Who’s On Base?: Future Hall of Famers

By John A. Poole
Updated: February 21, 2008

Tony GwynnGLEN BURNIE, MARYLAND – The night of the All Star game was Cal Ripken’s night — and maybe one of the greatest nights of his entire career. Playing in his last All Star game, Cal played one inning at shortstop, and hit a home run on the first pitch he saw from San Ho Park. Then they stopped the game in the 5th inning to honor him for his considerable career achievements. Now, Cal has had one of the greatest careers in the history of the game, but there is also another player who is retiring this year and I must say that he has had a pretty good run also.

Tony Gwynn began his baseball journey in 1982 with the San Diego Padres and is one of the few who have played for the same team for an entire career. Gwynn’s .338 career batting average is the highest since the great Ted Williams’ .344 lifetime average. From 1994-1997, Gwynn became the first NL player in over 70 years to win 4 straight batting titles, and in, 1994, he was the closest person to reach the untouchable .400 mark when he batted .394.

Many people want to know what Tony’s secret is and how he has been able to be so consistent over the last 20 years. “I’ve always admired the ease with which he plays,” said Cal Ripken when he was asked about Gwynn’s ability during a pre-game interview. “I’ve always had to adjust my stance, but Tony has never needed to do that,” Ripken continued.

During the last two decades, Gwynn has hit less than .300 only once. It was during his rookie season when he had played in only 54 games and had had less than 200 at-bats. That was in 1982. Since that time, he has played in 2,338 games, had 9,052 at-bats, and totaled 3,073 hits. These numbers are impressive but the most outstanding stat is that he only struck out 429 times in 20 years and never struck out in more than 40 times in any given season.

It is not a question of when Gwynn will make the Hall of Fame, but how many of the so called “experts” will have the nerve not to vote for him. No one has ever received 100% of the votes when being inducted into Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame. To be inducted, a person needs 375 votes out of 499 to be elected, which is just 75% of the total. When his time comes around, Gwynn should easily get the required 375 and will most likely be pushing 450 votes.

The Padres have more than one Hall of Famer in the works. Career lead-off hitter Rickey Henderson will be joining Gwynn as a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee. Henderson, who has established himself as one of the greatest lead-off hitters of all-time, holds several records, but has been best known for his single-season stolen base record. In 1982, Henderson stole an unthinkable 130 bases. Nobody steals 130 bases in a single season. He broke the longstanding record established by Lou Brock, who set the record in 1974 with 118 stolen bases. In four separate seasons, Henderson stole 90+ bases and broke Brock’s career total of 938 with his own total of 1,384 stolen bases over a 22-year career.

Although Rickey was able to establish himself on the field as a superstar, he was far from a superstar in the hearts of the fans and the sports writers, who will be inducting him into Cooperstown. Rickey was, and is, a flashy, cocky player who knew he could play the game of baseball better than most people. Starting his career out with the Oakland A’s in 1979, Henderson made his presence felt even though he played in only 89 games. It may hurt the writers to vote in Rickey Henderson, but there is no doubt that he’ll get in. For different reasons, it will be interesting to see the voting percentages both Henderson and Gwynn will get.

As the second half of the season gets underway, the Yankees seem to be poised for another run at the World Series title. They have the same record they had last year at this time and they are ½ in front of Boston, just as they were last year. If this is not a weird case of déjà vu, nothing is.

The Boston Red Sox have taken a turn for the worse because star pitcher Pedro Martinez will not pitch, due to a sore right shoulder, until sometime in August. To top that off, although has taken a few batting practice swings, Nomar Garciaparra has not played yet. At one point it was thought that the Wild Card berth would go to the AL East but as the season moves forward, the Oakland A’s are looking to make a run at the postseason.

Oakland is 18.0 games behind the red hot Mariners at 48-44, but in the Wild Card race they are only 6.0 games behind the Red Sox. In the last 10 games, the A’s have gone 9-1 and are looking better everyday. The main reason is the great starting three for their rotation: Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson. Combined, the three starters are 26-18 this year and seem to be getting better and better during each start. That was evident in a three-game series in which the entire pitching staff had only one three-ball count in the entire series. A manager cannot ask for more from a pitching staff.

Please come back next week as we go around the league and examine the World of Baseball.