Not even Brett understands HOF voting
by Alan Schwarz
The day when the Hall of Fame balloting gets announced is about phone calls: mainly, to the lucky former players who learn they'll be in Cooperstown forevermore. But this year the most notable phone call for me was the one to Hall of Famer George Brett, who after stepping off a plane in Boston wanted to know the voting results. I had the pleasure of getting his immediate and candid thoughts on Bruce Sutter's selection, his continuing vigil for Goose Gossage and Bert Blyleven, and whether his old pal John Schuerholz ever has a shot.
ALAN SCHWARZ: So I have the voting results, George.
GEORGE BRETT: Hit me!
AS: Bruce Sutter got in.
AS: Jim Rice and Rich Gossage didn't and had about 65 percent.
GB: No! What about Blyleven?
AS: No dice. He got 53.
GB: You gotta be kidding me!
AS: Nope. So, what's your overall gut reaction?
GB: It is a tough fraternity. I don't want to sound snobbish--I am in and these other guys aren't--but it is a tough one to join. I never faced Bruce Sutter once. I did face Goose Gossage, and if I was going to vote for a reliever that should be in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion it would be him. He would come in games in the sixth inning with one or two outs, pitch the seventh, pitch the eighth, and pitch the ninth. And you know what? I don't think he told Billy Martin the next day that, "Oh, my arm is a little tired, I can't pitch."
I was just so thankful I was a lefthanded hitter because I faced him so many times in crucial situations. People think I won all the time. I didn't win all the time. I lost more than I won. But the pine-tar game, guess what? I won. In the Ô80 playoffs, I won. You remember the ones I succeeded--you don't remember all the ones I failed.
AS: What are your memories of Jim Rice, and should he have made it this year?
GB: Jim Rice was a helluva player. But when Jim Rice was playing, did he care about (writers') deadlines? Did I care? I didn't care. But it might be coming back to haunt him because he was a good player. I saw something on ESPN about the candidates this year and I didn't realize the things he did.
AS: His prime was in many respects your prime: 1975-86. Who was more feared during that time? Jim Rice or George Brett?
GB: I hope it was me. I don't know if it was or not, but I hope it was me. I could do more things to beat you. Jim was more of a home run guy, especially in Fenway Park--"I'm gonna knock it off the wall or over the wall." I was a Rod Carew with more power. I could hit it down the left-field line, left-center, right-center, down the right-field line, over the wall or whatever. I didn't strike out. I know I never struck out.
AS: Speaking of striking out, you sounded pretty surprised that Bert Blyleven is still around 50 percent.
GB: If any of the voters had faced him, they would vote for Bert Blyleven. It wasn't just the curveball. He had a rising fastball, it had tremendous life. He had great control. You put Bert Blyleven with the Yankees, he wins 320 games and then he's a no-brainer. It's run support. Is it his fault he pitched on a bunch of crummy teams, and as a result of that you lose a game 2-1 that you could've won 3-2?
AS: How would you compare his dominance to that of Jim Palmer, who of course played on great Orioles teams?
GB: I'd say very similar. I don't know what their numbers are. Jim Palmer, if he threw a fastball down at your knees, first pitch, you could hit it. He got you out with that big, overhand, 12-to-6 curveball. Bert Blyleven was good and he will always be good. In my mind, he's not a has-been--he's an always-will-be. He was as good as anybody you ever saw.
AS: Only 10 major league third basemen have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, the fewest of any position. Why do you think that is?
GB: I don't know, you tell me.
AS: I think because while other positions demand you be good at either offense or defense, at third base you really have to be both, and that's pretty darned rare.
GB: Maybe, but Mike Schmidt and I were different players. He was a home run guy, an RBI guy. I was an on-base guy, maybe an RBI guy. He was really good defensively. Brooks Robinson was known for his defense, not his hitting. I was known for offense only and if I got a groundball and threw it to first on a fly I got a standing ovation.
AS: As a current Hall of Famer you vote on the veterans committee every two years, and it looks like it's going to be very hard for players to get in that way--to build the needed consensus.
GB: We're not voting this year. Next year I doubt there will be a lot of serious thought, because there are so many guys eligible next year on the regular Hall of Fame balloting. Mark McGwire, Cal Ripken . . .
AS: Tony Gwynn.
GB: Well, how can you not? McGwire has some baggage--that's something we'll find out about later. They might not want to make it a marathon Hall of Fame ceremony--"We'll vote for him next year."
AS: Executives will have a virtually impossible time getting in through the Veterans Committee. Will you lobby at all for an old friend of yours, John Schuerholz?
GB: I respect John Schuerholz as much as I respect any man in baseball today. I would vote for John. I knew John when he was the assistant farm director for the Royals--when he would do bed checks in instructional league. I would definitely spread the word on him. Does a Mike Schmidt know him? Does a Steve Carlton know him? Does a Bob Feller know what John Schuerholz has done? I don't think they grasp what he has done.
AS: A special Negro Leagues committee could select five or eight new Hall of Famers this year. Do you have any reaction to that?
GB: If they're voted in for what their accomplishments were, all the power to them. Let's vote on the gift they gave baseball. I really believe that. Does Buck O'Neil belong in the Hall of Fame? I think he does. These guys endured some really tough times, and never quit. That means so much to the Black people who are playing the game today. And the Dominicans, the Puerto Ricans, the Venezuelans. These guys have paved the way for them to have a good life, a better life than they were going to have in their own country. They opened the door for everybody else.
AS: Next year it's likely that Ripken, Gwynn and McGwire will get in. Which class is better: Ripken-Gwynn-McGwire or Ryan-Brett-Yount?
GB: Don't do that to me! Obviously my class is better. I remember when I went in and seeing the replays of the ceremony. It was like, "This is the best class that ever has gone in because it's three first-time guys" and all that stuff. That's a tough question. I don't know--but I hope the consensus is ours.
AS: OK, to finish up, we're going to play some word association. You ready?
GB: I love these! I'm good at these.
AS: Rich Gossage.
AS: Jim Rice.
GB: Look out.
AS: Tommy John.
GB: I'm glad they took him out and brought in Rich Gossage.
AS: Bert Blyleven.
AS: Bruce Sutter.
You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.