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Don Mattingly of the New York Yankees. (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)
May 5th, 2020
There are few clubs in America as exclusive as the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Only 235 former major league players have been enshrined in Cooperstown since 1936, and some years have featured as few as two new inductees.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America generally does a commendable job of choosing suitable candidates, but every now and again they gloss over a truly deserving player. Here are five former stars who should be in Cooperstown.
What do Dale Murphy and Roger Maris have in common? Both players won two MVP awards and neither of them is enshrined in Copperstown. Maris’ exclusion is understandable given his relatively brief prime, but leaving out Murphy? That’s a total head scratcher.
Atlanta #Braves legend Dale Murphy hits a HR vs. Detroit #Tigers pitcher Willie Hernández at the 1984 Baseball All-Star Game in San Francisco ~ Happy 64th Birthday Dale! #MLB #History pic.twitter.com/XuhGZcor7m— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) March 12, 2020
Atlanta #Braves legend Dale Murphy hits a HR vs. Detroit #Tigers pitcher Willie Hernández at the 1984 Baseball All-Star Game in San Francisco ~ Happy 64th Birthday Dale! #MLB #History pic.twitter.com/XuhGZcor7m
The long-time Atlanta Brave was a seven-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glover, and four-time Silver Slugger recipient who was one of the league’s most fearsome sluggers from 1978 to 1990.
Murphy was also one hell of a nice guy who may hold the major league record for most games played without uttering a cuss word. He was frequently lauded by teammates and opponents alike for his exceptional character, and his wholesome image made him one of the most popular figures in the game. You would think all of that good will would count for something with the BBWAA, but Murphy never received more than 28.2% of the votes during the 15 years he was on the ballot. Hopefully he’ll have more luck with the Hall’s Modern Era Baseball Committee.
The sports world came to a sudden stop on August 2, 1979 when news began circulating that Thurman Munson had died in a fiery plane crash. It was a shocking development for a player who had been so full of life during his career with the Yankees.
Prior to his untimely death, the outgoing Munson was a seven-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glover, and AL MVP who led New York to back-to-back World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. He was also among the most popular players of his day, and his charisma and leadership prompted the Yankees to name him their first captain since Lou Gehrig.
“If you think about tradition and pride and all of the stuff that the @Yankees are built around, that’s Thurman Munson."Ron Guidry reflects on the loss of the Yankees captain on the 40th anniversary of his tragic death. pic.twitter.com/LYoUBNUtMu— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) August 2, 2019
“If you think about tradition and pride and all of the stuff that the @Yankees are built around, that’s Thurman Munson."Ron Guidry reflects on the loss of the Yankees captain on the 40th anniversary of his tragic death. pic.twitter.com/LYoUBNUtMu
Yes, Munson’s counting stats pale in comparison to backstops whose careers lasted longer, but his peak was every bit as good as those of Gary Carter and Ted Simmons, both of whom are enshrined in Cooperstown. Hall of Fame voters missed the boat by focusing on what Munson could have been, rather than celebrating what he was: the best catcher of his generation.
If you only know Don Mattingly as the beleaguered manager of the Miami Marlins then you don’t know Don Mattingly at all. Prior to taking the helm of baseball’s leakiest ship, "Donnie Baseball" was a six-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger who terrorized pitchers with his remarkable bat control.
New York #Yankees legend Don Mattingly hits his record-setting sixth grand slam of the 1987 season vs. the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium! ~ Happy 59th Birthday "Donnie Baseball"! #MLB #History pic.twitter.com/mJdmC1uND8— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) April 20, 2020
New York #Yankees legend Don Mattingly hits his record-setting sixth grand slam of the 1987 season vs. the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium! ~ Happy 59th Birthday "Donnie Baseball"! #MLB #History pic.twitter.com/mJdmC1uND8
The former Yankees captain was at his best in 1985 when he led both leagues in doubles and total bases and hit .324 with 35 home runs and 145 RBIs. That remarkable MVP season was part of a six-year reign in which the "Hit Man" ranked in the top three in the majors in hits, doubles, RBI, batting average and slugging percentage.
A debilitating back condition later cut into Mattingly’s production, but he continued to be a force in the field, where he won nine Gold Gloves at first. His phenomenal glove work and six-year peak should be more than enough to earn him a long overdue spot in Cooperstown.
Let’s get one thing perfectly straight. It isn’t the Morality Hall of Fame, it’s the Baseball Hall of Fame. MLB Commissioner Bartlett Giamatti was right to ban Pete Rose from baseball in 1989 for illegally betting on baseball during his time as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Rose’s actions threatened the integrity of the game and his punishment was justly deserved. However, that regrettable chapter in his life has zero bearing on his playing career.
Rose’s accomplishments on the diamond are simply beyond reproach. "Charlie Hustle" was a 17-time All-Star and three-time batting champ who led the Reds to four NL Pennants and three World Series titles. He topped the majors in plate appearances seven times and retired with more hits than any player in baseball history.
September 11, 1985: Pete Rose lays claim to the moniker "Hit King" with his 4,192nd career knock, passing Ty Cobb for the most all-time. #Reds #OTD pic.twitter.com/gofKJCiSQx— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) September 11, 2019
September 11, 1985: Pete Rose lays claim to the moniker "Hit King" with his 4,192nd career knock, passing Ty Cobb for the most all-time. #Reds #OTD pic.twitter.com/gofKJCiSQx
Rose may be a pariah now, but there was a time in the not-so-distant past when he stood for everything that was right about the game. Major League Baseball could use more players with his relentless determination and pedal to the metal play today.
Like Rose, Joe Jackson’s career is also clouded by controversy. The fleet-footed outfielder was banned from baseball in 1920 after he and seven of his Chicago White Sox teammates were accused of throwing the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. "Shoeless Joe" always maintained his innocence, and his stats seem to back up his claim, as he hit .375 with one home run and six RBIs and set a World Series record with 12 base hits.
His career was cut short, but Shoeless Joe Jackson was on the path to greatness. @shoelessmuseum pic.twitter.com/EvXKJ3u2p4— Bally Sports: Braves (@BravesOnBally) September 1, 2019
His career was cut short, but Shoeless Joe Jackson was on the path to greatness. @shoelessmuseum pic.twitter.com/EvXKJ3u2p4
That level of production was consistent with the rest of Jackson’s exceptional career. The South Carolina native hit .350 or better in seven of his 13 seasons in the bigs, and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting every year from 1911 to 1914. No less an authority than Ty Cobb called him "the greatest natural hitter in the history of baseball."
Jackson’s story has been told in works like Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams, but it deserves to be shared in Cooperstown, where his legend can be properly celebrated along with the greatest players in baseball history.
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