December 12, 2012
Ferguson Jenkins, Tommy John, and How Some Players End Up Outside the Hall
The circus inside the circus known as the 2012 Winter Meetings—both of which took place inside another circus, the Gaylord Opryland—was the Trade Show, where you can buy everything from umbrellas to stirrups, stadiums to soft pretzels, mascots to misters (as in, things that spray mist) to Musco lighting.
I’ll be back next week with a deeper rundown of the emporium, but it was two things not for sale at the Trade Show—well, not quite for sale, anyway—that distracted me from the Dippin’ Dots and Mini Melts while the panel formerly known as the Veterans Committee (now called the “Pre-Integration Era Committee”) announced its honorees in the same building.
The two not-for-sale “things” were Ferguson Jenkins and Tommy John, and they were there for radically different reasons: Jenkins on behalf of a sports memorabilia auction concern, and John in support of the ALS Association. (John has previously supported the cause.)
It’s weird, of course, to see famous ballplayers in this environment, where much kitsch—stuffed animals, big foam fingers, Bud Light—is on display right next to serious stuff like professional team equipment and (ahem) the Society for American Baseball Research. But the presence of these two particular ballplayers was, weirdness notwithstanding, appropriate to the moment. Jenkins is in the Hall of Fame and John isn’t, despite similar numbers in prominent places where some voters like to look: identical career ERAs (3.34, and with FIPs hovering right near that ERA); similar W/L records—although of course it took John a good deal longer to compile his—and roughly equivalent innings pitched. They played in the same era, and then John played in half of the next one. They were born six months apart during World War II. Yet one’s in, the other isn’t.
Well, it’s quite obvious that Jenkins, who like John did not win 300 major-league games, got the coveted Canada Allowance which pushed him over the electoral edge. Ditto Eric Gagne in 2003. (Actually, none of that is true. And: Eric Gagne had a 0.86 FIP and 337 ERA+ in 2003!)
Jenkins, I was surprised to discover, allowed far more homers (484-430) in fewer innings pitched (4,500-4,970) than famously homer-happy Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, and Blyleven ranks ahead of Jenkins in all-time pitcher rankings on all of the sites that keep such accounting. These mythologies are fascinating in the construction of player legacies. Blyleven is forever known as the gopher grandee, but he led the league in homers surrendered in only two seasons, as compared to Jenkins’ seven. The thing is, those two league-leading seasons for Blyleven were whoppers: 50 and 46 in 1986 and 1987. Also, Blyleven attracted notoriety for a while as The Hall-Worthy Pitcher Without 300 Wins—as though that just-missed-it shortfall was the only thing keeping him out. I’d be curious to know, from older readers who don’t mind showing their age, whether a similar story cropped up around Jenkins, the last pitcher before Blyleven to be inducted with fewer than 300 wins, during his candidacy in the 1980s. I never heard Jenkins’ name mentioned much as Blyleven’s case gained steam.