When 60,000 or so Orioles fans, Padres fans and otherwise interested observers descend upon the tiny hamlet in central New York to see Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn take their place among the game’s immortals, we will be taking another step away from a bygone era, and another one into a time we would rather not have to face.
Ripken and Gwynn will go in as first-ballot inductees with no asterisks attached and no lingering questions. They built their squeaky-clean legends, established their statistical records, and did it in the same places for their entire careers. And how many more times will we get to say that in the next decade?
Yes, we’re talking steroids, and their impending growing influence on Hall voting as more and more products of the steroids era reach the ballot. The progression already has begun with Mark McGwire, whose candidacy garnered suspiciously little support in his initial try last winter — not that we’re talking about the past — when Gwynn and Ripken easily made the cut.
As for Gwynn, if there was a knock on him, it was along the lines of letting himself go physically, probably taking a couple of seasons of peak efficiency off his career. And Ripken? Ironically, the Iron Man had to defend himself for wanting to play every day, as if that was a bad thing.
Next year’s Hall ballot will bring no standout first-time candidates — Tim Raines, and Shawn Dunston being among the notables. Conventional thinking says this possibly could open the door for two more from back in the day — Rich ‘Goose’ Gossage and Jim Rice — the latter whose slugging accomplishments are getting a second look as genuine in the face of the accomplishments of bulked-up sluggers who followed.
And this is not to say there won’t be more inductions similar to what we will get on Sunday. Astro-for-life Craig Biggio reached the 3,000-hit mark this season, which will be his last. Greg Maddux has at least one more season in him, but he won’t be far behind getting to Cooperstown on the first ballot. Tom Glavine, too.
But for every one of those to honor, there will a Rafael Palmeiro or two to consider. The numbers obviously are Cooperstown worthy — but what about the baggage? Are these the final seasons for Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa? And who knows what baseball’s investigation and similar government cases may turn up in the way of other Hall of Fame-caliber names?
So let’s enjoy this weekend’s celebration — when two deserving superstars who played the game the way it was supposed to be played — will be enshrined. We’ll deal with the other ugliness down the road.
Q: Do you think the Angels have enough power to reach the World Series? They seem to have problems with their pitching, as well.
— Armando Madrigal, Trabuco Canyon, Calif.
A: I’ve thought that they have been short one big bat to protect Vladimir Guerrero for the last two seasons, Armando. And the fact that Bad Vlad already has 20 intentional walks points out that teams feel the same way, and would rather take their chances on other Angels hitters beating them. The situation was less of a problem when Casey Kotchman was on an offensive roll earlier this season, but he has cooled off considerably of late, and Howie Kendrick is on the disabled list.
If general manager Bill Stoneman stays true to form, the Angels won’t do anything major, namely, dealing for Mark Teixeira or Ken Griffey Jr. But I could see a smaller-sized deal for a first base/DH bat such as Kevin Millar. I also think Santana will be back in the big leagues shortly to fill the fifth spot in the rotation. And if the Angels don’t reach the World Series, you can bet the criticism of Stoneman will intensify.
HBT: Carlos Ruiz was lifted from Sunday afternoon’s game against the Reds after straining his right hamstring while running the bases in the bottom of the second inning.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.