January 13, 2009
A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America since 1974, Chaz Scoggins of The Lowell (Massachusetts) Sun has been casting Hall of Fame votes for nearly three decades. This year Scoggins was one of 539 BBWAA voters to fill out a ballot, with Rickey Henderson (511) and Jim Rice (412) being the only two players to cross the 405-vote threshold needed to earn an invitation to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown on July 26. Scoggins, a former president of the BBWAA, and a longtime official scorer at Fenway Park, explained who he voted for on this year's ballot, and why.
David Laurila: What did your ballot look like this year?
DL: Rice's candidacy has elicited a lot of debate. Why did he get your vote?
CS: Having been one of the writers who was fortunate enough to have seen him play, I saw the impact he had on the Red Sox, and the American League, in the 1970s and 1980s. Back in those days, when you'd talk about what a franchise player was, Jim Rice was a franchise player. There wasn't any doubt in my mind that he was a Hall of Famer.
DL: Two things that Rice's critics point to are park factors and the number of double plays he hit into. Did either give you pause?
CS: Really, no. With the double plays, he hit the ball so hard it was inevitable he was going to hit into a lot of them. Certainly, had he played another year, he would have set the major league record for grounding into double plays, which is not a record he would have wanted, but he would have had it. As far as Fenway goes, people think it is a right-handed-hitters' park, but really, it's not. It's a left-handed-hitters' park, so it didn't really help him. He was not a pull hitter. Most of the home runs he hit, I'd say, went from left center to right center. Very rarely did he ever get what I would call a cheap home run in Fenway.
DL: Andre Dawson's critics point his low on-base percentage. Did that give you any pause?
CS: Well, I'd have liked to have seen it be higher, but some guys are just hitters. Rice was pretty much the same way. You would have expected that a guy like Rice would have walked 100 times a year, like a lot of power hitters, and usually he only walked a little more than 50. But he was just a hitter, as was Dawson. The reason I've always voted for Dawson is that while his numbers aren't exactly all that eye-popping, I take into account his defense, with all the Gold Gloves. He had a terrific arm, and before his knees went bad he could steal bases; he was one of those five-tool players that rarely come along.
DL: Tim Raines received only 122 votes, one of which came from you. What impressed you about Raines?
CS: I look at Raines in a lot of the ways I look at Rickey Henderson. The thing I really look for in a leadoff hitter, aside from the ability to get on base and score runs, is that he can also drive in runs. That's something that Rickey Henderson certainly did, and Raines did it too. He could do that, because he had some pop; he could hit some home runs. He was also a good defensive player, so he put the whole package together. But I did have to think about him; he didn't come as an obvious pick. When I got the ballot, I had to think about it for a couple of days, but I ultimately decided that Raines fit my criteria for a Hall of Famer.
DL: You didn't vote for Bert Blyleven. Why not?
CS: I just feel that Bert Blyleven was a little better than a .500 pitcher. I just never felt that he had the fortitude that it takes to win big games. People say that he had the misfortune of playing on a lot of mediocre and even bad teams, but to me, if you're a Hall of Fame pitcher you're able to lift your team up; you can win the close games that bad teams need to win, and to me, he just never did that. I know that he lost an awful lot of 1-0 games, but I just felt that, despite all his terrific numbers, he just wasn't quite good enough.
DL: You also didn't vote for Alan Trammell. Did you give him serious consideration?
CS: I really gave him no thought. To me, Alan Trammell was just a very nice player. He was a good player, but not one of those players who was head and shoulders above everybody else. Actually, I voted for Lou Whitaker, his double-play partner, when he was on the ballot. I thought that Whitaker was more of an impact player than Trammell was.
DL: Mark McGwire is obviously a controversial topic. What went into your decision to mark his name on the ballot?
CS: It's a case where I just feel that he wasn't breaking any rules at the time; he wasn't breaking any baseball rules or any laws. I also think that baseball is just as complicit in the steroids issue as the players are; they turned a blind eye to it as long as people were hitting home runs and the stands were being filled. Baseball didn't want to know. So I feel that, in a lot of ways, baseball used guys like Mark McGwire, and I'm not going to punish him for something that wasn't against the rules at the time.
DL: Why did Lee Smith get your vote?
CS: Smith was one of the last Gossage-type relievers. In the early years of his career he was one of those guys who often went more than one inning to pick up a save, while they're awfully cheap nowadays in comparison. Smith didn't do it as long as Gossage did, but at the time guys often had to pitch one and a third, two and a third, or two innings, so he earned his saves. And over the course of his career, he had a lot of saves.
DL: How about Dale Murphy?
CS: Murphy is a guy who started out as a catcher and went to center field, and what put me over the line with him, because his batting average wasn't as high as Rice's-but the home runs were almost the same-was that at the peak of his career he was great. He was a five-time Gold Glove outfielder in addition to his power, and he was a two-time MVP. I always look at the 10 best years of a player's career when I decide who I'm going to vote for, for the Hall of Fame. I'm also not one of those guys who votes for a player one year and doesn't another year. Once I decide that someone is a Hall of Famer, I keep marking him on my ballot. Murphy is actually the one exception, but only because one year there was a really stacked ballot and I didn't have room for him. Other than that, I've voted for him every year he's been eligible. I've always thought it was important to be consistent.