Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
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Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday

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This Sunday two of the greatest players of the 1990s and 2000s will honored in Cooperstown as Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza become the 311th and 312th members inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Some years there are borderline inductees. There is nothing borderline about either Griffey or Piazza. Not in the voting — Griffey received an all-time high 99.3% of the vote in his first time on the ballot — and certainly not on the merits. Indeed, these two were two of the greatest players to ever step on a baseball field.

Griffey was, for a good time in the 1990s, considered the best player in the game by the public at large. And he had a good argument for it. He was a perennial Gold Glove winner and the MVP in 1997, though any of his seasons between, say, 1993 and 1999 wouldn’t have caused anyone to bat an eye if you told them that the man who posted them won the award. He had an even 1.000 OPS in those seven seasons and averaged 44 homers a year. That’s not just a Hall of Fame peak, that’s an inner-circle Hall of Fame peak.

He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds before the 2000 season and, from that point on, his story changed. He was hurt a lot. He was bypassed by several others as the best hitter in the game. And, with the exception of one late-career cameo appearance on the 2008 Chicago White Sox, he never saw the postseason again. Still, his years in Cincinnati were good, even if they paled compared to his peak. In his eight full seasons there he put up a line of .273/.363/.524, which is nothing at all to sneeze at, even if his 1990s performance made it seem like something of a disappointment at the time.

In some ways, however, the timing of his relative decline helped burnish the narrative about his career. Most of those who eclipsed Griffey — Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez chief among them — became the poster children for PEDs. Griffey, meanwhile, was never ensnared in such controversy and many used his decline and his injuries as an example of the price a great player pays for choosing not to cheat. There are a lot of contradictions and assumed facts in that narrative, of course. Oftentimes, when convenient, a player suffering many injuries is cited as evidence that he did take PEDs. And, of course, we do not know every player who did and did not take them.  Those assumptions, however, and the particular politics of PEDs among baseball writers and Hall of Fame voters have an awful lot to do with Griffey’s 99.3% vote total.

Piazza was never credibly accused of taking PEDs yet the assumption by some that he did kept him on the ballot a few more years than he should’ve been. When you put that stuff aside, however, all you can see is one of the greatest catchers of all time.

His story is well-known by now: a 62nd round draft choice no one thought would do much who, inexplicably, burst onto the scene hitting way above .300 with prodigious power. That’s some myth-making too, of course. Many did see a lot in Piazza, including Ted Williams, who saw him when he was a teenager and said he’d be a star. The biggest reason Piazza went in the 62nd round was that, when he was scouted, he was playing first base. Poorly. And, since he is right-handed, that profiled even worse. Scouting reports at the time said, as a hitter only, he was a 7th round pick. If anyone had seen him as decent catcher then he’d probably go higher than even that. As such, that “he came out of NOWHERE” narrative was not really accurate. Early in his career that narrative helped his image as a hard-worker. Later in his career and in his first couple of times on the ballot that narrative fueled PED innuendo.

Expectations aside, his performance was his performance and it was spectacular. A line of .308/.377/.545 and 427 homers would have, in fact, carried the career of a poor-fielding first baseman, but Piazza stuck behind the plate while putting up MVP numbers in the batters box for virtually his entire career. The list of his actual peers include Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench and . . . well, no one else. At least not really. There are a lot of things still left to sort out about the Hall of Fame voting for players in the 1990s and 2000s, but Piazza being on the outside looking in was one of the most perverse things going.

Beyond those two, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy will be on the stage to accept the 2016 J. G. Taylor Spink Award, given to baseball writers. Graham McNamee will be honored as the Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting. Barring a seance he will not be making any speeches given that he died 74 years ago.

The ceremony will be held on a big lawn a mile south of the Hall of Fame. If you’re in the neighborhood, admission is free and lawn chairs and blankets and things are welcome. If you’re not in the neighborhood, the festivities will be broadcast live on MLB Network and will be shown via webcast at http://www.baseballhall.org.

Pete Mackanin does not think Cole Hamels is an ace

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At the outset, it’s worth noting that Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is not saying that Cole Hamels is not good or that he’s not good enough to be a team’s number one starter. No, Mackanin was speaking about pitching in general and premised his comments by saying that there are probably fewer than ten “solid 1s” in all of baseball by his definition. When he’s talking about aces he means “the elite of the elite” not merely “a team’s number one starter.”

Still, these are interesting comments he had about former Phillies starter Cole Hamels:

“I don’t know if I’d call him a No. 1. He might be a No. 2. Those guys are elite. And I love Cole Hamels, don’t get me wrong. It’s debatable.”

Hamels may not be the first guy people name when they think of lights-out, dominant starters, but I think I’d put him in tier one. At the moment he’s in the top five in the American League in ERA and fewest walks among qualified starters. He’s in the top ten in strikeouts and wins. Overall he’s around top-15 this season in all of baseball in a lot of categories. Worth noting, of course, that Hamels ranks high on a year-in-year-out basis, while many of the people ahead of him by certain measures in any given year are flukes or dudes having career years. Hamels has been near the top of the heap every year since he debuted in 2006. Over those 11 seasons he’s fourth in innings pitched, third in strikeouts, third in WAR. Top 10 in just about anything else that matters.

I don’t know if Hamels would be my choice as a starter if Earth needed to win one baseball game against the Martians in order to save humanity. For that I’d pick a healthy Clayton Kershaw or maybe Madison Bumgarner on a day he woke up in a particularly bad mood. But I’d have Hamels on the roster for a series, I think. Either way, if we’re picking top ten in the game to qualify as an ace, I think Hamels qualifies.

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

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Here are the scores. There are the highlights:

Dodgers 6, Nationals 3: Justin Turner homered twice and drove in five runs. Stephen Strasburg finally lost a game. Which is good. Not because I wish ill of Stephen Strasburg, but because it nips this sort of moronic horse poop in the bud.

Orioles 4, Yankees 1: The O’s salvage one in their four-game set against the Bombers. Chris Tillman won his 14th game after allowing one run over seven and striking out seven. Tillman has won four in a row, actually, and in each of those four starts he’s allowed one run over seven. It’s like he’s been set to repeat. Here’s hoping no one hits “shuffle.”

Marlins 9, Phillies 3: Tom Koehler allowed three runs but only one was earned in eight innings. Ichiro picked up two more hits, bringing him to 2,996 in the bigs. He could reach 3,000 this weekend.

Pirates 5, Brewers 3: Francisco Liriano struck out 13 over six and two-thirds innings. In the AP gamer, the writer described his fastball as “dipping and darting like a bug trying to avoid a fly swatter.” If you have any real fly swatter skills, the bug never knows it’s coming. Also: if you have cats, you don’t need a flyswatter. A fly got in my house yesterday and my cats chased that sucker down. I’m halfway thinking of going out to a field to find a mouse. Hi, I’m Craig, and I work from home.

Red Sox 13, Twins 2: The Sox are cruising. Thirteen runs on seventeen hits. This a day after they notched 11 runs on 16 hits. They’ve won three in a row, nine of ten and sit alone atop the East.

Cardinals 6, Padres 5: The Padres held a 5-1 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth. St. Louis scored four in that inning to tie it and then Aledmys Diaz hit a walkoff single with two strikes on him and the bases loaded in the ninth. After the game he said that he knew he was going to swing at the payoff pitch because he regretted watching a called strike three with the bases loaded in the All-Star Game. So there you go: the All-Star Game did mean something, for once. Serving as a teaching tool is better than nothing, right?

Tigers 2, White Sox 1: Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera homered for the Tigers’ only run in a rain-shortened game. Not that it was actually all that short for the players as they played for just over two hours and then had to sit through the rain for over two more hours before they finally called it. More like a rain-lengthened game, am I right?

Rockies 7, Braves 3: A three-run homer from Carlos Gonzalez and a solo shot from Nick Hundley paced the Rockies. Colorado has beaten the Braves in Coors Field seven straight times. I remember when Atlanta used to own Colorado. They were 13-0 against them in 1993 AND they stuck them with David Neid. In other news, I am extraordinarily old.

Rays 7, Athletics 3: Tim Beckham played first base despite never having played the position. He went 2-for-4 with a homer. Tomorrow Cash should try him out as a catcher and see what happens.