Monday, November 3, 2014

Tony-O, Kitty and El Tiante

Three players with Twins connections (albeit very loosely for one) are among the 10 Hall of Fame nominees announced last week for the Veterans Committee: Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant.

Oliva, if elected, would certainly go in wearing a Twins cap; he didn't play for anybody else.

Kaat probably would; he got 190 of his 283 lifetime wins as a Twin/Senator, and his stats for his other teams (White Sox, Phillies, Cardinals) don't suggest that he should be identified with any of them.

Tiant certainly wouldn't; he spent just one season with Minnesota (1970); he suffered an injury in May, which opened a rotation spot for a 19-year-old named Bert Blyleven.

The other nominees, alphabetically: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Minnie Minoso, Billy Pierce and Maury Wills. Howsam is the executive who built the 1970s Big Red Machine in Cincinnati. The rest were all players.

None of them are terrible nominees. Worse players at their respective positions than each have enshrined.

To be specific:

  • Kaat and Pierce, left-handed pitchers, have better records than Rube Marquard and Lefty Gomez.
  • Tiant, right-handed pitcher, was better than contemporary Catfish Hunter, and far better than Jesse Haines and Vic Willis.
  • Oliva and Minoso, corner outfielders, were both superior to the likes of Ross Youngs, Harry Hooper and Sam Rice.
  • Boyer, third baseman, was better than George Kell and Freddie Lindstrom.
  • Allen and Hodges, first basemen, were superior to George "Highpockets" Kelly and Jake Beckley.
  • Wills, shortstop, was better than Joe Sewell or Travis Jackson.

But that's basically taking some of the weakest Hall of Fame honorees and using them as a standard, and that's not a real good argument, The truth is, there are better players than any of these nine -- Craig Biggo, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza -- on the outside looking in because the BBWAA is doing a lousy job at the front end of the selection system.

Still, I expect at least one of these 10 finalists to be elected.

The committee meets Dec 8 at the Winter Meetings. The early speculation has Oliva and Hodges as the most likely choices. Rod Carew, Oliva's road roommate for years with the Twins, is on the committee, which is one reason to think Tony-O has a good shot.

Is he the best of this bunch? For my money, Minoso is. But none of them will demean the standards of the Hall as much as the selections of Andre Dawson, Jim Rice or Bruce Sutter did.

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