Saturday, December 1, 2012

Lee Smith and Tim Raines in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Don’t bet on it

To listen to the gamblers, the best chance there is that a baseball player with Chicago ties will get accepted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this time around is Lee Smith – the one-time Chicago Cubs relief pitcher whom they let get away to St. Louis.

Personally, I think the best shot ought to be Tim Raines, the excellent baserunner of the Montreal Expos who included a stint with the Chicago White Sox during the 1990s (and later came back to the South Side as a coach for the ballclub).

NOT THAT I expect either of them to make it this time around, or any time soon. If anything, I expect the confusion that will be caused by this year’s Hall of Fame ballot (all those ballplayers, including Cubs legend Sammy Sosa, tainted by the suspicion of steroid-use) could cause no one to get in this year.

Which will be a bummer for baseball fans who like the image of a new ballplayer or two immortalized in bronze each summer.

The ballot for the induction ceremonies scheduled for next year came out this week, and The Sporting News on Friday published the odds set by the gamblers as to what the chances are of each ball player of actually getting elected.

According to that list, Smith is a 20/1 chance of induction, whereas Raines (whom I’d vote for if I had a ballot) is a 50/1 chance.

AS FOR THE others, one-time Cub Fred McGriff is a 150/1 chance, while Sammy Sosa (whom Cubs fans once would have had you thinking was a shoo-in) is 200/1. Kenny Lofton (who played for both sides of town, although he had his best years with the Cleveland Indians) is also 200/1.

Then, there’s Rafael Palmeiro, whom the Cubs let go in the 1980s so they could have Mark Grace as their first baseman, who is at 500/1.

The ultimate long-shot, although the fact that he failed tests for anabolic steroids makes him “guilty, as charged” in the minds of many baseball fans. It is the reason why he has never got much in the way of voter support – even though he exceeded the 500-home run and 3,000-base hit standards that usually make one a shoo-in for induction.

Personally, I respect the idea of Raines because I recall the days when he and Hall of Fame outfielder Rickey Henderson were the star baserunners of the game – standouts in their own way.

ALTHOUGH I SUSPECT that too much of the stat-geek attitude prevails these days – the people who think the stolen base is something to be avoided. As though there’s something noble about all the times that Paul Konerko gets stranded on base because he’s too slow to advance himself and his teammates become incapable of driving him in.

So I don’t expect “Rock” Raines to gain induction.

And somehow (I know Cubs fans will take this statement with great offense), I just don’t view Smith as one of the elite relief pitchers of the game – even if he once held the record for “saves.” If anything, that fact shows just how cheap the saves stat is in terms of evaluating a relief pitcher.

And I always thought that the greatest relief pitcher the Cubs ever surrendered to the St. Louis Cardinals was Bruce Sutter (whom they gave up on in part because they thought Smith could take over for him).

WHICH MEANS WE’RE not likely to get the sounds of “Sweet Home, Chicago” ringing in the streets of Cooperstown, N.Y., unless the Veterans Committee comes through.

For among the choices of old-time ballplayers who might have been overlooked by the sportswriters on their ballots, along with baseball executives, is Hank O’Day,

He was an umpire at the beginning of the 20th Century who became an umpire so he could remain in baseball even though he was a mediocrity as a ballplayer and a manager. Naturally, his managerial stints included a year (1914) at the helm of the Cubs!


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