OPSN Exclusive: Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz Talks Newest Members & PED-Linked Players Losing Support
For the baseball purist, Cooperstown is a word with the utmost significance. That word signifies where all the plaques lay for the greatest baseball players who ever graced this earth.
On July 27, 2014, six distinguished and legendary first ballot Hall of Famers will have their official place in Cooperstown. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre will all be enshrined into baseball immortality.
This class will alleviate the embarrassment and sadness of there not being any active members inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. It will even help with bitterness of those who are connected in anyway towards Performance Enhancing Drugs who didn’t get in last year, or even this year.
July 27 is a day to celebrate the lives and playing or managerial career’s of six of the greatest ever to be involved in this wonderful game.
There is an extra special feel for the Hall of Fame this year. Could it be that we have six of the greatest going in at the same time following an empty year?
But what about the fact that all six are first ballot for the Hall of Fame, or Veterans Committee like Torre, and that it only took them one time for all those involved to say yes, these men are worthy of baseball’s highest distinction; to be a member of the Hall of Fame.
Jeff Katz is the perfect man to serve as Mayor of Cooperstown as he is into the baseball history and the Hall of Fame to as high of a level as anyone possible. His anticipation for July 27, and the meaning for it this year alone, is off the charts.
“I think what’s going to be nice is that everyone is current,” he said in a phone interview. “All six guys are in on first ballot which makes it much more connected in 2014 than say someone who was inducted on their third or fourth year; it would feel distant.
“Comparing it to last year since there was a light turn out with more distant guys, it wasn’t exciting. There is going to be a ton of excitement this year.”
Living in Chicago, Illinois for a period of time, Katz was able to watch Maddux and Thomas more closely. In fact, Katz was in the area when Maddux debuted for the Cubs in parts of 1986 and the entire 1987 season. It was the period of time when the right-hander had some growing pains getting accustomed to the big leagues, starting 6-18 in his first 24 decisions. Maddux turned it around in 1988 when he won 18 games, which then started his Hall of Fame run.
Just like Maddux’s now Hall of Fame contemporaries, he wasn’t a unanimous vote. Katz provides a unique prospective as to why at least a few of the 16 voters may have not selected Maddux on their ballots.
“Should Maddux have been the first [unanimous vote] or not? There are so many guys who should have been,” he said. “Why guys wouldn’t vote for Maddux is unbelievable to me.
“It’s hard to know what to do with a 10-person ballot limit when there are 15 guys to vote for. Some of the voters could have been like, ‘He’s a lock and I want to make sure other guys are represented.’ I can understand that more than guys like [Ken Gurnick] who blatantly left him blank.”
Maddux’s 355 career victories, four consecutive Cy Young awards, 3,371 strikeouts, eight All-Star appearances and 18 Gold Gloves make us wonder if we will ever see a pitcher like that again.
“Well you’ll always see guys like that again. Off the top of my head I can’t think of anyone like him right now,” Katz said. “There hasn’t been many like him. A guy who did it all: fielding ability and his intelligence. I almost think Maddux became mythical because of how smart he was.
“There are very few, if any like him in history. Whoever didn’t vote for him might regret it.”
Even with Glavine being a part of the Atlanta Braves trio with John Smoltz, who is eligible next year, and the aforementioned Maddux, some didn’t place him in the same dominant category like Maddux. Even enough to question whether or not he’s a first ballot player.
Glavine’s 305 career wins, dominating seasons in which he won 20+ games for three consecutive seasons, two Cy Young awards and was a critical member in the Braves playoff runs and World Series championship in 1995, still didn’t convince some voters of his worthiness.
It surely convinced Katz.
“He was a dominating guy,” he said. “Part of what makes him intriguing was that the Braves made the playoffs and he always pitched in big games. Anyone who watched baseball from ’91-’03 would say Glavine was a top five pitcher. There was something about that staff between the two [Maddux] that they were smarter than the others.”
The great story about Glavine was that he wasn’t anywhere close to being dominant when he first came up with the Braves. In fact, he finished with 17 losses in 1988, the most by anybody in the National League that year.
He was able to turn his career, which was looking bleak at the time, around to make himself one of the greatest left-handed starters of our generation.
“It’s interesting because I remember that turnaround. We live more in the saber-metric world where the win-loss record is less important. Clearly there are -game losers who stink and there are -game losers who have something. Glavine was always a guy who had something.”
Clearly, Glavine showed he had something in the biggest moments. While he didn’t enjoy the greatest postseason success, winning 14 of 30 decisions in October, he possessed a respectable 3.30 ERA.
Braves fans will remember the date October 28, 1995, Game 6 of the World Series. Glavine won the clinching game for the Braves as he pitched eight innings of one-hit ball and fanned eight Indians en route to their lone title of the decade.
Katz, who rooted for the Indians that year, remembers the game fondly.
“I do remember that game. I spent a lot of time following the Indians and was living in Chicago at the time. I went to a lot of the World Series games. I went to every Fall Classic game at Jacobs Field. I watched the game with incredible interest.
“I was kind of hanging on to see the Indians pull it out. Glavine was amazing. It was a close game. Talk about a big game situation for a big game pitcher.”
Moments like such make Glavine an easy choice for Cooperstown on the first ballot.
Thomas was not your prototypical, free-swinging power hitter seen today. He never struck out more than 115 times during a season over his illustrious 19-year career. He only fanned 100-plus times just three years. He was able to spread the ball to all fields and actually had the knowledge associated with playing the game.
Katz saw the beginning of Thomas’ career as the turnaround for the Chicago White Sox organization.
“When Thomas came up in 1990, the [White] Sox were not on a particular hot streak. Thomas really felt like the beginning of a more positive future. It was the next year in the new Comiskey Park (known today as U.S. Cellular Field) that I got to see him a lot,” he said. “He was truly phenomenal.”
Mayor Katz said he always had discussions about Thomas with others early on, saying he’s a Hall of Fame caliber player.
“With Frank Thomas, there was something about him to want to watch him and watch him hit,” he said. “He was always that guy.”
Designated Hitter’s Place in Hall of Fame?
Thomas’s Hall of Fame announcement signals the debate about designated hitters and their place in Cooperstown. Thomas surely helped the likes of Edgar Martinez and maybe in the future David Ortiz pave their way to solely be inducted as a DH.
The question is, are DH’s an important enough part of the game to stand alone on its own merit?
While DH’s don’t take the field, they serve a purpose for every single game from an offensive standpoint. A DH can be one of the most dangerous hitters on a team.
Mayor Katz believes that’s 100 percent true and actually makes an interesting comparison along the way.
“I find the DH to be interesting. I think the voters have a hard time with the DH as they do with the closer’s role,” he said. “If people thought the closer role was as important, there is no reason to think why aren’t the record holders in?
“The DH aren’t in the field, but they play every day. I don’t know if that will translate support [for guys like Martinez and Ortiz]. But I think the voters have a hard time with that. The DH has been a distinct position for 41 years. It’s an important part of the game.”
Craig Biggio Falls 2 Votes Short
A seven-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger and four-time Gold Glove award winner should have first ballot Hall of Fame consideration. Biggio missed on his first time and unfortunately fell short the second time by just two votes.
Biggio suited up as a catcher, outfielder and second baseman in his 20 years with the Houston Astros. He clubbed 291 career home runs, 1,175 RBI with a .281/.363/.433 batting line. He also swiped 414 career bases and raised his on-base percentage so much by getting plunked. He was hit 285 times in his career, including four times leading the league in the category. He was hit by a pitch 34 times in 1997.
While he fell short by two votes in 2014, Mayor Katz eventually sees him as a Hall of Famer sooner rather than later.
“I think he’ll get into the Hall of Fame next year. When you get that close there is an incentive for some guys who sent in a blank ballot to get him in. People don’t want to see him suffer again. I certainly believe he will get in next year, but man that’s got to hurt.”
PED-Linked Players Losing Steam?
Voters have not been kind to the players who are linked to Performance Enhancing Drugs. Former starts Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens have actually lost support from 2013 to this year.
Here are how the Hall of Fame percentage numbers shook out
“I don’t think it’s the right decision. I think the PED thing was made up much more than it should,” he said. “If you believe it’s cheating, I don’t say it is, then one has to think that cheating has been a part of baseball from the beginning.
“The other thing that is more important is prove to me what PED did specifically. The ones who have been named in the Mitchell Report. If PED’s are so magical, why are minor leaguers being suspended on the third time?
“The idea that Bonds isn’t a Hall of Famer and same with Clemens is insane to me. They say Bonds never could have achieved the success after 40-years-old without steroids, but McGwire crumbled near that age. There are no consistencies.”
In a way, Mayor Katz has a point.
If every player took steroids near the end of their career and had an ascension like Bonds? Sure I’d believe there would be a significant difference to PED’s attributing to a player’s overall success in the sport. But if McGwire and others who are under suspicion faltered near the end of their careers and are potentially guilty of taking steroids, why weren’t they as successful?
Bonds was an animal. He was a physical freak and believe it or not, he was also intelligent. “If” he took steroids and many believe he did, it wasn’t the sole or even a tenth of the reason why he became better with age.
“Peter Gammons said something [that I remember]. “‘The two smartest guys I ever talked to about hitting were Ted Williams and Barry Bonds. PED doesn’t make you a genius,”‘ Mayor Katz said. “The idea that all these things can be attributed to steroid use when all the others weren’t like that aren’t true.”
This next question ties into this category. Will the next generation of media voters bring these players into Cooperstown?
It’s a fair question and Mayor Katz and I agree, the answer is yes.
In the next 10 to 15 years, there are going to be many new voters who decide the fate of these players when their time on the ballots is due to expire. The younger generation, including myself, have watched these players in their early to prime teenage years. these were the greatest players of our generation. You’re going to find a lot of younger voters hard-pressed to not vote these guys into the Hall of Fame.
Time also heals all wounds as well. As long as there is five percent support for these linked players, they will get consideration by the voters for at least 13 more years. That’s plenty of time for them to ascend and eventually make it into baseball heaven.
“Over time I’d be shocked if they never got in,” Mayor Katz said. “I think when the younger generation gets to vote, it’s going to shift.”
Nonetheless those players aren’t in and that status will likely remain the same for a while now. But whose to say that won’t change?
On July 27, Cooperstown is going to be updated with more rich history, and Cooperstown will be better because of it.
Outside Pitch Sports Network thanks Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz for his time in doing a phone interview. You can follow him on Twitter @SplitSeason1981. Also follow OPSN Co-Founder/President Andrew Vigliotti on Twitter @Andrew_Vig