The Baseball Hall of Fame announced its slate of “Today’s Game” candidates for consideration Monday, and it really seems to have a Cleveland feel to it.
The Today’s Game ballot is one of the eras regularly put to a vote by what used to be called the Veterans Committee.
The only candidate that would really be closely associated with the Indians is Albert Belle, drafted by the Tribe and quite possibly the most feared hitter in the American League in his prime. Three times Belle led the American League in total bases, and three times he led the league in RBIs. His best year in an Indians uniform was 1995, hitting .317/.401/.690 and becoming the ONLY player ever to hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season (a shortened one, no less, only 144 games because of the players’ strike).
Belle lost out on the American League MVP to Mo Vaughn, in large part due to his churlish nature with the reporters who voted on the award. That truculence probably also affected his standing on the Baseball Writers Association of America. He got 7.7 percent of the vote his first year of eligibility, enough to stay on the ballot for another year, but fell below the 5 percent threshold that year and dropped off the ballot.
Is he a Hall of Famer? That’s a tough question. His most productive years matched up with or were better than a lot of players enshrined in Cooperstown, but he had such a short prime, undone by a degenerative hip condition, that keeps him from being a slam-dunk Hall of Fame candidate.
Belle’s teammate on the 1995 Indians, Orel Hershiser, is also up for consideration. Hershiser is probably best remembered for his record of 59 consecutive scoreless innings with the Dodgers the year they won their last World Series to date. Hershiser was named the MVP of the National League Championship Series that year and seven years later, duplicated the feat with the Indians in the American League Championship Series, becoming the first player to win LCS MVP in both leagues. Hershiser’s career with the Indians was just three years, but it encompassed the three best years for the Indians in my lifetime, with two World Series appearances.
Prior to Belle, the Indians’ big slugger was Joe Carter, who came to Cleveland in 1984 in the trade that sent Rick Sutcliffe to the Cubs. He led the league in RBI in 1986 for a mediocre Indians team that demonstrated enough offensive firepower that Sports Illustrated picked the Indians to win the 1987 pennant (which was actually won by the Twins; the Indians lost 101 games).
Carter is also on the Today’s Game ballot. His 396 home runs paint him as one of the era’s sluggers (and that’s not including his game-winner in the 1991 World Series), but his .259 batting average might turn some voters off.
Harold Baines, also on the ballot, is most closely associated with the Chicago White Sox – or the Orioles, for those of us who remember him in the 1997 American League Championship Series – but he spent 28 games with the Indians at the end of the 1999 season, and was on the postseason roster for that Tribe team that spit the bit against the Red Sox in the Division Series. That postseason performance spelled doom for Indians manager Mike Hargrove. His successor Charlie Manuel is one of three managers on the ballot, along with Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella (who played briefly for the Indians early in his career).
Manuel led the Indians to an American League Central Division title (they lost in the Division Series to Piniella’s Mariners, who won 116 games that year), but is probably on the ballot for his success thereafter with the Phillies, guiding them to five National League East Division titles, two pennants and a World Series win in 2008.
Also on the ballot is Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, a Cleveland native who turned to the Bronx after being rebuffed in his overtures to buy the Indians in the early 1970s. Steinbrenner was an all-around sportsman, serving as an assistant college football coach and owning the Pipers, a pre-Cavs foray into pro basketball in Cleveland. It’s also worth mentioning that Steinbrenner, who was convicted (but pardoned) of violating campaign finance laws and given a “lifetime” ban from MLB (he was reinstated after three years) has been adjudicated to have been guilty of far more than Barry Bonds.
The only people appearing on the ballot with no discernable Cleveland connections are Will Clark and Lee Smith.
Any player with at least 75 percent of the votes by the 16-member committee will be inducted. Results are to be announced in December.
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