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It is comforting to know that the Baseball Writer's Association of America (BBWAA) has become an arm of the Moral Majority. Praise the Lord! Can you imagine what would have happened to our children if Ferguson Jenkins or—gasp!—Gaylord Perry had been elected to the Hall of Fame? The BBWAA has saved our kids from being exposed to drugs, not to mention spitting.
Now, onward. Babe Ruth was known to drink during Prohibition. Can't he be expelled? Don Drysdale admits he threw at hitters. Out with his plaque. Whitey Ford confesses he was a regular Chauncey Gardiner when it came to landscaping baseballs. Gone. Luis Aparicio liked to bet the ponies and dogs (the track pooches, not those woeful White Sox teams he played for). Bye-bye, Luis.
"These are the eighties." we are constantly reminded, the conservative decade. Public schools are banning books by J.D. Salinger and William Faulkner. Now the BBWAA has succeeded in keeping Jenkins and Perry out of the Hall on moral grounds. This isn't just speculation: from talking to fellow writers I know that's why many of them ignored Jenkins and Perry. A little more righteous indignation, and Dale Murphy might be the only active player to make it to Cooperstown.
While Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski were deservedly elected in their first year of eligibility, both Jenkins and Perry fell short. To make the Hall, a candidate's name must appear on 75% of the ballots cast. Jenkins received 234 votes. 102 short of the 336 needed, and Perry got 304. Jenkins apparently lost votes because he was once convicted of possession of cocaine. The knock against Perry is that he cheated on the mound. He even wrote a book with the title Me and the Spitter.
Jenkins was arrested in Toronto in 1980. before baseball's confrontation with hard drugs. There has been no indication that Jenkins used drugs after his conviction, and his record was wiped clean immediately after the conviction by the presiding judge, who described Jenkins as '"a person who has conducted himself in exemplary fashion in the community and in the country."
Perry has admitted to having used K-Y jelly. Vaseline, saliva, fishing-line wax, resin, sweat and dirt to make baseballs do peculiar things. However, he may not have been as much of an outlaw as he led us to believe. Dave Duncan, who was Perry's catcher with the Cleveland Indians in 1974, a season in which Perry went 21-13. claims Perry threw only one spitter that year. "He had a great sinker and just kept up the act [his fidgeting on the mound] to make hitters believe he was loading up the ball." says Duncan. "So they focused on trying to catch him cheating instead of concentrating on how he was pitching them." Though opponents watched him closely. Perry was caught throwing an illegal pitch only once in his career.
Perry may well have been better than Catfish Hunter, a Hall of Famer who benefited from pitching for three world championship Oakland A's teams. By contrast, Perry played for only one club, the 1971 San Francisco Giants, that so much as won a division crown. His 314 victories came the hard way. For 10 years he was the workhorse of the Giants staff, and from '67 through '75 he averaged 315 innings per season. He had five 20-win seasons, as many as Tom Seaver, who is a sure bet to make the Hall. One can also argue that any man who won 20 games for both the Indians (twice) and the San Diego Padres in the '70s—and a Cy Young Award with each club—should qualify automatically.
In making out my ballot for the Hall of Fame, I consider whether or not a player was dominant. Perry was, as was Jenkins, who for six straight years, from 1967 through '72. won at least 20 games, an achievement surpassed by only one post-World War I pitcher. Lefty Grove, who I believe was the best pitcher ever. In '74, when the Chicago Cubs traded Jenkins to the Texas Rangers, he won 20 games again. Only one modern-era pitcher, Jim Palmer, has had more than seven 20-win seasons. Critics of Jenkins, with his 284-226 career record, say, "Look how many he lost." But most of those defeats came with lackluster Cub and Rangers teams. One of the few chances Jenkins got to play for a potential winner in his 19-year career came in '76. when he joined the Boston Red Sox. But he suffered an Achilles tendon injury in August that hobbled him until spring training in 1977. In 1978 he returned to Texas and won 18 games.
Jenkins and Perry would have been locks for Cooperstown if they had been judged as Ruth. Drysdale and Ford were—simply on the basis of performance. Jenkins and Perry will be eligible again next year. Let's hope the many voters who this year refused to vote for them on moral grounds will include them on their ballots in 1990.