By Dan Schlossberg
Can one team have too many players in the Baseball Hall of Fame?
That was the argument that kept Gil Hodges outside of Cooperstown far too long and also worked against Yankees shortstop-turned-announcer Phil Rizzuto. Another player pushed aside by too many inshrined teammates was Ron Santo, though he too eventually got in.
So let’s consider the Atlanta Braves, who were rewarded for their record 14-year title streak by the election of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Fred McGriff, manager Bobby Cox, and general manager John Schuerholz.
All were worthy selections but weren’t the only ones who should have been considered.
Let’s go back to the ‘80s and Dale Murphy, who won five Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, and two MVPs — which just happened to be consecutive. En route to 398 career home runs, he led the National League in home runs and RBIs twice each and the majors in total bases during the decade of the ‘80s. He also got MVP votes in seven different seasons and went to the same number of All-Star Games.
Hall of Fame contender Dale Murphy batted and threw right-handed but is a natural lefty who signs his baseball cards with his left hand. Credit: Wikimedia
Never suspected of anything worse than chiding female reporters for entering the locker room, Murphy was the NL’s answer to Cal Ripken, Jr. — a teetotaler who didn’t smoke, drink, or swear. Since character is allegedly a big criterion in Hall of Fame selection, shouldn’t he be at the head of the class? We thought so.
A later center-fielder who comes to mind is Andruw Jones, one of five outfielders to win 10 consecutive Gold Gloves. Three of the other four (Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, and Ken Griffey, Jr.) are already in Cooperstown and the fourth (Ichiro) will join them soon. Andruw also hit 434 home runs, 51 of them while setting a Braves franchise record in 2005, and had 10 more in post-season play. His batting average suffered a severe case of shrinkage over his last five years — after he left Atlanta — but his Cooperstown credentials were established long before that.
And let’s not forget Gary Sheffield, who gave the Braves two tremendous seasons while racking up the incredible total of 509 lifetime homers, plus six more in post-season. A nine-time All-Star who once won a batting crown, Sheffield was a rare contact hitter who also had good power. His .292 lifetime batting average is solid and he was versatile enough to play multiple positions, from shortstop and third base to the outfield. He couldn’t match Jones on defense — who could? — but he was a feared hitter wherever he went. Sheffield, by the way, still holds the Atlanta record of 132 RBIs in a season.
Both Jones and Sheffield are still on the writers’ ballot but a couple of other deserving candidates are not.
Leo Mazzone, the pitching coach during the 14-year run of divisional titles, was one of three men, along with Bobby Cox and John Smoltz, who were Braves for the entire time. A disciple of Johnny Sain, who served as Atlanta pitching coach before him, Mazzone imparted such revolutionary theories as having his pitchers throw twice between starts. An Old School guy whose charges avoided injury (except for the Tommy John surgery that sidelined Smoltz late in his career), Mazzone would be the first coach in the Hall of Fame — if Sain didn’t get there first.
Cooperstown has already cornered some team owners but has been remiss in missing Ted Turner. The founder of CNN and SuperStation TBS, Turner turned an obsession for yacht racing into a hands-on ownership regime that included participation in zany on-field promotions and a zest for anything that could help — including making himself manager for a day. He also spent money on free agents, bringing Andy Messersmith, Bruce Sutter, Al Hrabosky, and Gary Matthews to Atlanta. The namesake of Turner Field, which lasted 19 years, changed the way baseball was broadcast, bringing the game to a much wider audience.
The Baseball Hall of Fame would be wise to follow the advice of the sign of Ted Turner’s desk: “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.”
Electing this quintet would be a giant step in the right direction.
Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has been a Braves fan since 1957, when Lou Perini owned the team, Fred Haney was manager, and Milwaukee was its home base. Contact Dan via email@example.com.