Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, Mark McGwire; 49ers stadium, Spanish Radio
by Glenn Dickey
Jan 14, 2009

RICKEY HENDERSON was an easy call for the baseball Hall of Fame, except for those idiots who think nobody should get in the first year. Jim Rice was a much tougher call, which is one reason it took him 15 years to make it. Another reason is that he had his problems with the Boston media, and that group has always been willing to put personal feelings ahead of professionalism.

Different voters have different ideas about what constitutes a Hall of Fame player. At one time, there was a prevailing theory that a player didn't belong if he were not the outstanding player at his position. How then, would you distinguish between Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg when they were all playing first base at the same time for American League teams?

Statistics are important, and they’ll certainly get Alex Rodriguez in when he’s eligible. Year after year, Rodriguez puts up great numbers, but ask yourself this: If you had a game you just had to win, would you rather have Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz or Rodriguez at bat? There may be some argument over which of the first two you’d prefer, but Rodriguez wouldn’t be in the discussion.

More than statistics, the attitude of a candidate’s opponents is important. When I talked to pitchers during Rice’s career, his name always came up as one of the most feared hitters –and often as the most feared one. That’s why I’ve always voted for Rice. The fact that he didn’t quite reach 400 career home runs, which once was thought of as a real benchmark, didn’t knock him out, in my opinion.

Conversely, there are players who are outstanding for a relatively short time but don’t sustain it for a career. Roger Maris is probably the best example. He broke Babe Ruth’s season home run record in 1961 but never hit as many as 40 homers in a season before or after that one. Maris was a good player, an underrated defensive outfielder as well as a power hitter, but he had far short of an HOF career.

That’s also the reason I haven’t voted for Mark McGwire in his three seasons on the ballot. McGwire had some sensational power years, hitting 49 homers to set a rookie record and, of course, 70 and 65 homers in back-to-back years with St. Louis at the end of his career.

But in between, because of injuries and the pitchers catching up to him for awhile, McGwire had some terrible years with the A’s. In 1991, Tony La Russa kept him out of the final game of the season so he wouldn’t finish below .200. In ’93 and ’94, he hit a combined 18 homers.

When he was playing for the great A’s teams of 1988-90, McGwire was half of the “Bash Brothers” with Jose Canseco, but there was no question who was the main man in that duo. Until he got fatheaded, Canseco was a great player and would have been an easy HOF choice if he’d kept up his early pace.

-McGwire was just a .263 average hitter for his lifetime, never more than adequate defensively and a below average baserunner because of his lack of speed, so his HOF claim is based, really, on five power years, his rookie season, the 70-65-56 years in St. Louis and the combined 52 he hit for the A’s and Cards in 1997. That’s not enough for me.

Of course, that’s not what’s keeping McGwire out of the Hall. The moralizers in the media won’t vote for him because of his connection with steroids. That may also keep Barry Bonds out, too, though he should be an easy first ballot choice. He certainly will be on mine.

The steroids issue has been the most overblown issue in sports. As more comes out about users, it’s becoming obvious that steroid use has been rampant for years, as those around the game have said in off-the-record conversations.

The reasons for the power explosion in baseball go beyond steroids, to new parks which are home run havens and juiced-up baseballs. After all, pitchers are taking steroids, too, which should provide balance.

The smart way to evaluate HOF candidates has always been to judge them against their contemporaries, and that’s still the best way to do it. Offensive standards are elevated, but there are still those who are clearly in that category, as Bonds is.

McGwire was only briefly a standout, not long enough to make the Hall. Likeside, Sammy Sosa, another caught up in the hysteria over steroids, is another who had just a brief time at the head of the parade. Even before he made a fool of himself in the steroids hearins, Rafael Palmeiro was a marginal candidate; his statistics looked good, but pitchers never talked about fearing Palmeiro.

IT WAS EASY to dismiss the idea of the 49ers and Raiders sharing a stadium when it was thrown out by the 49ers last weekend, but there’s one critical point: It’s the only way a new stadium will be built for either team in the near future.

Building a sports stadium in California has long been a daunting projectbecause it so difficult to get any public money.

There was a flurry of stadium/arena building in the ‘60s. Candlestick Park opened in 1960 for the Giants (it was remodeled so the 49ers could play there in 1971) and Oakland and Alameda County built the Coliseum and Arena in1966-67. Since then, the only public facility built was the San Jose Arena in the early ‘90s. After three failed tries at the ballot box, the Giants built their own park, opening in 2000. But Giants executive Larry Baer, who raised most of the corporate money for the project, says it was the “perfect storm” because of the booming economy. Even five years ago, Baer said the Giants couldn’t have built the park with the economy slowing. Now, it’s come to a dead halt.

The 49ers have a good plan, to build a stadium in Santa Clara, but they’ve never been able to get the corporate support for it. For now, it’s dead in the water because they don’t have the NFL plan (G-3) which supplied money to teams building a stadium.

In two years, though, the picture could be very different. By then, the economy could be recovering, the NFL will have a plan to replace the G-3 program and the biggest roadblock to a 49er-Raider stadium plan, Al Davis, could be gone. Davis will be 80 this year and his body is rapidly deteriorating. Though he’s been determined to hang on, it seems unlikely he’ll still be in charge in 2011.

A stadium in Santa Clara would work for both teams. On Sundays, when most games are played, freeway access is easy from both sides of the bay. It’s important for baseball parks to be in the cities they represent because fans at games patronize local restaurants and businesses, but football is an entirely different thing. Fans tailgate at games and seldom buy anything at stores surrounding the stadium. That’s why the Giants and Jets have played in New Jersey for years and are building a new stadium there, while New York city is willing to help subsidize a new baseball park.

So, the 49ers should continue working on and refining their plan, so they can be ready when the economic picture changes. By then, there should be somebody in Raiders management who realizes that a shared stadium is the only way to go.

SPANISH RADIO: Congratulations to broadcaster Amaury Pi-Gonzalez and the Oakland A’s, who have reached an agreement to broadcast every game, home and away, in Spanish for the first time in the team’s history. KDIA (1640 AM) will broadcast all the night games and KDYA (1190 AM) will carry the day games.

Pi-Gonzalez started all this in 1977 with the A’s when he persuaded owner Charlie Finley, who referred to “Mexican” broadcasts, to broadcast games in Spanish.

Now, it makes much more sense than ever, with the growing Latino population in the Bay Area and the high proportion of Latino players in major league baseball. And Amaury, who is in both the Cuban Sports Halll of Fame and the Hispanice Heritage Baseball Hall of Fame, is the perfect choice.

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