Ripken Jr. endorses Rice, Gossage for HOF; Gwynn speaks up for Dawson

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- One fringe benefit to making the Baseball Hall of Fame is the opportunity to lobby for former teammates and peers to join the club. Ted Williams believed strongly that Dom DiMaggio should be in Cooperstown, and Mike Schmidt spoke up for Pete Rose during his induction speech.

Williams and Schmidt didn't have much of an impact, it turns out. But that doesn't prevent every new class from maintaining the tradition.

Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, who'll enter the Hall of Fame on Sunday, weighed in with their endorsements during a news conference Saturday. When asked which players are most deserving of a spot in Cooperstown, Ripken mentioned Jim Rice and Goose Gossage, while Gwynn spoke up for Andre Dawson.

Coincidentally, those three players finished third, fourth and fifth in the 2007 balloting. Gossage came the closest with 71.2 percent of the vote, just 21 votes short of the 75 percent necessary for induction.

Rice was next in line with 63.5 percent, and then came Dawson at 56.7 percent.

Gossage ranks 17th on baseball's career list with 310 saves, but he routinely recorded saves of two or more innings in length. Now that Bruce Sutter and Dennis Eckersley have joined Rollie Fingers and Hoyt Wilhelm on the list of closers in Cooperstown, momentum appears to be growing for Gossage.

"Before there was specialization, Goose Gossage was pitching in all roles -- long relief, setup and short relief -- and he was doing everything for three innings to get a win," Ripken said. "And he was still throwing 100 miles an hour. When he came into the game, it was pretty much over."

Rice won an MVP award for Boston in 1978, made eight All-Star teams and ranked first or second in the American League in slugging percentage five times, but had his last truly productive season at age 33 and retired at 36. Still, Ripken remembers him as a dominant force in the league.

"Every year, when you'd go to the All-Star Game, there was always someone who batted fourth in the lineup," Ripken said. "Jim Rice was that guy."

Dawson won eight Gold Gloves and an MVP award, and hit 438 homers and stole 314 bases in 21 seasons with Montreal, the Chicago Cubs, Boston and Florida. To this day, Dawson, Willie Mays and Barry Bonds are the only big leaguers with at least 400 homers and 300 steals.

While Dawson's detractors point to his .323 career on base percentage as a major negative, former Cubs infielder Ryne Sandberg lobbied for Dawson during his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2005.

"As far as right fielders go in our league, Andre Dawson was the dominant guy on a daily basis," Gwynn said. "He was a great defender, with a great arm and instincts. He could hit for power, hit for average and steal a base. When I started out, he was the man."

Gwynn and Ripken, who'll deliver their acceptance speeches at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, played golf Saturday morning before answering questions from the media for an hour in the afternoon.

Among other things, they discussed their burgeoning friendship, and the satisfaction they derived from spending their entire careers with a single franchise. Ripken spent 21 years in Baltimore, while Gwynn played 20 years with the San Diego Padres.

Ripken said he plans to confine his remarks Sunday to baseball, and will steer clear of the steroid controversy that's hanging over the game as Barry Bonds pursues Hank Aaron's career home run record.

"This is a celebratory environment, and it's about baseball," Ripken said. "I'm going to focus on the good things, and all the kids who are influenced by baseball. That's where I'm going to go."

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.