Craig Calcaterra

NEW YORK- 1989:  New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner talks to the press during the 1989 season in New York, New York. (Photo by: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Breaking Down Today’s Game Hall of Fame Ballot: George Steinbrenner

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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: George Steinbrenner 

The case for his induction:

It’s certainly a lot harder to make a Hall of Fame case — for or against — an executive or anyone else who didn’t actually play the game. There aren’t many good numbers to look at and the ones that do exist — how many rings did the guy win? — are pretty crude and vague. On the surface, one might say “hey, George Steinbrenner owned the Yankees and the Yankees won seven world titles,” but as we’ll see below, that’s not the be-all, end-all consideration either.

If one wants to go beyond just the rings, one could argue that it’s awfully hard to talk about baseball in the last quarter of the 20th century without mentioning George Steinbrenner’s name. And not just for the tabloid headlines he constantly generated. Steinbrenner was a lot of things, but he made an important mark on baseball in that he was the first owner to take full advantage of free agency and forced other teams to keep pace. That pretty radically changed how teams were built. Whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing, it certainly changed the game and that’s worthy of . . . something.

The case against his induction:

There is an argument to be made — a pretty good one, actually — that the Yankees greatest successes during Big Stein’s reign coming in spite of him rather than because of him. He was suspended twice during his time as owner of the Yankees, once in the mid-70s, once in the early 90s. There’s a strong argument that the seeds of the 1977-78 and then the 1996, 1998-2000 World Series championship teams were planted during Steinbrenner’s absence, with his underlings finally being given free reign to make smart moves Steinbrenner would have avoided in the name of BIG moves. If you add in character considerations, Steinbrenner’s legal issues and his treatment of Dave Winfield which led to his second suspension are not gold stars in his column.

Would I vote for him?

I’ve gone back and forth on him for years. He was a piece of work, at times a bad guy and not the biggest reason for the Yankees’ success during his reign. At the same time he was definitely a transformative figure and an historic one. If you’re wanting to explain baseball history, you really can’t do it without including The Boss. I’d probably vote for him he’s baseball’s weird uncle who makes everyone uncomfortable but hey, he’s family.

Will the Committee vote for him?

There was a time I thought he’d get in easily, the way a lot of team owners and executives have over the years. But he didn’t have the same sorts of allies among the baseball establishment as a lot of those guys for a lot of obvious reasons. And I think players liked him only insofar as he was signing checks. So my guess is that he won’t get a ton of support. Really, though, nothing would surprise me.

Breaking Down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Candidates: Mark McGwire

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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Mark McGwire

The case for his induction:

I can think of 583 reasons. Yes, Mark McGwire has been accused of being a one-dimensional player, but when that single dimension is dingers, it’s a pretty good case. He broke Roger Maris’ single-season record in 1998, becoming the first guy to hit 70 bombs in a season and followed that up with 65 the following year. He hit 50 homers or more two other times and threw in seasons of 49 and 42 homers too boot. His power was so feared that people started pitching around him more than anyone not named Barry Bonds.

In addition to the numbers, he definitely earned the “fame” in his Hall of Fame case. His 1998 home run race with Sammy Sosa was widely and, I might add, pretty accurately credited as the catalyst for baseball’s rebound following the 1994-95 strike. It may be too much to say that McGwire and Sosa single-handedly saved baseball, but thanks to his exploits, people cared about the game in ways they hadn’t for many, many years. He helped baseball regain the place in the national spotlight it had lost, put butts in seats and in front of television screens and helped put the sport on the lucrative course it remains on to this very day.

The case against his induction:

There are some who have claimed that he was too one-dimensional or that his 16 seasons was not quite enough to build a Hall of Fame resume, but that’s baloney. Everyone spoke of McGwire as a sure-fire Hall of Famer during his career and the only reason he is not in Cooperstown already is because he took performance enhancing drugs. Indeed, he was the first prominent PED user to reach the Hall of Fame ballot and most voters made it quite clear that they were not voting for him on that basis. He reached 23.6% of the vote in his second year of eligibility before seeing that total sink annually, getting as low as 10% in his second-to-last year on the ballot. The BBWAA barring the door against McGwire set the tone for its similar handling of Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and others with PED associations, real or imagined.

Would I vote for him?

Absolutely. As we have written over and over again, penalizing Mark McGwire or other stars of his era for doing what hundreds of baseball players did at the time is nonsensical. His taking PEDs may not have been admirable, but it was widely known, widely accepted and often encouraged by those inside the game. And heck, unlike most of them, McGwire didn’t lie about it. He may have avoided the topic for years, but he eventually did tell all about his drug use as many people had demanded that he do. Then they slammed him even more once he did, suggesting that this is all an exercise in shaming, not an exercise in truth, ethics or morality. Either way, the Hall of Fame is home to many, many people who did things we may find distasteful but which were typical for people of their era.

Morals and ethics aside, it is unequivocally the case that tons of players took the same drugs McGwire took. None of them, however, did what he did on the field, which puts lie to the notion that he was some artificial creation of chemistry. He was an amazing slugger who did amazing things, even if the specific numbers attaching to those things were pushed a bit higher thanks to PEDs. And did I mention that he helped save baseball?

Will the Committee vote for him?

I’m guessing not. Some of the loudest critics of the PED guys are ex-players from before the PED era and a lot of them sit on the Veterans Committees. I strongly suspect that they will continue to level the moral judgments that the BBWAA began leveling on McGwire in 2007.

Then they’ll happily vote in Bud Selig, who enabled and benefited from PED-use as much if not more than anyone, after which they’ll dodge questions about all of their contemporaries who took amphetamines.

John Kruk to join the Phillies broadcast team

3 JUL 1994:  JOHN KRUK OF THE PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES DURING THE VISIT TO THE LOS ANGELES DODGERS AT DODGER STADIUM. Mandatory Credit: AL BELLO/ALLSPORT
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John Kruk left ESPN at the end of the season when his contract was up. Matt Stairs left the CSNPhilly broadcast crew at the end of the season when he was hired to be the Phillies hitting coach. Ergo, CSN’s Jim Salisbury reports, Kruk will join the team’s television broadcast crew on CSNPhilly during the 2017 season.

Not a bad move, both for Kruk and for Phillies fans. Kruk wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea while he was with ESPN, but he was always affable and he was way, way better when he was not a merely joking around and reminiscing with Curt Schilling as opposed to talking about the game at hand. Doing a game night-in-night-out as opposed to weekly will will likely curtail his generalist tendencies and even if he does reminisce a bit more, it’s more appropriate for a local broadcast for the team for which he starred than it was for a national broadcast.

In other news, if this pattern holds up, Rico Brogna, Jim Thome and Ryan Howard are next in line to be Phillies commentators.