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Steve Garvey, Tommy John and a closed Hall of Fame

November 11, 2010 |  4:36 pm

They get another chance to enter now, though I’d still be surprised if they make it.

Both hung around on the Baseball Writers Assn. of America ballot for the maximum 15 years of voting, though falling significantly short each time.

Both are on the Hall of Fame veterans committee ballot. They’re on there with George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Pat Gillick and six other former players. Winners will be announced Dec. 6.

Certainly, it’s easy to make a case that both Steve Garvey and Tommy John deserve to be in the Hall.

Garvey was an All-Star 10 times, won four Gold Gloves, was a National League most valuable player, a two-time All-Star game MVP, a two-time NL Championship Series MVP, set the NL record for consecutive games played, had a career .294 batting average, had at least 200 hits in six seasons and was a winner with both the Dodgers and Padres.

John is 26th all-time in victories and shutouts, eighth in games started, 20th in innings pitched, 50th in strikeouts, was a four-time All-Star, had a career 3.34 earned-run average and was the NL comeback player of the year after he teamed with Dr. Frank Jobe on revolutionary elbow surgery that was named after John. He pitched for 26 seasons.

The problem for both, however, is that it wasn’t so difficult to make a case against them.

Argument against Garvey: He hit 272 career home runs, a respectable number, but not elite for someone who played a corner position. His career on-base percentage was only .329. His numbers were very good, but not truly exceptional.

Argument against John: His numbers were largely the product of his lengthy career. He’s 18th in career losses. Never won a Cy Young. Not really a dominant pitcher.

Whether you agree or disagree with either side, the larger problem for both is that frustrating moving line to determine who is truly Hall worthy and who is not.

As a BBWAA member, I voted for both. There were times early in their eligibility, however, when I did not. The problem often became, "Well, if I vote for him, then I have to vote this guy and that guy." And pretty soon your list is expanding to the point where it’s no longer an exclusive club.

Compare these career stats for first basemen:

Player                    Avg.   HR     RBI      Runs    Hits     SLG     OPS
Steve Garvey         .294    272   1308    1143   2599    .446    .329
Al Oliver                .303    219   1326    1189   2743    .451    .345
Don Mattingly        .307   222    1099   1007    2153    .471    .358
Orlando Cepeda      ,297   379    1365   1131    2351    .499    .350
Will Clark               .303   284    1205   1186    2176    .487    .384
Cecil Cooper           .298   241    1125   1012    2192    .466    .337
Edgar Martinez       .312   309    1261   1219    2247    .515    .418

Of these players, only Cepeda is in the Hall of Fame.

Cooper, Clark and Oliver never lasted past their first ballot. Martinez returns to the BBWAA ballot next January, and will be joined by John Olerud. Mattingly will be on for his 11th year. Oliver is on the veterans ballot along with Garvey.

If you vote in John, how can you not vote in Jim Kaat (283 wins, 3.45 ERA), Frank Tanana (240, 3.20), Jack Morris (254, 3.90) or Bert Blyleven (287, 3.31, fifth all-time strikeouts)?

Somewhere you have to step back. Somewhere you have to draw that vague line and determine how elite a player has to be.

And thus far, most determined that Garvey and John finished their careers just below that line.

-- Steve Dilbeck