Bill Conlin: Turn off Baseball Hall of Fame's 'back burner'

Posted: January 13, 2009

WHEN I'M KING of the world . . .

The BBWAA Hall of Fame eligibility window will be lowered from 15 years to 5 . . . Look, it was a practical idea in 1936. The ballwriters who cast ballots in the first election faced the daunting challenge of a 36-year backlog of great players. Hell, Cy Young himself didn't get elected on that first ballot, mainly because 267 of his 511 victories came in the 19th century. For more than a decade, he pitched to catchers before they wore masks. And his 20th century total of 244 wins has been surpassed by many.

There were still so many Hall-worthy players waiting in line by the 1950s, it took Joe DiMaggio three tries to get elected. Only 89 percent voted for him when he finally made it. But between an overactive Veterans Committee that voted in 138 players by 2001 and the current 5 percent rule, there is no longer a valid reason for a player to have 15 years of eligibility.

Don't try to tell that to Jim Rice, however. The never-popular Red Sox outfielder was down to his last strike when the ballots for 2009 election were tallied. Rice got 76.4 percent of 539 votes cast in his 15th year of eligibility, just seven votes to the good. I think if a 5-year rule had been in effect when Rice became eligible in 1994, he would have been elected by 1999. There would have been no "Back Burner" effect, where voters tend to defer bubble candidates during years with a number of first-ballot candidates. If Rickey Henderson had been joined by several first-ballot slam dunks this year, Rice probably would have fallen short again. I think if we had to pass judgment on a Jim Rice in a 5-year window there would be more due diligence done.

Not much diligence was applied to Henderson's first-time candidacy, however. Honest answer, please: Who were the biggest jackasses, the seven members who failed to vote for Nolan Ryan (I was one of them), or the 28 this year who obviously had an ax to grind with Rickey? Maybe some had trouble processing Henderson's all-time records for single-season steals, career steals, runs scored and his No. 2 walk total.

When I'm King of the World . . .

The Phillies will be able to use body doubles for their leading players to infuse the annual Winter Tour with some star quality . . . It is going to be a great 2 weeks for the fan clubs of lefthanders J.A. Happ and Scott Eyre. As the Tour stumps through the hinterlands of their fan base, it will be all Happ and Eyre most of the time with one appearance by reliever Ryan Madson and Jimmy Rollins himself scheduled to grace next week's Jan. 20 Media Luncheon at The Bank. The Tour kicks off at the Lakewood Blue Claws banquet tonight with Happ the only scheduled major league player. Each of the five scheduled meet-and-greets will be favored by a heavy presence of field, PR and front-office officials and the ubiquitous broadcasters. So, if you have always fantasized about being in the same room with Charlie Manuel, Ruben Amaro Jr., Harry Kalas, Tom McCarthy, Bonnie Clark, Steve Noworyta, Scott Proefrock, Chuck LaMar, Benny Looper, Leigh Tobin and Scott Palmer, you'll think you died and went to Infomercial heaven. The Phillies say the players lineup could be subject to revision . . .

I normally don't do commodities reporting, but events have forced me to make an exception. Crow futures have soared dramatically, according to figures released by the South Philly Crow Exchange firm of Heckle & Jeckle. H & J reports that Feb. 1 caws are up more than 40 percent. Meanwhile, recipes for the best ways to prepare this long-neglected bird are available at www.crowbusters.com/recipes.htm . . . Has any team with a bye week in hand ever done a worse job of preparation than the Carolina Panthers? No adjustments when Kurt Warner was getting time to recite the Book of Genesis while his receivers ran their routes. Amazing dereliction.

When I'm King of the World . . .

Giants coach Tom Coughlin will be required to write the following 1 million times on his Blackberry: "I will defer on windy days" . . . The sensible turning points Sunday in the Meadowlands were fairly obvious. You can begin and end with the fourth-and-short stops that will forever define the true grit of a team that has slashed a line through the word underachieve and written OVERACHIEVE in letters a foot high. But if you believe in the staying power of unintended consequences, the magnetic turning point happened when the Giants won the coin toss and Coughlin elected to receive. This gave the Eagles the ball starting the second half and the wind in the first and fourth quarters. It didn't take many Eli Manning knuckleballs into the wind to make it apparent that Coughlin had committed an enormous blunder. And when he had the wind at his back, he was floating his passes, an aerodynamic no-no. Donovan McNabb's tight spiral into the wind and his firm touch with it at his back made all the difference. And David Akers won the kicking game as decisively as McNabb won the passing game. *

Send e-mail to bill1chair@aol.com.

For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/conlin.

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