1/13/09: Hall of Fame, RBI Baseball Style

So Jim Rice is finally a Hall of Famer. We never wondered about Rickey Henderson — he got in, too. Congratulations to both of these fine players, two reflections of the best of 80's baseball, the decade when I started out as a fan.

Many of the guys currently being considered for the Hall played the majority of their careers in the 80's — and it’s fascinating to see many of my childhood heroes left out on the vote year after year. For some, there are legitimate reasons. For others, I don’t see what the voters are missing.

All they need to do is dig out a copy of Tengen RBI Baseball for Nintendo. THAT should be the gold standard.

RBI came along in 1987 and, for my money, is the best baseball video game ever created. Players can choose from eight teams (the ALCS and NLCS squads of ’86 and ‘87) as well as two All-Star teams made up of the best players from the rest of the league. All of the guys on this year’s ballot who were active in ’87 are included in the game, with the exception of Lee Smith, Tommy John and Dave Parker.

Why weren’t Smith, John, or Parker in RBI?

Smith, despite his longevity, was never dominant enough to be considered for that NL All-Star bullpen. Parker was far too inconsistent. And Tommy John was old as dirt when RBI came out.

Using a player’s inclusion in RBI as our litmus test, none of these guys are Hall of Famers.

Look down the Hall of Fame also-rans from ’09 and you find a slew of RBI studs. Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Mark McGwire, Alan Trammell, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Harold Baines and Jesse Orosco(!) make appearances.

Who belongs in Cooperstown? Let RBI make the argument.

Andre Dawson. The Hawk was awesome in ‘87, belting 49 homers for the Cubbies and winning the National League MVP Award, while holding down the cleanup spot for RBI’s National League All-Star Team. If you want to talk about the rest of his career, and not just RBI, you can reference his power, speed, multiple Gold Gloves, and make a plaque for him in upstate New York. With 67 percent of the vote this year, the Hawk is on his way soon.

Bert Blyleven. The best curveball in all the land, 287 wins, tons of shutouts. My (Fire It Up) co-host, Jay, regularly beats me in RBI with the Minnesota Twins by starting Blyleven and handing over the reins to Frank Viola. You can probably circle Bert for the Hall — he got 63 percent this year and needs a little bump to get through before his candidacy is up in 2012.

Jack Morris. He anchors the Detroit Tigers staff in RBI and did the same throughout the 80's, winning more games than any other pitcher for the decade. When you consider his postseason pedigree and rep for being a highly durable power pitcher for so many years, you’ve gotta give Morris the nod.

Mark McGwire. Get over the steroid stuff. All “those guys” have to make the Hall of Fame someday, because we don’t know who was doing it, who wasn’t, and the names McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, etc. dominated the record books. You can’t choose to omit significant statistics just because you feel like it. Plus, McGwire is the scariest hitter in RBI. The entire game. Bring him off the bench for the AL All-Stars and he hits a home run almost every time. Try it.

But that’s it. I’m not saying the rest of the crowd shouldn’t get in — they all look pretty good in my 1987 video game — but I’m not sure their careers stand up under the magnifying glass.

Tim Raines? While I’ve lovingly given him the nickname of “Crack Train”, he shouldn’t be defined by his drug history any more than Paul Molitor, Parker, or any of the “steroid era” guys. Looking at his skill set: he’s fast as hell in RBI, but so is Vince Coleman. And Raines made seven All-Star teams, but none after ’87 — need I remind you that he played until 2002? That’s just a reflection of how truly pedestrian Raines became the last two thirds of his career — nothing more than a part-time player who mainly toiled for the White Sox and Yankees, showing little of the speed and hitting ability that makes him a force in RBI.

Alan Trammell was a six-time All-Star, excellent fielder, and was REALLY good some years, but injury-prone and just sorta average in a lot of others.

Don Mattingly — we know his story. A few great years, a back injury, and not much else. In 1987, if you had told me Donnie Baseball wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, I might’ve peed myself. Then, of course, I was also four.

Dale Murphy clubbed 44 homers in ’87 and makes a fearsome appearance in RBI, but the two-time MVP and five-time Gold Glover went WAY downhill in the second half of his career.

Harold Baines deserves props for being a skilled, consistent hitter, but he’s kind of the Lee Smith of outfielders. For a power bat, did you know he never hit more than 30 homers in a season? Only topped 30 doubles twice?

And Jesse Orosco - well, he became “The Ageless Wonder” Jesse Orosco. And that was about it.

So I have my standards. I would put Dawson, Blyleven, Morris, and McGwire in (on top of Rickey and Rice), and leave the other guys out. Feel free to take me up on my reasoning. And break out your old 8-bit Nintendo and fire up a game of RBI while you’re at it.

This post was originally published to Fire It Up Radio on Blogger, January 13, 2009.