OUT BY A STEP

About 10 years ago, the Shalin brothers, Mike and Neil, wrote a book about 100 players that just missed getting elected for the Baseball Hall of Fame because their career accomplishments fell just short. Several of those have since been inducted. Gary Carter, Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and now, Ron Santo. Both Mike and Neil are writers. Mike has covered baseball for the Boston Herald and Neil is a freelance writer in Chicago. I am one of those 100 players they list and profile.

If you are a year around baseball fan you probably know that the Veterans Commmittee announced yesterday that Ron Santo has been selected for induction in 2012. I fell 2 votes short. The committee is comprised of 16 guys, former players, executives and writers that were involved in the game during what has been designated ‘The Golden Era”. Pretty cool to have been part of that era. The committee members were Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, fellow MLBlogger Tommy LaSorda, Juan Marichal, Brooks Robinson, Don Sutton and Billy Williams from the players arena. Paul Beeston, Roland Hemond, Bill DeWitt, Gene Michael and Al Rosen from the executive branch. Dick Kaegel, Jack O’Connell and Dave Van Dyck from the media. You need 75% or 12 votes to earn election. You had to have played at least 10 seasons in Major League Baseball and been retired for at least 21 years.

Enough about specifics. I am honored to have been considered for election several times by the Veterans Committee after falling well short of election by the Baseball Writers Association of America voters during that eligibility period. I was more curious and somewhat optimistic this year than ever before. Why? Because I was being judged by my peers. I got a fair hearing. I fell 2 votes short. I am not disappointed. I would not have celebrated with a ‘whoopee’ or thrust a fist in the air if I were to have been chosen. Out of respect for so many whose careers are close to HOF caliber but ‘Out by a step” I would have felt humbled and grateful. Players like Dick Allen, Tony Oliva, Ken Boyer, Luis Tiant and many more too numerous to mention. It’s a very select fraternity to gain admission unlike being elected President of the United States where a little over 50% will be enough.

I am grateful for those 10 who supported me and I have a pretty good idea who they are. Many have told me personally that I belong and that is an honor in itself. When former players like Brooks, Sutton and Marichal tell you to your face that you belong that is very gratifying.

Shed no tears for me or feel no animosity toward the 6 who didn’t feel I belonged. When I think of the 460-plus teammates I played alongside of and the thousands of players who made it to the big leagues and thousands more who aspire to get there, missing election to the Hall of Fame by 2 votes doesn’t diminish my career or life one iota.

For fun, strictly tongue-in-cheek, I have told some people who ask me why I think I haven’t been elected yet that there are 2 possible reasons.

1. I played too long. If my career ended after 1975, my pitching numbers from 1961-1975 were exceeded only by Bob Gibson when you consider wins, era, innings, complete games, etc. My last 8 seasons were a combination of being less effective than the first 15 and I was a lefty relief specialist the last 5.

2. I was blessed with more athletic ability than most pitchers. I was used as a pinch runner on several occasions. In 1972, the last year before the DH, I was having a good season at the plate as well as on the mound. 10-2 nearing the All-Star break. Batting close to .300. Slid into 2nd base and broke my wrist. Cost me a half-season. Another baserunning injury occurred in 1976. I could never defy a manager’s authority, especially in the dugout in front of my teammates. But…when Danny Ozark called on me to pinch run for Greg Luzinski in St. Louis one day, I cringed. I was 37 years old. Late in the game, legs not loose or any forewarning that I might be used. Jay Johnstone hit one in the gap and I scampered, as fast as a 37-year-old without warming up can scamper, into third. Slid in hard and cracked my right kneecap. My pitching record at the time was 10-6 and I was on a pretty good roll. I finished the season 12-14 and was never considered a regular starting pitcher after that incident. To this day I wish I had politely said to Danny, “I’m not ready to pinch run.”

So,2 injuries that probably prevented me from reaching 300 wins which usually qualifies as automatic election to the Hall were not pitching-related but baserunning issues.

I tell you these stories not with an attitude of ‘Woe is me” or ‘sour grapes,’ just as unusual reasons for being compromised as a pitcher.

I think if Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts were alive and were on the Veterans Committee, I would be going to Cooperstown in July. There have only been a few starting pitchers inducted in the past 20 years — Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan and my friend and teammate Bert Blyleven.

Life is good, baseball was good to me and for me and I feel relieved that this year’s process is over. It is by far the fairest way to decide who belongs and who doesn’t. I am happy for Ron Santo’s family. I know Billy Williams was pushing hard for Ronnie to be selected and I’m happy for him and Fergie Jenkins and Ernie Banks who, I’m sure, feel great about it as well. I’m also sad that this process wasn’t in place years ago so Ron would be alive to enjoy it. I was a teammate of Ronnie’s in 1975 when he finished his career with the White Sox. A frustrating time for him being on the South side of Chicago instead of in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.

I wish I could personally thank all of those who reached out to me to express their disappointment that I missed earning admission to the Hall of Fame. I have no regrets about being “Out by a step.” I enjoyed the game, I played the game and I continue to be involved in the game. I am a blessed man.

13 Comments

You are a great person and were an even better pitcher. You will be in the Hall of Fame very soon, I am sure of it.

Once again, Jim, you have demonstrated the class, sincerity and dignity so many of us longtime fans admire about you. I was among those people who were deeply disappointed as we watched the Hall of Fame announcement ceremony yesterday, hoping you would finally be recognized for your truly outstanding career. As I read your blog today, I clearly understand that your greatness goes far beyond your on-field performance…you are a hero, a role model for us all to emulate.

I’m sure if the hitters who had to hit against you had the right to vote you’d be first ballot shoo-in. I watched you play on TV and it was always a pleasure.

BTW, I miss your commentary on YES, I learned a lot about the game by listening.
Thanks

I didn’t watch the announcement ceremony because I thought Kitty was a shoe-in until I saw Ron Santo’s name scrolling across the bottom of the screen! While I can’t argue with his selection I’m still mystified that with the numbers Kitty put up during a long and fascinating career why he hasn’t been chosen.

I am another baseball fan that was surprised and disappointed that you did not make it to the Hall of Fame this time around Jim. I am sure that you will get there soon but it is still disappointing to see it put off into the future. I watched you pitch for the Twins when the Senators moved here to MInnesota in 1961 and you were one of the stars of those early Twins teams. Hang in there Jim because you time will come! Thank you so much for the great memories.

It really is a joke that you have not been inducted. If it were left up to your peers, your teammates and those you competed against (and also me,) you’d have been in long ago. I myself am embarrassed by the small but vocal group of scribes and statist-idiots who argue against your worthiness for the Hall. Some day, hopefully soon, a more astute panel of judges than those who gathered this year will right this wrong. As usual, your response to not getting in is a lesson in class, poise and professionalism, the same characteristics you showed on the big league mound for a quarter of a century.

Robbed again. Someday it will happen.

Well, I’m disappointed to hear the news. You’re a hall of fame ballplayer in my eyes, and my favorite broadcaster… Perhaps a hall of fame caliber broadcaster as well. ;)

I really miss those days when I could turn on a Yankees game, hear a good story from you and Ken Singleton and get some great analysis. You never stood in between the players on the field and the audience — in Vin Scully like fashion. There was no other agenda, you had my trust and that allowed it to be fun. I grew up listening to and revering White, Messer and Rizzuto, but that was with a child’s mind and the fascination of listening to things for the first time ever. And yet I think you replicated feeling that for many adults watching games on YES and MSG.

Anyway, I dont recall seeing you play, but your numbers are remarkable. Longevity itself should be considered an asset but I see what you mean about creating the perception of dilution. I guess I’m wishing you had your old job on YES about now so all those cogs in the spin machine could get behind you… Get you on Centerstage or put together a documentary to help build the momentum. ;)

The sad lesson… Those who don’t actively self promote run the risk of being marginalized when it counts. It’s a sign of the times.

Well, Kitty, again you show what a class act you are; so let me rant for you! How could six of you not vote Kitty in; I’ll never know. Not only does Jim’s on the field record stack up against many other pitchers currently in The Hall, but his off the field character more than qualifies him. Throughout his carer and after Jim carried himself with class and was a great role model, and since his retirement he has been a great ambassador for the game. I thought these were factors in the election, and not just on-the-field performance. I think Jim Kaat qualifies on both counts!

One of the reasons for keeping Jim out of The Hall is the length of his career, but as a fan since 1956, I think this longevity is a great positive. The fact that he could continue to retire Major League hitters, whether they hit right0handed or left=handed proved he belonged in the show as long as he did. Other than two base running injuries , Jim always took the ball when it was his turn. These injuries probably cost him his chance at 300 wins. I compared Jim’s career record against a couple of present HOF’s and a couple of pitchers considered as good candidates for entrance, and his stats stack up very favorably.

I think the election of Ron Santo is long overdo, and I think it’s a travesity that Ron is no longer around to enjoy the honor, but I, also, feel that a case can be made for Ken Boyer. I did a comparison between Boyer, Santo, and two contemporary third basemen currently in the Hall. Boyer’s Statistics compared favorably, IE : better in some areas, worse in others, and the same in others.

At least this is the opinion of one Baseball Fan!

Peace, CardsPhil

Forget Yogi Berra’s sayings; it’s Maxwell Smart’s MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH that can sum it all up for Kitty.

You are a nobleman, Jim. Your fans know you belong in the Hall, and we will hold out hope that it will still happen one of these years. Thank you for your classy, elegant discussion on the matter, and much appreciation for the dignity you show therein. Still and always a gentleman.

Thanks Roger..

Jim you should be in period. You were my favorite cardinal and I push your cause to everybody I can when we all talk sports. I had the pleasure of being at your last game in busch at the time none of us knew it. I am sure you will get in one day.

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