by Larry Dierker
The Astros are opening a team Hall of Fame and museum this year. It’s a great idea, but it’s also a way to right a wrong.
I could make a case for my retired number 49, having worn it to set a few team pitching records, and again while managing the team to four division titles. I wasn’t good enough to make it on my pitching or managing alone.
But it is a great honor, and I’m not inclined to give it back.
Lowering the bar Most MLB players who have had their numbers retired are also in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. That bar has been set high, but it has recently been lowered. The only Astros who qualify on that basis are Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. In my mind, they are the only Astros players who clearly deserved to have their numbers retired.
With Nolan Ryan and Joe Morgan, it’s a sticky wicket. Both are legitimate HOF players, but in my mind, neither played with the Astros long enough to have their number retired. Nolan spent significant time with the Mets, Angels, Astros, and Rangers. His greatest years were with the Angels, but his career records were set as a Ranger.
Opening the Astros Hall of Fame has become necessary because there are quite a few players whose numbers are not retired, but who have done enough, based on the somewhat-lower bar a few of us cleared.
Roy Oswalt and Joe Niekro won more games than I did. They won more for the Astros than Jim Umbricht, Don Wilson, Mike Scott, and Ryan.
From a hitting standpoint, Jose Cruz and Jimmy Wynn fall a little short. Maybe Cheo deserves it. There aren’t many players who have been named team MVP four times, as he was.
Drawing the line The problem is, where do you draw the line? It’s pretty hard to erase it after the fact.
Jim Umbricht wasn’t a great pitcher, by any standard. He was a great human being who lost a battle with cancer while he was still trying to play. He was honored as a teammate and human being.
Don Wilson pitched two no-hitters, and he also had an 18-strikeout game. But he, too, died young; too young to win enough games to have his number retired. But if you are going to honor Umbricht, how can you not do the same for Wilson?
The Astros currently have a handful of players who will likely post numbers that should put their names and numbers in the rafters at Minute Maid Park, if they play most of their careers in Houston. If Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer have their numbers retired, what about Joe Morgan? The Astros could end up with more retired numbers than the Yankees!
Sizzle or the steak? MLB has become more and more about glitz and glitter. The Astros got in on that idea early, when they retired numbers just to draw a crowd.
Standards of excellence have been eroded — all the way from Houston to Cooperstown.
The 2019 HOF vote Yesterday, Hall of Fame voters added two players who I wouldn’t have voted for.
Roy Halladay was spectacular, like Don Wilson. Perhaps not as spectacular as Dizzy Dean, who made it with only 150 wins; or Sandy Koufax, who won 165 games. Halladay won 203 games with a 3.38 ERA. Tommy John won 288 games with a 3.34; Jim Kaat won 283 with a 3.45; and Kevin Brown won 211 with a 3.28. None of them made the HOF.
Not that long ago, it seemed like a pitcher needed 300 wins to make it. But there are many who have won 250 games or so, and still made the cut.
I would not have voted for Edgar Martinez, despite his incredible hitting. He played about three-quarters of his games as a designated hitter. Frank Thomas had even better offensive numbers. He started as a DH 1300 times and played first base almost 1000 times. He played sparingly in the field during his last seven years, while he completed his HOF resume. I would not have voted for him, either.
Salary is probably the best criteria of a player’s value. Was Thomas a Hall of Fame player by that measure? Without a doubt.
My problem is that I place a lot of value on fielding and baserunning. Players like Martinez, Thomas, and Harold Baines were extremely valuable — but there was a reason they weren’t playing in the field.
I have no problem with Mariano Rivera’s election. How could you? I would have voted for Mike Mussina too. He won 270 games with a good ERA, pitching many games in the hitter-friendly environs of Camden Yards.
The Selig Effect The whole MLB extravaganza started with Bud Selig. When he made the Hall of Fame, it became clear that it was more about marketing and promotion than anything else.
The Astros have wiggled out of their retired-number problem by creating another Hall of Fame in lieu of retiring more numbers. That won’t work in Cooperstown.
No one has worn Lance Berkman’s #17 since he retired. He has borderline Cooperstown statistics. In my mind, the Astros should retire his number. It should be Biggio, Bagwell, and Berkman — and that’s it.
I’m looking forward to seeing the Astros’ shrine at Minute Maid. I’ll probably be wearing a Hawaiian shirt. After all, it should be more fun than politics.