I have this weird affinity for players who are pretty good, but–in the grand scheme of baseball history–far from great. A few examples: My favorite player growing up was Jeromy Burnitz. As a kid, I’d pelt tennis balls at my mom’s aluminum garage door while emulating the likes of Cal Eldred. Even now, my favorite pitcher on the stocked Milwaukee pitching staff is none other than Shaun Marcum. I’m weird.
Probably due to a baseball lifetime spent making the most of what my small market team could cobble together with sofa change, I’ve developed a true respect for serviceable athletes who managed quality careers… but who won’t go down beside the all-time greats.
Wednesday, as Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven found induction into baseball’s highest pantheon, 16 others received less than 5% of the writers’ votes and saw their first and last opportunities to see their names featured on the Hall of Fame ballot elapse in an instant. So as fans everywhere celebrate the honor granted to two of a sport’s best, a part of me laments these other players finding their Hall of Fame flame (one ignited by years of proficient-yet-not incredible play) so quickly extinguished.
But before these 16 decent players find their names permanently tossed on the scrap heap of serviceable players in the annals of baseball obscurity, I thought each deserved a few words about their impact on me, Joe Everyfan.
Harold Baines: Such a regal sounding name! I wouldn’t be surprised if he mistakenly gets elected to the Cricket Hall of Fame eventually. The longtime designated hitter earned a shocking 28 votes from writers, despite not even being an actual baseball player. DH JOKE!!!
John Franco: Frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t get the necessary 5% of votes, as the dude played 21 seasons and retired with a sub-3.00 ERA. Plus, he looks like what I assume every dude from New York looks like. I blame the media… for both things I said.
Kevin Brown: Even though he’ll never be enshrined beside the greatest pitchers in baseball history, Brown can sleep easy knowing he earned more than all of them combined for doing much, much less work.
Tino Martinez: I imagine he’s gotta be one of the top 1,468 Devil Rays ever. Chalk?
Marquis Grissom: As a Brewer fan, Grissom’s name brings back memories of both happiness and disappointment. When he came to Milwaukee in 1998, I was pumped to not only have a player that I’d actually heard of before he arrived, I was excited to see what Grissom, along with his four Gold Gloves, two All-Star Games and two seasons of more than 75 steals would do for my home state’s downtrodden franchise. I got three unforgettably bad seasons, a .260 batting average and just 57 (combined) steals.
Al Leiter: He tossed a no-hitter to go with a hell of a career. The day after Anibal Sanchez doesn’t get into the Hall, I’ll be too busy to type something like this about him. Plus, I’m pretty sure there’s a Web clip of Leiter in the broadcast booth saying “Jamjob” or something like that a bunch. But I can’t find it. Let’s just stick with the stupid Anibal Sanchez thing.
John Olerud: Nice lid, nerd. (Slaps nearest buddy high five)
B.J. Surhoff: The former No. 1 pick will always be best known for not being Will Clark (who was available in same draft), but he did post solid numbers while aptly playing catcher, outfield and corner infield. Plus… the guy’s name was B.J!!! Classic. (Slaps same buddy another high five)
Bret Boone: Narrowly cracks my top 4 list of members of the Boone family who’ve played professional baseball.
Benito Santiago: I’m fairly certain that approximately 75% of baseball cards made between 1989 and 2005 feature Benny on them. I got so many doubles of Santiago that it made nerdy 8-year-old me filled with yet-to-be-tapped rage. When I finally crack, whatever insane and likely-feces-related tragedy that follows can be squarely blamed on shitty veteran catchers and the soul-less people at Donruss. Plus, Santiago played for, like, every team. If memory serves, I think he once played for two teams at the same time and nobody but me even realized it.
Carlos Baerga: Played four great seasons with Cleveland in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, he decided to participate in 10 additional professional seasons. Carlos is also the basis of the old spelling rule, “E before A, except in Baerga.”
Charles Johnson: Responsible for that awesome song “This is how we do it.” Wait, that was Montell Jordan. Still, Johnson cornered the market on marginal black catchers for a while there. And he always seemed to find a spot on my stepdad’s roto team in the mid-90s.
Bobby Higginson: And him too. My stepdad’s roto teams in the mid-90s weren’t very good.
Raul Mondesi: I always though Mondesi was a talented (though troubled) player, but my favorite thing involving him is a joke about him that Jay Leno once told in a monologue. It went something like, “Raul Mondesi … you see this? you hear about this? … Raul Mondesi has such a good arm that he once threw out a runner from the bar across the street.” That was the first and last time I would ever laugh at something Jay Leno said.
Kirk Rueter: Isn’t he that Christian guy from Growing Pains? It’ not? Well, whoever that douche is got as many Hall of Fame votes as Kirk Rueter.
Lenny Harris: Amazingly, one of our era’s most highly-regarded pinch hitters finished his lengthy career with a lifetime average in the .260s. Toward the end, teams would pinch hit for him midway through his pinch hit at bats.
Congrats, Hall of Famers. Happy trails to the rest of you. You won’t be (immediately) forgotten.