Even the HOF doesn't have enough pitching   

Updated: January 10, 2008, 12:16 PM ET

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It's nice to see Goose Gossage finally get his due in the Hall of Fame, but now that we're so willing to vote in closers (two in the past three years and four in the past five), it's high time we start giving starting pitchers some credit again.

Off Base
Here's a trivia question for your next trip to the bar: How many starting pitchers whose careers started within the past 40 years have the baseball writers voted into the Hall of Fame?

Answer: Zero. Evidently, people who say there is never enough pitching are right.

Think about that. No career starter who threw his first big league pitch after 1967 has received the magic 75 percent vote from the writers. This is not counting Dennis Eckersley, who won roughly 150 games as a starter but was elected to the Hall of Fame in large part due to his career as a closer. Put another way, no starting pitcher born after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier is in the Hall of Fame (by contrast, 17 of the past 18 non-starting pitchers elected by the writers were born after the 1947 season).

In fact, only 12 starters have been elected in the past 32 years and only four in the past 15. The last starter elected was Nolan Ryan in 1999. Since Ryan, we have elected 12 position players and three closers. And looking at the upcoming classes, no starter joining the ballot in the next four years will likely get voted in, either. That means unless voters have a change of heart on Bert Blyleven or Jack Morris, we'll go 14 years without the writers electing a starting pitcher.

Part of this is probably just one of those things, a fluke of when careers happened to end. After all, depending on retirement dates and how voters feel about Roger Clemens, it's quite possible that we'll see five starters elected from 2013 to 2015. But when no starters are elected over such a long period, it stands to reason that the standards might be too high. In the previous 32 years, 34 position players have been elected to the Hall by the writers but only a dozen starting pitchers, nearly a 3-1 margin when position players in general outnumber starting pitchers by about 2-1.

Blyleven ranks fifth in strikeouts, eighth in shutouts and 17th in wins since 1900, yet he isn't in. Morris won 254 games, was a five-time All-Star, finished in the top five in Cy Young voting five times and was the No. 1 starter on three different world championship teams, yet he isn't in, either.

Just as we try to determine what offensive statistics mean in this era of inflated offense, we need to acknowledge that pitching stats have likewise evolved. Yes, Morris had a 3.90 ERA, but he wasn't pitching in the 1960s, either. I'm not comparing him to Tom Seaver or Randy Johnson. But to win 254 games and receive fewer votes than Lee Smith? Give me a break.

Another way of viewing it is this: A top closer pitches about 60-70 innings a season, or about 200 innings fewer than Morris often did. Does that mean, as Morris asks, "The guys who threw 250 innings a year were 200 innings better than the guys who threw 50?" Maybe not, but holding the lead in the ninth inning is vastly overrated compared to the much more demanding job of holding that lead for the six to eight previous innings.

"I don't mean any disrespect to Eck, I really don't," Morris said. "But you realize this guy was done at 150 wins when he became a reliever. He couldn't cut it as a starter anymore. He revived his career as a closer."

Morris has an interesting idea. If writers value saves so much, give a starting pitcher extra credit for a complete-game win, since he is in effect saving his own victory. Morris completed 175 games in 18 years (virtually certain Hall of Famer Tom Glavine has completed just 56 in 21 seasons), and according to a Baseball Prospectus study, won roughly two-thirds of those, or about 100. With 250 wins and 100 "saves," Morris suddenly looks like a very convincing candidate for Cooperstown. And Blyleven, with 242 complete games, looks even better.

Was either Morris or Blyleven as good as Steve Carlton or Juan Marichal? No. But they were certainly the pitching equivalent of Harmon Killebrew or Tony Perez. They belong in the Hall.


So Congress is getting involved in baseball once again, first summoning commissioner Bud Selig, union leader Donald Fehr and former Senate majority leader George Mitchell to testify about steroids in the game next week -- only to be followed by Roger Clemens, his former trainer Brian McNamee and Andy Pettitte next month. Good work, ladies and gentlemen. Because there is no more pressing issue in this country than whether some athletes tried to chemically enhance their performance. I'm not exactly sure what you hope to achieve with this other than some prime-time face time -- C-SPAN is sooooo limiting -- considering that baseball not only has instituted a stiff testing program, it also spent at least $20 million to investigate itself. I mean, really, what more do you want baseball to do? Test Anna Benson for breast implants?

If you really want to garner some publicity, then quit piling on baseball for just a minute to take a look at some other sports. If you want to have any credibility that you really are interested in cleaning up PEDs in professional sports, you need to subpoena:

Shawne Merriman. Ask him how prevalent the use of PEDs are in the NFL and whether he really felt like the NFL punished him for taking steroids given that he wound up in the Pro Bowl and appeared in a Nike commercial within one year of being "busted."

Roger Goodell. Ask him why players on the Carolina Panthers would be ordering steroids a couple of weeks before the Super Bowl. Ask him how effective the league's testing policy is if none of the players was caught by the NFL. Ask him how widespread PEDs are if a punter feels the need to use them. And ask him whether we are really supposed to believe that spinach and Wheaties make players as big, fast and strong as they've become.

And if you're really interested in the health of athletes, also ask Goodell about the alarming number of concussions in the league and the resulting memory problems. Or how the weight of linemen has increased to the point that 20 percent of the players in the league weigh more than 300 pounds. Steroids may be bad for you, but so is obesity and getting hit in the head.

Whatever you do, please do not pretend that baseball is the only sport with a problem. Because we got that point the first time you forced players to testify. Look, you're busy people. Your time is limited, what with all the hours devoted to meeting with lobbyists and running for re-election. So if you're going to spend any of the remaining hours of your day on this issue again, you better stop flogging this dead horse and start telling people something new. …

Congratulations to Goose, whose talents were finally recognized by enough baseball writers for election to the Hall of Fame. Gossage, unlike current closers, actually worked for a living. As Jayson Stark points out in "The Stark Truth," in Gossage's first season as a closer, he recorded 10 outs in 17 games, including appearances of 5 2/3, 7, 7 1/3 and 7 2/3. Yes, 7 2/3 innings in relief. That's as many innings as J.J. Putz pitched the first three weeks of September. Closing was far more difficult -- and valuable -- to a team back when they had to pitch more than one inning (and usually with a three-run lead).

It also was good to see Jim Rice close in on the magic 75 percent threshold. He came so close that it seems very likely he will get elected next year, when there will be only one certain Hall of Famer added to the ballot (unless, of course, Rickey Henderson can find a team to play on next season, setting his clock back to zero). But Rice is no guarantee. Jim Bunning received 74.2 percent of the vote in 1988 but received less than 64 percent his remaining three years of eligibility before finally being elected by the veterans committee.

Blyleven, meanwhile, rose to 61.9 percent of the vote, and his chances are looking good. That Blyleven once received just 14 percent of the vote should give some hope to Tim Raines, who deserved a far higher percentage of votes than his 24.3.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is jimcaple.net, with more installments of "24 College Avenue." His new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans," is on sale now.


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