In the new movie State and Main, a character is told that an excuse she's fallen for is absurd. "So is our electoral process" she says, "but we still vote." The same might be said for baseball's Hall of Fame balloting, the results of which will be announced on Jan. 16. Find the logic, for instance, in Carlton Fisk's getting the requisite 75% of the votes for induction last year while fellow catcher Gary Carter—who had the same number of All-Star selections (11), more Gold Gloves (three to one) and more 100-RBI years (four to two)—was named on fewer than half the ballots.
This year voters had only one slam-dunk decision: Dave Winfield, a 12-time All-Star who in his 22 seasons had 3,110 hits, 465 home runs and 1,833 RBIs and won seven Gold Gloves, is a lock in his first year as a candidate. Things get dicier after that. Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett deserves to get in, and probably will. He hit .318, won six Gold Gloves and averaged 192 hits over 12 seasons. Puckett was forced into retirement at age 34 by glaucoma, but his postseason heroics, his sunny personality and the fact that his skills showed little sign of erosion—he finished with 10 straight All-Star appearances and was on the fast track to 3,000 hits—more than make up for a lack of longevity.
With no other surefire inductees on the ballot (sorry, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris and Jim Rice), this year's vote could serve as a referendum on relievers. Just two closers, Rollie Fingers and Hoyt Wilhelm, are in Cooperstown, and trailblazers Bruce Sutter and Rich Gossage failed to garner even 40% of the vote last year. A six-time All-Star, Sutter won a National League Cy Young Award, led the league in saves five times and popularized the revolutionary split-fingered fastball. Like Puckett, however, his career was short—only 12 seasons, including two subpar, injury-plagued years at the end. Though superb, Sutter was more shooting star than enduring light.
Gossage gets penalized for hanging on too long—he pitched for 22 seasons but saved only 32 games over his final seven. That denouement shouldn't obscure the long period in which the Goose was the game's most intimidating stopper. He finished among the top five in saves eight times and made nine All-Star teams. From 1977 to '86 he averaged 24.8 saves and had a 2.27 ERA Compare those with Fingers's numbers, which in his best 10-season stretch were 25.0 saves and a 2.71 ERA.
The save is often a hollow stat, but there's no denying that dominant closers have changed the game. Dennis Eckersley is a lock for the Hall when he's eligible in 2004. There should be room for Gossage, one of his forebears, right now.