Julio Franco

Assessing the first time Hall of Fame candidates


John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle has his Hall of Fame ballot, and he tweeted the first time eligibles who are on it. Here they are with my insta-take:

  • Carlos Baerga:  There were about six months in the mid-90s when people thought he was a mortal lock. Of course, back then people thought Pamela Anderson was all that too.
  • Jeff Bagwell: Should be a first ballot guy, no?
  • Bret  Boone: If you combined him and Aaron together and made them a catcher like Bob, maybe.
  • Kevin Brown: He’s someone who was a lot better than you remember and was always better than he got credit for. I’m not going to spend a ton of political capital making his case, but he’s got a better one than Jack Morris does.  He’ll also fall off the ballot due to lack of support after this year, I imagine.
  • Julio Franco: Can he skip straight to the veteran’s committee ballot?
  • Juan Gonzalez: No chance and not deserving, but I’m curious to see if the old school writers’ overvaluation of his RBIs and MVP Awards will outweigh the old school writers’ overreaction to his PED associations.
  • Marquis Grissom: He falls into the category of “I hope he gets one vote so he can always say he got a Hall of Fame vote, because I liked the guy.”
  • Lenny Harris: He wouldn’t even make the pinch hitter’s Hall of Fame. Longevity, man.
  • Bobby Higginson: I remember when my friends who are Tigers fans tried to talk me into him being a big freakin’ deal. That never really happened, but for a while there he was all the Tigers had.
  • Charles Johnson: If feels like everyone has forgotten about Charles Johnson. Really: when was the last time anyone talked about him?  Kind of crazy for a guy who, for a while anyway, was one of the best catchers in baseball.
  • Al Leiter: Another guy who was probably better than Jack Morris and will get no play whatsoever.
  • Tino Martinez: I can’t think of this guy without thinking about how idealized he was in the years after he left the Yankees. If I had a dime for every time a Yankees fan said “if only we still had Tino . . .” from 2002 until 2004. Him and Brosius could have formed a club.  Martinez actually spent his last year — 2005 — with the Yankees again. If they had won the World Series that year Martinez would probably be getting some moderate “he was a winner!” support.
  • Raul Mondesi: An argument could be made that his late career awfulness ruined it for “toolsy guys” everywhere. Any time I hear someone being described as having “great tools” — which you still do once in a while — I think of Mondesi.
  • Jon Olerud: He has an identical OPS+ — 128 — to Jim Rice. Both of them should have plaques in the Hall of Very Good.
  • Rafael Palmeiro: To the extent I have a coherent philosophy of steroids guys and the Hall of Fame, it’s this: if I think that they were good enough even without steroids (to the extent I can even tell that) I’d vote them in.  If I felt that steroids was the difference between Hall-level performance and merely good performance, I’d leave them off.  This approach has about a zillion problems with it, but I think it’s better than a blanket “never vote for ‘roiders” or a blanket “ignore all PED information” policy.  Among guys who have made the ballot so far, Palmiero is the closest case. I can’t help but think that he’d fall short of Cooperstown numbers without the juice. I also can’t help but acknowledge that he played in great hitting environments for most of his career too.  So if I had a ballot this year, I’d say no. I’d wait. Maybe we’d learn more about PEDs over time and I’d revisit, but for now I’d say no. I think the voters will give him the iciest of shoulders this year. He may not even get the 5% or whatever it is he needs to stay on.
  • Kirk Rueter: I can’t say I ever expected him to make a Hall of Fame ballot, but hey, if you hang around long enough . . .
  • B.J. Surhoff: He was one of many veteran pickups those title-run Braves teams made at the latter, less successful end of the line. In this I can’t make a fair assessment of him no matter how hard I try. He was pretty good for a while though, and versatile. He stands as the best argument for teams having up years and down years as opposed to winning all the time: constant winning spoils you and skews your impressions of otherwise good players. Don’t believe me? Ask Yankees fans to give a brief overview of Lance Berkman’s career. Many of them will describe some journeyman palooka to you.
  • Larry Walker: Another one who is way better than Jim Rice ever was, but who won’t get much support I fear. I haven’t thought terribly hard about him yet, but I could probably be convinced that he belongs.

We’ll obviously have a lot of time later this month to hash out the Hall of Fame arguments.  But it’s nice to get them started, no?

Kyle Schwarber is the feel-good story of the 2016 postseason

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after hitting an RBI single to score Ben Zobrist #18 (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Most baseball fans and even the Cubs had resigned themselves to most likely not seeing Kyle Schwarber in game action until spring training next year after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler back in early April. Schwarber suffered a fully-torn ACL and LCL in his left leg.

To the surprise of everyone, including manager Joe Maddon, Schwarber was cleared by doctors to play if the Cubs wanted to put him on the World Series roster. So they did. And, boy, are they glad they did it. In preparation, Schwarber saw over 1,000 pitches from machines and pitchers in the Arizona Fall League.

Schwarber essentially crammed for the final exam and unlike most students who do it, it has panned out well thus far. No one was expecting him to look outstanding against Indians ace Corey Kluber in Game 1, but in his first at-bat — his first in the majors since suffering the injury in April — Schwarber worked a 3-1 count before eventually being retired on strikes. Schwarber came back up in the fourth and drilled a Kluber sinker to right field for a two-out double.

In the seventh inning, facing one of the American League’s two scariest left-handed relievers in Andrew Miller, Schwarber worked a full count before drawing a walk. During the regular season, Miller walked exactly one lefty batter. Schwarber made it two. Schwarber would face Miller again in the eighth, going ahead 2-1 before ultimately striking out. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk and a double in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss. Considering the circumstances, that’s amazing.

Schwarber continued his great approach in Game 2 in what turned out to be a 5-1 victory. He struck out against Trevor Bauer in the first inning, but returned to the batter’s box in the third inning and singled up the middle to knock in the Cubs’ second run. Schwarber made it 3-0 in the fifth when he singled up the middle again, this time off of Bryan Shaw, to make it 3-0. Facing Danny Salazar in the sixth, Schwarber drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second base with two outs. Finally, he struck out against Dan Otero in his eighth-inning at-bat, finishing the evening 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and a walk.

But now, as the Cubs return to Chicago for World Series Games 3, 4, and 5 at Wrigley Field, they have to contest with National League rules, a.k.a. no DH. Will Maddon risk Schwarber’s subpar defense to put his dangerous bat in the lineup? Even if Schwarber is not put in the starting lineup, he can at least serve as a dangerous bat off the bench late in the game when the Indians send out their trio of relievers in Shaw, Miller, and closer Cody Allen. At any rate, what Schwarber has done already in the first two games of the World Series is mighty impressive.

Jake Arrieta flirts with no-hitter, pitches Cubs past Indians 5-1 in World Series Game 2

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gene Puskar - Pool/Getty Images)
Gene Puskar - Pool/Getty Images

Cubs starter Jake Arrieta pitched into the sixth inning before allowing his first hit. Behind his strong performance, the Cubs were able to take down the Indians 5-1 in Game 2 of the World Series to even things up at one game apiece.

Unlike their Game 1 performance against Corey Kluber, the Cubs’ offense was ready early. Kris Bryant singled with one out in the first inning against Indians starter Trevor Bauer and promptly scored when Anthony Rizzo drilled a double down the right field line. The Cubs would score again in the third with a two-out rally as Rizzo walked, then Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber hit consecutive singles to center field, plating one run to make it 2-0.

With Zach McAllister returning to the mound for the fifth after relieving Bauer in the fourth, he walked Rizzo, then gave up a triple to Zobrist. The Cubs continued to press their foot on the gas, with Schwarber hitting another RBI single. After Jason Kipnis committed a fielding error on a Willson Contreras grounder — what should’ve been the final out of the inning — McAllister walked Jorge Soler to load the bases, then walked Addison Russell to force in a run, pushing the Cubs’ lead to 5-0.

Arrieta had a first-inning scare, issuing back-to-back two-out walks, but he escaped the jam and seemed to be on cruise control until the sixth inning. He got Carlos Santana to fly out to lead off the sixth, continuing his no-hit bid, but Kipnis broke it up with a double to right field. After getting Francisco Lindor to ground out, pushing Kipnis to third base, Arrieta uncorked a wild pitch, helping the Indians score their first run of the game. Arrieta then served up a single to Mike Napoli, which proved to be the end of the line. Manager Joe Maddon came out to replace him with lefty Mike Montgomery. Montgomery ended the bottom of the sixth by inducing a weak ground out from Jose Ramirez.

Montgomery struck out the first two batters he faced in the seventh, then got into a bit of hot water by yielding a single to Brandon Guyer, then walking Game 1 hero Roberto Perez. Carlos Santana, however, struck out to end what would be the Indians’ last real chance to get back in the ballgame.

Montgomery remained in the game in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out Kipnis, got Lindor to ground out, then gave up a line drive single to Napoli before Maddon pulled the plug. Closer Aroldis Chapman entered to face Ramirez. As expected, Chapman got Ramirez to whiff on a fastball to send the game to the ninth.

In the bottom of the ninth, Chapman fanned Rajai Davis and got Coco Crisp to ground out for two quick outs. He walked Guyer on five pitches but ended the game as rain drizzled onto Progressive Field by getting Perez to ground out to shortstop.

The World Series is now headed back to Wrigley Field. The two clubs will enjoy a day off on Thursday to travel. Game Three will be played at 8:00 PM EDT on Friday. The Indians will send Josh Tomlin to the hill while the Cubs will counter with Kyle Hendricks.