’s struggles and there may be reasons for concern at this point.

Perhaps this whole issue can be considered a coincidence. Over the course of a long season baseball has been known to provide some off the wall stats and records that don’t correlate with how a team or player is performing overall.

Coincidence or not, the Mets just lost their sixth straight rubber game. Hopefully, for New York fans, they’ll bounce back.

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