Andruw Jones Deserves Cooperstown Niche

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Andruw Jones won 10 straight Gold Gloves from sterling defensive play in center field.Carl Fredrickson Digi360), Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0

By Dan Schlossberg

My favorite baseball writer is Jayson Stark. I love his irreverent style, his knowledge of the game, and his commentaries in The Athletic and on the MLB Network.

Until now.

Upon publication of the 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, Stark insisted that Andruw Jones should not be admitted to the gallery of plaques.

I strongly and emphatically disagree with my fellow graduate of Syracuse University’s terrific Newhouse School of Journalism.

Stark says he won’t vote for Jones because he faded when he hit his 30s — suffering a syndrome called Advanced Athletic Age that also afflicted Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton, and a host of other Hall of Fame incumbents.

Jayson conveniently forgets that Jones was a big-league star at age 19, hitting home runs in his first two World Series at-bats and playing the dickens out of center field. Dave O’Brien, who also writes for The Athletic, says Jones was not just good but the best center-fielder he ever saw.

O’Brien also points out that power of the player, whose 434 home runs including a franchise-record 51 in 2005, the year he also led the National League with 128 runs batted in and finished a close second in voting for Most Valuable Player.

If Ozzie Smith is in Cooperstown because of his defensive excellence, O’Brien says, Jones belongs too — plus he produced prodigious power that the spray-hitting Smith did not. In fact, Jones is in rare company with 10 consecutive Gold Gloves.

Of the four other outfielders who did that difficult feat, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey, Jr. are in the Hall of Fame and Ichiro will join them the minute he becomes eligible.

Without Jones as their center-fielder, the records of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz would not have been so good — or the record of the Atlanta Braves during the time Bobby Cox was manager and John Schuerholz was general manager. Those men also owe their Cooperstown plaque to the man from Curacao.

On the current Hall of Fame ballot, which lists 13 newcomers plus 17 holdovers from last year, Jones and Gary Sheffield (509 home runs) are easy picks. It’s also easy to eliminate suspected steroids cheats Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez and the equally-repulsive Curt Schilling, whose inflammable political pop-offs make him an unworthy member of a club reserved for honor and respectability.

At least Andy Pettitte apologized early for his drug abuse, so he deserves a “yes” vote, as Pete Rose would have had he not lied about gambling for 25 years.

For the defense-only crowd, maybe “yes” on Scott Rolen and “no” on Omar Vizquel, the poor-man’s Ozzie Smith and lately accused of multiple sexual harrassment cases.

Jeff Kent, who hit a lot of home runs for a second baseman, and pitchers Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle, both 200-game winners, are border-liners, along with flame-throwing left-handed closer Billy Wagner.

There’s one other “yes” vote among the Schlossberg choices: former Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, who hit .316 with 369 home runs over 17 seasons but made the “mistake” of spending his entire 17-year career in the rarefied air of Denver. If Larry Walker is in, there’s no logical reason to keep Helton out.

They round out this year’s choices, with Andruw as the top of the list.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Latino Sports, Ball Nine, and Here’s The Pitch, among others. His e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

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