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Hall of Fame meanderings

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Clark
Booth

It's been a happy summer so far for baseball and with a potentially rousing stretch run in the works it could actually get better. Even the all-star game was a cut above recent form although the bar for that regrettably tainted event has never been lower.

No matter! Baseball's annual mid-summer Hall of Fame festival at bucolic Cooperstown compensates. More and more it's becoming baseball's mid-season signature event; sort of the summer-game's summer solstice shebang minus the pagan trappings.

Unlike the other games which constantly strive to stay abreast with the cultural times -- or even out in front a step or two -- baseball is never happier than when it is looking fondly back upon its glorious past. Doesn't matter, apparently, if what's past was only yesterday. So they bear on, borne back ceaselessly into the past. And why not? It is so warm and cozy there; especially, if you are Baseball.

On the shores of Lake Otesaga this year there's been much to be happy about. They had four first-class -- and, best of all -- live and lively new immortals to anoint. Brothers Johnson, Smoltz and Biggio were gracious honorees while our own Dominican Dandy, Pedro Martinez, was delighted to serve as the life of the party.

It was, all in all, a major improvement over last year when the writers, in their wisdom, elected no one, or two years earlier when the Veterans' Committee, in its confusion, offered three new immortals, all of them long dead. Methinks that stuff is not going to happen again. Baseball, ever a slow learner, begins to understand the power of its Hall of Fame magic and how it must be served, and how much the majesty of its annual lawn party at precious Cooperstown charms America. All in all, it's quite a treasure. It's pleasing to see them getting their act together up in J. Fenimore Cooper Country.

Next year, Ken Griffey Jr. leads the potential class. The PED debate will intensify with Bobby Bonds' situation vastly changing as the Federal Government drops out of his life. If the ban on Bonds weakens it must also weaken its grip on Roger Clemens, he too having survived the law. The debate continues but one senses its fury and bitterness lessening. Craig Biggio survived the vague suspicion of PED abuse. Will Mike Piazza be next? One further senses solutions to all such questions are reachable; or at least more so than had been seemed.

There remains one HOF category where attention is lagging and improvements need to be made and that is the Veterans' Committee peccadillo. There have been reforms and maybe the process is slightly improved but they haven't gotten it right yet. As a result, the process has been reduced to a trickle.

And that's a shame because there remains a long list of candidates highly worthy of consideration. Stifling the process, as has been effectively done, is downright unfair. Anyway, here's my list of the dozen lads most deserving of the call in my opinion.

1. Minnie Minoso

I'm at risk of overdoing Minnie's cause for I've argued it ceaselessly here for roughly 40 years. Minnie is gone now but we ain't giving up. A true and noble pathfinder in this game, Minnie is the most compelling case and his exclusion remains easily the most unjust.

2. Cecil Travis

Every bit as much a noble cause as Minoso. Travis speaks for all the men -- many of whom we've never heard of -- who were headed for greatness when the distraction of a colossal global war happened along. Unlike most of the game's stars who served, Travis did hard time in the Army ending up in the Battle of Bulge where, in that brutal mid-winter showdown in Belgium, he suffered frost-bite which left him permanently damaged essentially ending his career. In 1941, his last full season with the Senators, he hit .359 with 218 hits while cavorting with customary brilliance at shortstop. At 27 he was in his seventh season and already had 1,400 hits. May we agree had it not been for war's intervention he'd have been enshrined 50 years ago.

3. Bill Dahlen

When the equally worthy and near-forgotten George Davis got tapped by the Veterans Committee a few years ago I was sure "Bad Bill' would soon follow. But it hasn't happened. A pity! He deferred only to Hans Wagner among his era's shortstops. He was much the superior of long-ago elected Bobby Wallace let alone Joe Tinker, who owes his immortality to a silly limerick.

4. Carl Mays

The fact that he was a nasty fellow who fired the pitch that killed Ray Chapman is eternally held against him. But assuming he did not do that on purpose he should have made it long ago. Five times a 20-game winner, he's arguably the finest pitcher not enshrined.

5. Ken Wiliams

Old St. Louis Brownies are the most neglected of baseball species. Next to George Sisler, he was the best of them although a very late start restricted him to 10 stellar campaigns. The sainted memory of the forlorn Browns obliges this.

6. Luis Tiant

This one's personal. I dealt much with Luis in his prime and it was a total pleasure. In a game you had to win I'd take him over the greatest of his contemporaries, even the Seavers and Palmers. His 229 wins compare precisely with Don Drysdale and Catfish Hunter and he was better than both. Should also be credited with handling graciously the burdens early Latin stars had to bear.

7. Tony Oliva

For a brief and shining interlude when he was healthy, he was the game's best hitter. Played more than half his career on one leg yet still hit .304 with near-2,000 hits. What might have been!

8. Marvin Miller

His case has been stated ad infinitum. It's a no-brainer. His exclusion remains a scandal. Just do it!

9. Tommy John

One of the truly fine pitching artists of his era, his 287 wins credential him sufficiently. But the fact that he bravely pioneered the astounding surgical procedure that bears his name ought make him a lead-pipe cinch. "What are they thinking," you ceaselessly wonder.

10. Jack Morris

In the not too distant future -- as the age of the complete game becomes extinct -- electors will view Black Jack's endurance, toughness and devotion to duty with amazement. The last of the iron-men he's a lock once the Vets-Committee gets his case.

11. Gil Hodges

Enough is enough! The cat and mouse game played with Gil's surviving family the last 40 years has been outrageous. The veritable heart of one of the grandest teams ever he was brinking on greatness as a manager when he died so young. Shamefully overlooked has been the fact his career was delayed by WW II service spent island-hopping with the Marines in the Pacific. In the name of common sense the farce of his exclusion must be corrected.

12. Jimmy Dykes and Firpo Marberry (a tie)

Two long forgotten worthies whose claims I find equally valid. As a third-baseman, Dykes hit .280, had 2,300 hits, and captained Connie Mack's last great A's teams. As a manager for another quarter century he was consistently acclaimed for doing the most with the least. Dykes was an all-time great "baseball man."

As for Fred "Firpo" Marberry, he didn't invent relief pitching but he certainly perfected the role at which he excelled for the Tigers and Senators. He both started and relieved with his relief-stints averaging roughly three innings a crack. In 1929, he won 19 with 16 complete games PLUS 23 relief appearances good for 11 saves. May we safely say they don't make Firpo Marberry's anymore?

It's a Baker's Dozen with still more, worthy of Honorable Mention and reasonable consideration. Like, Joe Torre and George Steinbrenner (both certain eventually), Billy Pierce and Jim Kaat (who also should be), Wally Schang, Roger Maris, Davey Concepcion, Dom DiMaggio and Mickey Vernon, nor should ancients George Van Haltren and Jimmy Ryan be forgot.

I could go on all day; as well you know.

Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Bostonís WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.

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