They Aren’t Headed to Cooperstown, but They Made Their Mark
Carlos Beltrán could do it all: At various points in his 20-year career, he hit 40 homers, stole 40 bases, batted .300 and won Gold Gloves. He helped five different franchises reach the postseason, and even won the Roberto Clemente Award for community service.
In 2017, Beltrán closed his career by winning the World Series with the Houston Astros — but he was later found to be instrumental in devising their notorious electronic sign-stealing scheme. The scandal cost Beltrán his job as the Mets’ manager before his first game in their dugout. Now, it complicates his candidacy for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Hall unveiled the 2022 writers’ ballot on Monday, with Beltrán leading a list of 14 newcomers who join 14 holdovers. The leading returning candidate, the former third baseman Scott Rolen, received 63.2 percent of the vote in the last cycle, his fifth year on the ballot.
There’s a decent chance that nobody on the writers’ ballot will gain the required 75 percent; the induction class for July in Cooperstown, N.Y., would then consist only of candidates selected by the Contemporary Baseball Era committee, which meets next month at the winter meetings in San Diego.
That group includes boldface names like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, whose candidacies — for various reasons — may be even thornier than Beltrán’s.
The folks below, at least, are easier to evaluate. None will garner many votes from the writers, but all made a significant impression worthy of a salute:
He played for the Pirates, the Red Sox, the Reds and the Diamondbacks, but Bronson Arroyo should have played for the Rockettes. That’s how he looked for a moment in his delivery, a snapshot of balletic grace on the mound. Arroyo, a right-hander, would swing his left leg upward, without bending the knee, as if it were the minute hand on a watch pointed at 10 o’clock.
He said he learned to lift his leg high as a kid in Florida by watching the Mets’ Dwight Gooden on cable Channel 9 — but Gooden bent his knee. Arroyo’s stiff-leg mechanics came naturally, and when a coach tried to change him in the minors, he couldn’t make the adjustment. “In my mind my foot is not out there,” Arroyo said. “In my mind, my leg is in the same place everyone else’s is.” His way worked just fine for 16 stellar seasons that included an All-Star selection, a Gold Glove and a World Series title.
When Matt Cain was 5 years old, he turned three unassisted triple plays in T-ball. When he was 17, the Giants drafted him in the first round out of a Tennessee high school. When he was 27, he threw the only perfect game in franchise history.
That earned Cain a spot on the “Late Show With David Letterman,” reading a top 10 list of things he still wanted to achieve: “No. 4,” Cain said, “Pitch an inning without my pants.” Cain never did that, as far as we know, but his stalwart effort in the 2010 postseason (21 ⅓ innings, no earned runs) helped the Giants win their first title in San Francisco, and he never threw a pitch for another team.
The knuckleball is a sorcerer’s trick, a mystical misfit in an era of predictive data. Nobody knows where the pitch is going — though, sadly, all signs point to extinction. Last season, only position players moonlighting on the mound tried the knuckler, the pitch R.A. Dickey used to win the National League Cy Young Award for the Mets in 2012. Will the pitch ever return?
“You need people who have actually seen, with their own eyes, how valuable it can be,” Dickey, a right-hander who spent 15 years in the majors, said by phone last week. “When those people go away, or matriculate out of the game, the pitch is probably doomed, because then you don’t have enough people with enough imagination to understand what it can really become. But I still have hope that if enough of those people are out there, there will be another guy.”
In seven seasons with the Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury earned about $21 million. Then the Yankees signed him in free agency for seven times that amount: $153 million for seven years. The deal was a disaster, of course, with injuries holding Ellsbury to just four years in pinstripes.
His career is a reminder of how quickly change can come, both for a player’s reputation and for the game as a whole. Ellsbury had only four or five good seasons, but his career stolen base total — 343 — would lead all active players today. Here’s hoping the new rules for 2023, including bigger bases and limits on pickoff attempts, can restore the popularity of the steal in a risk-averse sport.
For famous groupings of college hitters, it’s hard to beat the 1987 Seton Hall Pirates of Craig Biggio, John Valentin and Mo Vaughn. But if one team can make such a claim, it might be the 2002 Arizona State Sun Devils.
That team included Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia and Andre Ethier, who led A.S.U. in hitting at .369 and went on to have a 12-year career as a dependable right fielder for the Dodgers. The Seton Hall team went 45-10 and the Arizona State team went 37-27, but the Sun Devils got the long-term edge, with 127.5 wins above replacement to the Pirates’ 125.1.
When your father is a tennis pro and your mother a golf pro, there’s a good chance you’ll have elite hand-eye coordination. That’s how it turned out for J.J. Hardy, who won three Gold Gloves as the Orioles’ shortstop and was known as the best table tennis player in baseball.
Hardy told Tim Kurkjian, the Hall of Fame writer, that he took 89 consecutive matches from Brady Anderson, the retired longtime Baltimore outfielder he considered the second-best player around the team — but was somehow beaten one spring training in Florida by pitcher Jason Hammel. Five minutes later, Hardy got a text message from Arizona: A former teammate, Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, could not believe Hardy had lost. “Word travels fast when I lose in Ping-Pong,” Hardy said.
In the first inning of his debut, in 2002, the right-hander John Lackey gave up a 433-foot home run to Alex Rodriguez in Texas. His Angels teammate Troy Glaus came over from third base to check in.
“I went out and talked to him, expecting to see a guy whose eyes are looking like golf balls, just to pat him on the fanny and say, ‘Let’s go,’” Glaus said, four months later. “He looked at me and said, ‘All right, I got it.’ That, to me, was all I needed to see.”
Glaus spoke in a news conference after that year’s World Series against the Giants, when Lackey became the first rookie to win a Game 7 since the Pirates’ Babe Adams in 1909. Lackey went on to help the Red Sox and the Cubs reach the top, joining Bullet Joe Bush, Jack Morris and Dave Stewart as the only pitchers on championship-winning rosters for three franchises.
When Mike Napoli crouched behind the plate at Busch Stadium in the bottom of the ninth inning on Oct. 27, 2011, he was about to be the most valuable player of the World Series. He had hit .333 for Texas against St. Louis, with two home runs and 10 R.B.I. But the final out never came, and the Cardinals rallied (twice) on their way to a championship.
The Rangers have never returned to the World Series, but Napoli went twice more, winning in 2013 with Boston and losing in 2016 with Cleveland, where he became a folk hero for his “Party at Napoli’s” persona. T-shirts with the slogan raised more than $100,000 for a children’s hospital, yet Napoli is best remembered for not wearing a shirt: After Boston’s victory parade, he went topless as he roamed from tavern to tavern, toasting the title with fans.
Before the Astros regularly bounced the Yankees from the playoffs, it was Jhonny Peralta’s job. He did it three times in a short span, with Cleveland in 2007 and Detroit in 2011 and 2012, batting .353 with 18 hits, including the cruelest one of all. In the 12th inning of the 2012 American League Championship Series opener, Peralta grounded a single to his shortstop counterpart, Derek Jeter, who broke his ankle while diving for it. The injury cost Jeter almost all of the following season, and he never played in October again.
What do you remember most about Francisco Rodriguez: the brilliance on the mound or the violence off it? He had 437 saves, including a single-season record 62 for the Angels in 2008. He was also arrested on assault charges at Citi Field in August 2010 after punching his girlfriend’s father outside the family room near the Mets’ clubhouse.
Rodriguez, who was suspended, tore a thumb ligament in the fight and was traded to Milwaukee the next summer. He toiled in relative obscurity through 2017, earning his fifth and sixth All-Star selections and compiling enough saves to rank fourth on the career list. Those ahead of him — Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith — are Hall of Famers. Rodriguez will not come close.
Plenty of fathers and sons have starred in the same sport. Far fewer pairs have excelled at different sports, at least as well as James and Huston Street. James Street was 20-0 as quarterback for the University of Texas, culminating with a Cotton Bowl victory over Notre Dame on Jan. 1, 1970, to win the national championship. He also helped pitch the Longhorns to three College World Series, and while they didn’t win then, Huston Street led Texas all the way in 2002, earning Most Outstanding Player honors for the tournament.
He went on to earn 324 saves in Major League Baseball, all in three- or four-year stints for West Division teams: Oakland, Colorado, San Diego and the Angels. James Street died in 2013, and Huston uses a quote from him in his Twitter bio: “You are either getting a little better or a little worse. You don’t stay the same.”
In Jered Weaver’s first nine seasons with the Angels, through 2014, only Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia earned more victories. Weaver was a long, lean righty with shaggy, sandy hair, a slow, smooth delivery and a dry wit: When he joined the Padres in 2016, he chose Mike Trout’s jersey number, 27, because he said he wanted to hit like Trout. Alas, Weaver went hitless (and winless) for San Diego, but he got halfway to 300 wins as an Angel — and made a touching tribute to a fallen teammate. When Weaver and his wife, Kristin, had their first child in 2013, they named him Aden in honor of Nick Adenhart, a young teammate who was killed by a drunken driver in 2009.
When Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with Washington in December 2010, it flummoxed the sport: Here was a solid player for the powerhouse Phillies being paid like a star to move to the struggling Nationals. To Werth, it was a perfect fit. “I was looking at being there four, five, six years,” he said the next spring, referring to the Phillies. “Where was their team going to be toward the end of my contract?”
Werth’s forecast was accurate; for most of his deal, the teams’ fortunes were indeed flipped. This fall, though, the Phillies were on their way to the World Series, and cheers greeted Werth as he fired the ceremonial first pitch of the pennant-clinching game — and fired is the accurate verb — to Bryce Harper, whom he mentored in Washington. “What are you doing? I’ve got to play a game!” Harper said later, recalling what he told Werth. “Thank goodness I’m a catcher, or I used to be. I wanted to kill him.” Harper smiled and added: “So J-Dub.”