Luis Tiant's journey, which has faded with time, is key to Hall vote

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Luis Tiant's journey, which has faded with time, is key to Hall vote

Jim Rice’s 15-year wait to get into the Hall of Fame doesn’t sound so bad in comparison to the limbo Luis Tiant finds himself in.

The cigar-smoking El Tiante, now 77, is one of 10 people who can gain entry to Cooperstown through a committee vote during the winter meetings. He needs at least 12 of 16 votes to make it.

Saul Wisnia, an author assisting Tiant in his upcoming autobiography, points out that Tiant's 66.1 wins above replacement lifetime puts him ahead of three other pitchers from his era who are in the Hall of Fame: Don Drysdale (61.2), Jim Bunning (60.3) and Catfish Hunter (36.6). 

Tiant sits at No. 40 on the Baseball-Reference lifetime WAR list. No. 39, at 66.5 WAR, is Hall of Famer John Smoltz.

Even when discussing statistics that sound promising for Tiant, something can be lost with time: a sense of the greater context, both for the journey of the player and the journey for the person, really. The understanding of everything that went into those numbers.

Is there a point where a pitcher whose stats may be borderline becomes, when viewed as a whole, a worthy candidate because of the path behind them? Do we really remember and appreciate what it was like for Tiant as a Cuban pitcher coming to America in the 1960s, and what weight does that carry? 

"People don’t know what we go through," Tiant said. "You have to be a Cuban to know what we go through, through all of life. All this time, we went 46 years away from my country, from my family."

Tiant's returned to Cuba twice in his life, both times in the new millennium. In 1961, when he was in Mexico and made the choice not to return home because of the political climate, he didn't know if he would ever make it back — or ever see his family again. 

In one of the great moments of Tiant's career, Fidel Castro granted permission for his parents to watch him pitch a game at Fenway Park (below).

When Tiant first arrived in the U.S., the vitriol was rampant.

“I get the worst sides of life, Cuban and black,” Tiant said. “And then coming here, and not speaking the language makes it worse. See and then the towns you play, or the state where you play … they’re not liking us. They’re screaming at us, they treated us like a dog. We can’t do anything, we can’t stay in the same hotels where the players stay, we can't eat in the same restaurant they eat, and when we go on the road the players have to bring you the food, the white players bring you the food to the bus. That’s the only way we can eat. 

“They stay in the hotel and we have to stay in the black section. At some peoples’ house, they rent it for us. And that’s the way it was, the people, the fans, they call you names, all game. All game. … You don’t want people to call you names, telling you they’re going to hang you, send you back to Africa. I tell them, people don’t understand what we have to go through. And that’s what bothers me more than anything.”

Tiant went 229-172 with a 3.30 ERA in a 19-year career. Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe, an expert on the Hall of Fame process, wrote earlier this month, “Via the advanced metrics, Tiant is about seven wins off the career WAR standard for enshrined starters, and six off the peak.” 

“One has to give him substantial credit for cultural ambassadorship to justify a vote for enshrinement,” Jaffe continued.

Credit for ambassadorship may not necessarily fully encompass credit for hardship, however.

The Hall does seem meaningful to Tiant, even if he says otherwise.

“I don’t give a damn about it, whatever happens, happens,” Tiant said. “These people do whatever they want to do. … That’s a crazy thing they be doing. I don’t want to be sitting down and worrying about it anymore. I just, sit here. I’m still alive. If they put me in before I’m dead, fine, if not, what are you going to do?”

The vote is Dec. 10, and results will be announced live at 6 p.m. on MLB Network. The other nine on the 10-person ballot with Tiant: Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, and Alan Trammell.

Tiant is a part of what’s now called the Modern Era ballot, one of four era ballots that the Hall rotates through, one each year. A 16-member committee votes on their candidacy — much smaller than the pool of voters for players on the traditional writers’ ballot — with the standard 75 percent required.

From the Hall’s press release: “The 10 Modern Baseball Era finalists were selected by the BBWAA-appointed Historical Overview Committee from all eligible candidates among managers, umpires, executives and players whose most significant career impact was realized during the time period from 1970 through 1987.”

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HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

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HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep “known steroid users” out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball’s steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall’s board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

Read the full text of Morgan's letter here. 

“Steroid users don’t belong here,” Morgan wrote. “What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.”

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions.

About 430 ballots are being sent to voters, who must have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, and a player needs at least 75 percent for election. Ballots are due by Dec. 31 and results will be announced Jan. 24.

Writers who had not been covering the game for more than a decade were eliminated from the rolls in 2015, creating a younger electorate that has shown more willingness to vote for players tainted by accusations of steroid use. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a majority of votes for the first time in 2017 in their fifth year on the ballot.

Morgan said he isn’t speaking for every Hall of Famer, but many of them feel the same way that he does.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. They were joined by former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, who were voted in by a veterans committee.

Some baseball writers said the election of Selig, who presided over the steroids era, influenced their view of whether tainted stars should gain entry to the Hall.

Morgan praised BBWAA voters and acknowledged they are facing a “tricky issue,” but he also warned some Hall of Famers might not make the trip to Cooperstown if steroid users are elected.

“The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too,” he wrote. “The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press

Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza take their place among legends in Cooperstown

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Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza take their place among legends in Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Two players who began their careers at opposite ends of the spectrum nearly three decades ago ended up in the same place on Sunday — with their names etched on plaques at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, the culmination of their long journeys was tinged with tears all around.

"I stand up here humbled and overwhelmed," Griffey said, staring out at his family and tens of thousands of fans. "I can't describe how it feels."

The two became a piece of history on their special day. Griffey, the first pick of the 1987 amateur draft, became the highest pick ever inducted. Piazza, a 62nd-round pick the next year —No. 1,390 — is the lowest pick to enter the Hall of Fame.

Griffey played 22 big-league seasons with the Mariners, Reds and White Sox and was selected on a record 99.32 percent of ballots cast, an affirmation of sorts for his clean performance during baseball's so-called Steroids Era.

A 13-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove Award winner in center field, Griffey hit 630 home runs, sixth all-time, and drove in 1,836 runs. He also was the American League MVP in 1997, drove in at least 100 runs in eight seasons, and won seven Silver Slugger Awards.

Griffey, who fell just three votes shy of being the first unanimous selection, hit 417 of his 630 homers and won all 10 of his Gold Gloves with the Seattle Mariners. He played the first 11 seasons of his career with the Mariners and led them to the playoffs for the first two times in franchise history.

"Thirteen years with the Seattle Mariners, from the day I got drafted, Seattle, Washington, has been a big part of my life," Griffey said, punctuating the end of his speech by putting a baseball cap on backward as he did throughout his career.

"I'm going to leave you with one thing. In 22 years I learned that one team will treat you the best, and that's your first team. I'm damn proud to be a Seattle Mariner."

Dubbed "The Natural" for his effortless excellence at the plate and in center field, Griffey avoided the Hall of Fame until his special weekend because he wanted his first walk through the front doors of the stately building on Main Street to be with his kids, whom he singled out one by one in his 20-minute speech.

"There are two misconceptions about me — I didn't work hard and everything I did I made look easy," Griffey said. "Just because I made it look easy doesn't mean that it was. You don't become a Hall of Famer by not working, but working day in and day out."

Griffey's mom, Birdie, and his father, former Cincinnati Reds star Ken Sr., both cancer survivors and integral to his rise to stardom, were front and center in the first row.

"To my dad, who taught me how to play this game and to my mom, the strongest woman I know," Junior said. "To have to be mom and dad, she was our biggest fan and our biggest critic. She's the only woman I know that lives in one house and runs five others."

Selected in the draft by the Dodgers after Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, a close friend of Piazza'a father, Vince, put in a good word, Piazza struggled.

He briefly quit the game while in the minor leagues, returned and persevered despite a heavy workload as he switched from first base to catcher and teammates criticized his erratic play.

Mom and dad were foremost on his mind, too.

"Dad always dreamed of playing in the major leagues," said Piazza, just the second Hall of Famer depicted on his plaque wearing a Mets cap, after Tom Seaver in 1992.

"He could not follow that dream because of the realities of life. My father's faith in me, often greater than my own, is the single most important factor of me being inducted into this Hall of Fame. Thank you dad. We made it, dad. The race is over. Now it's time to smell the roses."

Piazza played 16 years with the Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Padres and Athletics and hit 427 home runs, including a major league record 396 as a catcher. A 12-time All-Star, Piazza won 10 Silver Slugger Awards and finished in the top five of his league's MVP voting four times.

Perhaps even more impressive, Piazza, a .308 career hitter, posted six seasons with at least 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a .300 batting average (all other catchers in baseball history combined have posted nine such seasons).

Though the Dodgers gave him his start, Piazza found a home in New York when he was traded to the Mets in May 1998.

Three years later, he became a hero to the hometown fans with perhaps the most notable home run of his career. His two-run shot in the eighth inning at Shea Stadium lifted the Mets to a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first sporting event played in New York after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Piazza paid tribute to that moment.

"To witness the darkest evil of the human heart ... will be forever burned in my soul," Piazza said. "But from tragedy and sorrow came bravery, love, compassion, character and eventual healing.

"Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run in the first game back on Sept. 21st, but the true praise belongs to police, firefighters, first responders that knew that they were going to die, but went forward anyway. I pray that we never forget their sacrifice."

Attendance was estimated at around 50,000 by the Hall of Fame, tying 1999 when George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Young were inducted, for second-most all time behind 2007 (Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn).

Copyright The Associated Press