Friday, March 25, 2011

My Royals Hall Of Fame Ballot, Part 3.

The second half of my ballot...

Mike Macfarlane (13.1): A tough one. Macfarlane was one of my favorite players of the 1990s, one of the better-hitting catchers in the league for several years. He took over for Bob Boone as the regular backstop in 1990, hitting a respectable .255/.306/.380, but in 1991 he broke out. He was hitting .273/.326/.514 and looked like a credible downballot MVP candidate when Joe Carter plowed into him at the plate on July 15th. Macfarlane missed two months and could only pinch-hit and DH when he returned for the last two weeks of the season.

From 1992 to 1994 Macfarlane was quietly one of the best catchers in baseball; he hit .254 and averaged 17 homers a season, despite averaging less than 400 at-bats a year. He also led the league twice in hit-by-pitches. After the strike he signed as a free agent with the Red Sox, joining the exodus from Kansas City along with David Cone and Brian McRae. But after one disappointing season in Boston, he returned to KC as a free agent, and gave the Royals two more decent years before he was traded to Oakland for Shane Mack.

(Have the Royals ever made a good trade with the A’s? Ever? Macfarlane…Jason Giambi…Johnny Damon…Jermaine Dye…and now David DeJesus. Sheesh.)

Macfarlane caught 847 games for the Royals, easily the most in franchise history, and not surprisingly leads all Royals catchers in counting categories like homers, doubles, RBIs, etc (though not walks, as we’ll talk about later.) He was a nice complementary player for about five years. I’m just not sure he’s a Hall of Famer. His WAR total of 13.1 is also a little short of our proposed standard of 15. If he were the greatest catcher in Royals history, you could make a case for him based on the fact that the Royals don't have any catchers enshrined yet. As we'll see, he isn't. And with some reluctance, I must conclude that he's not worthy of enshrinement.

Darrell May (6.6): We’ll always have 2003. Unfortunately, that’s about all we have. May is pretty clearly the best player the Royals have ever brought over from Japan – his competition includes John Bale, Yasuhiko Yabuta, and if you want to count him, Mac Suzuki. I think the lesson is pretty clear: the Royals should stop bringing players – or managers – over from Japan.

Brent Mayne (-0.5): It’s pretty remarkable, when you think about it, that Mayne could play nine seasons with the Royals, catch in 620 games – second only to Macfarlane in Royals history – and wind up being below replacement-level for his career.

That seems like a harsh assessment of his career, but Mayne hit .244/.305/.322 with the Royals, during one of the best offensive eras in major league history, for an OPS+ of 65. It always seemed like he could hit better than he did. He was a first-round pick out of college, and was in the majors after just one full season in the minors. He was a left-handed hitting catcher, which is always a nice bonus. It just seemed like he was going to make good contact and hit line drives and occasionally run into one – basically, he was supposed to have the career that A.J. Pierzynski has had. He never did, though.

At least not with the Royals. The Royals traded him to the Mets after the 1995 season for the immortal Al Shirley, and Mayne made stops in Oakland, San Francisco, and Colorado, hitting pretty well at each stop. He hit .289/.343/.406 for the A’s in 1997, then .273/.359/.360 for the Giants in 1998. In 1999 he hit .301/.389/.419, and smoked 32 doubles in 322 at-bats. (He was also the man on-deck when Buck Showalter intentionally walked Barry Bonds with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. The move worked, but barely – Mayne lined out hard to the right fielder.)

Mayne hit .301 for the Rockies in 2000, then was hitting .331 in 2001 when the Royals re-acquired him at mid-season for Sal Fasano and Mac Suzuki. At which point Mayne went back to sucking again.

Jose Offerman (8.2): He’s no Royals Hall of Famer, but Offerman was a much better player for the Royals than he’s given credit for. He was surly with the media, and he couldn’t play second base much better than he played shortstop. But he could hit, and he could get on base.

The Dodgers were so fed up with Offerman’s defense that they traded him to the Royals for Billy Brewer after the 1995 season. Offerman hit .303/.384/.417 his first year in Kansas City, with 24 steals. He played 36 games at shortstop and 38 games at second base, and then Tony Muser – himself a one-time slick glove man at first base – got this crazy idea to move Offerman to first base. It was crazy, but also a little inspired – Offerman was actually a pretty damn good defender at the position, as he had plenty of athleticism and he didn’t have to worry about making long throws anymore. The numbers bear it out – in half a season at first base, he was +5 runs defensively according to baseball-reference.

Anyway, Offerman was the full-time second baseman in 1997 and 1998. In 1998, he hit .315/.403/.438, stole 45 bases, and led the league with 13 triples. His 89 walks that year are the most in a single season by any Royal since 1990. Even with below-average defense at second base, he was a hell of a player. In his three seasons with the Royals, Offerman hit .306/.385/.419. His OBP is the highest in franchise history.

After the 1998 season he signed with the Red Sox as a free agent; the Royals used one of the two compensation picks on Mike MacDougal. MacDougal brought them Dan Cortes; Cortes brought them Yuniesky Betancourt. So if you’re looking for another reason to kick Offerman when he’s down, there you go.

Darrell Porter (17.3): It was a hell of a year. And unlike Al Cowens, it wasn’t a fluke.

You know what was the greatest single season ever by a Royals hitter? Of course you do; it was George Brett in 1980 (9.6 WAR). But do you know who had the second-greatest season? It was…okay, it was George Brett again, in 1979 (8.7). But the third-greatest season by a Royals hitter, the best by someone other than Brett, was Darrell Porter in 1979.

Darrell Porter hit .291/.421/.484 that year. He led the league with 121 walks, just one behind the franchise record of 122 set by John Mayberry in 1973. In major-league history, only two other catchers (defined as someone who caught in at least two-thirds of his games) drew as many walks in a season as Porter did that year: Mickey Tettleton, with 122 in 1992, and Gene Tenace, with 125 in 1977. From 1971 to 1995, no catcher matched Porter’s .421 OBP in a single season.

He also hit 20 homers and 10 triples and drove in 112 runs, and threw out 47% of attempted basestealers. It was an MVP-worthy season. Porter finished ninth in the balloting, because OBP wasn’t sexy back then.

While it was the best of Porter’s four seasons in Kansas City, it wasn’t his only good one. The Royals acquired him after the 1976 season in a trade – one of their many, many, many great trades of the decade – sending Jamie Quirk, Jim Rohlford, and current pitching coach Bob McClure to Milwaukee for Porter and Jim Colborn. In 1976, Porter had hit just .208/.298/.288 for the Brewers. But in 1977, Porter hit .275/.353/.452 with 16 homers in just 130 games. In 1978 he had hit .265/.358/.444 with 18 homers, threw out 37% of basestealers, and actually finished tenth in MVP voting. He also made the first of three straight All-Star Games that year. Only in 1980, his final season with Kansas City, did Porter slump; he mustered just 7 homers and hit .249/.354/.342.

Porter only played four years with the Royals, but those four years were enough to clearly mark him as the best catcher in franchise history. He hit .271/.375/.435, contributing power and remarkable patience as a left-handed stick, and was a plus defensive catcher, throwing out 42% of basestealers in that span.

Porter left as a free agent after the 1980 season and signed with the Cardinals; he was one of the few players the Royals lost to free agency in that era, and if memory serves I think the Royals were not entirely bent on keeping him. Cocaine was already becoming an issue for Porter; it would affect him in his career with the Cardinals, although it didn’t keep him from having several more good seasons as a part-timer. And eventually, after many years of apparent sobriety, it would kill him.

Porter’s time with Kansas City, like his time on earth, was short. But it wasn’t without impact. He was the starting catcher on three division champions and one World Series team. In my book, he’s a Hall of Famer.

Joe Randa (15.0): Ah, geez, talk about a bubble case – Randa is right on the line at 15.0 WAR. He came up in 1995 as a former 11th-round pick, had a nice rookie season in 1996 (.303/.351/.433), and then was traded in one of the more astonishing deals in Royals history, when Herk Robinson dealt Randa and three pitchers named Jeff – Granger, Martin, and Wallace – to the Pirates for Jeff King and Jay Bell.

It was a bizarre trade – both because the Pirates were dumping two of their best players for an average third baseman and three live arms who would never pan out, and because the beneficiaries of their dumping were the Royals. The trade looked too good to be true, but it wasn’t. Bell spent just one year with the Royals, but it was easily the greatest season by a shortstop in team history: he hit .291/.368/.461 before leaving for free agency. (The Royals blew the two compensation picks they got on Matt Burch and Chris George.) King gave the Royals two years of average offense but excellent defense at first base, then abruptly and very kindly retired early in the 1999 season, opening a door for Mike Sweeney to play every day.

If Randa had never returned to Kansas City, the trade wouldn’t have been the steal that it was. But two years later, after one good year with the Pirates and one bad one with the Tigers, the Royals re-acquired Randa. It looked like a lopsided deal at the time – in favor of the Mets, who got former first-rounder Juan LeBron for Randa. (The Mets had just acquired Randa from Detroit for Willie Blair.) But LeBron never made the major leagues, and Randa hit .314/.363/.473 in his first year back with the Royals. That exchange – trading Randa and fluff for two everyday players, then re-acquiring Randa for a failed prospect – is probably the highlight of Herk Robinson’s tenure as GM.

Randa was never again as good as he was in 1999, but from 2000 to 2004 he was an average third baseman, maybe a few runs below average on offense and a few runs above average on defense. He played 1019 games with the Royals, and hit .288/.340/.428, before finishing his career with the Reds, Padres, and finally the Pirates again in 2006.

I can’t bring myself to vote for him. He was a good player, but never a great player; even in 1999, he was maybe the fifth-best player in the lineup behind Sweeney, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon, and Carlos Beltran. He never had a chance to add to his resume with some postseason moments. His numbers look better than they were because he played in the height of the high-offense era. He deserves to be remembered, and remembered fondly. But I can’t convince myself that he belongs in the Royals Hall of Fame.

Kevin Seitzer (14.9): Gee, this isn’t any easier. According to WAR, Seitzer and Randa are separated by a rounding error.

Seitzer and Randa have more in common than just their WAR totals and their position. Both were high-average, low-to-medium power guys. Both were drafted in the 11th round – Randa in 1991, Seitzer in 1983. But while Randa took a long time to find success, Seitzer was a revelation from the get-go. He came up in September 1986, and hit .323/.440/.448 in 28 games, playing mostly first base. The Royals were sufficiently impressed to move Brett to first base that off-season to accommodate Seitzer, who didn’t disappoint. As a rookie, Seitzer hit .323/.399/.470 in 1987, led the league with 207 hits, chipped in 15 homers, drew 80 walks, and made the All-Star Team. He even got a few MVP votes. It was pretty clearly the best rookie season in Royals history, but thanks to Mark McGwire and his 49 homers, Seitzer did not with Rookie of the Year honors.

Seitzer could not maintain that performance level, and didn’t. His performance dropped in a straight line after 1987; his OPS+ from 1986 to 1991 reads 141, 128, 122, 106, 103, and 95. Seitzer was never a great defensive player, and by 1991 his defense was decidedly sub-par. By mid-season, with Seitzer not hitting all that well, manager Hal McRae decided to make a radical defensive upgrade, benching Seitzer and Kurt Stillwell in favor of Bill Pecota and David Howard. The following spring, the Royals unceremoniously released Seitzer a week before Opening Day.

Seitzer caught on with the Brewers, playing 148 games and batting a respectable .270/.337/.367. His bat recovered from 1994 to 1996, hitting over .300 each year with lots of walks, and down the stretch in 1996 the Indians traded Jeromy Burnitz to acquire Seitzer. He crushed the ball for Cleveland, batting .386/.480/.542 in 22 games, and hit well in their ALDS loss to the Oriokles. Seitzer had an off-year with the Indians in 1997 and then retired.

Like Randa, Seitzer’s Hall of Fame case is hurt by the fact that while he hit for average, he had very little power – aside from 1987, when everyone hit for power, Seitzer never hit more than six homers in a season with the Royals. Seitzer was an on-base machine – he’s the last Royal to draw 100 walks in a season, in 1989 – but wasn’t the glove man that Randa was. And he was only a starter for about four-and-a-half seasons. If you’ve read this blog for long, you know what a big fan I am of Seitzer’s approach as the team’s hitting coach, and I’m rooting for him to have enough success in that role over the next several years that he’ll be a worthy Hall of Fame candidate for his dual role. But for now, I have to say no.

As an aside, the run of third basemen the Royals have had is pretty damn incredible. They haven’t always had a superstar at the position, but with very few exceptions, there has never been a point where the Royals have had a scar at the position. Consider this timeline:

1969: Joe Foy, who had a very solid year; he hit .262/.354/.370 and stole 37 bases. It was good enough that the Mets – who were always looking for third baseman back then – traded Amos Otis to get him after the season.
1970-1973: Paul Schaal. Before he became a chiropractor and set the all-time major-league record for most marriages (seriously – he’s been married nine times at last count), Schaal was a pretty good third baseman for the Royals. He was a bad defensive player, but could hit .270 (pretty good in those days) with a ton of walks. He was sort of a poor man’s Kevin Seitzer.
1974-1986: George Brett.
1987-1991: Kevin Seitzer.
1992: Gregg Jefferies, who hit .285/.329/.404 before he was foolishly traded for Felix Jose and predictably turned into a star in St. Louis.
1993-1995: The Royals handed the job over to Phil Hiatt in 1993, who was terrible, and in desperation they signed Gary Gaetti after the Angels released him mid-season. Gaetti had been terrible for years, to the point where the Angels ate millions of dollars in salary – and to everyone’s surprise, Gaetti gave the Royals three good years, culminating with 35 homers in a strike-shortened 1995.
1996: Joe Randa, with a little Craig Paquette thrown in.
1997: Randa was traded, and the Royals foolishly thought Paquette could handle the job. When he couldn’t, they…
1997-1998: Traded Tom Goodwin for Dean Palmer, who was very good down the stretch in 1997, and slammed 34 homers in 1998.
1999-2004: Come back Joe Randa! All is forgiven!
2005-2006: Mark Teahen was given the job, and was just okay in 2005. He sucked to start 2006, and Esteban German and Tony Graffanino ably handled the position until Teahen came back and raked the second half of the year.
2007-2008: The Alex Gordon era commenceth.
2009: When Gordon got hurt, Teahen moved back to the position.
2010: Gordon moved to left field early in the year, allowing Alberto Callaspo to man the position until he was traded, at which point Wilson Betemit took over – and raked.

Last season was one of the few times in Royals history that the position was unsettled – the only other times were in 1993, when Phil Hiatt tanked, and 1997, when Craig Paquette did the same. And in 2011, Mike Aviles is just holding the base warm for Mike Moustakas.

Even in those seasons where the Royals’ third baseman struggled, they were usually able to fix the hole by the end of the season, as when they picked up Gary Gaetti or Dean Palmer. The worst combined performance by a Royals third baseman might be 1972, when Schaal had an off-year, or 1997, when Palmer didn’t arrive until August, or 2001, when Joe Randa had his worst season. But even last year, with all the turmoil, Royals third baseman combined to hit .283/.334/.422 with 17 homers and 51 walks.

I don’t know if it means anything. I just think it’s interesting that the Royals have had so little problem finding a competent third baseman over the years, even while they’ve struggled to find any competent shortstop.

Michael Tucker (1.0): In my memory, Michael Tucker was a Royal for seven or eight years, but the numbers say he was a member of the team for only four years and 418 games. He was the crown jewel of the 1992 draft, a college star and a member of the U.S. Olympic team, headlining a class of talent that included Johnny Damon, a pre-injury Jim Pittsley, and Jon Lieber. He finally arrived on Opening Day, 1995, with the kind of hype that presaged Alex Gordon’s reception 12 years later. Two years later he was traded for Jermaine Dye, which looked like a terrible trade for a year or two and then a brilliant trade after that.

The Royals traded Shawn Sonnier, who was once a relief prospect of some repute, to get Tucker back after the 2001 season. It’s strange; star players leave the Royals never to return, but the average guys – Tucker and Randa and Macfarlane and Mayne – all find ways to return home to roost. Tucker gave the Royals a couple of decent seasons in 2002 and 2003, and a well-time hot streak in 2003 helped revive the Royals playoff hopes that year. He never lived up to the promise of being the #10 pick in the draft, but then, most guys don’t.

U.L. Washington (6.2): The toothpick absolutely deserves a place in the Hall, and for all I know there might be one there as an exhibit. Washington is clearly grandfathered into the voting process, meaning he received at least two votes in one of the last two elections. I find it strange that Washington would receive two votes while someone like Charlie Leibrandt or Danny Tartabull wouldn’t, but hey, I just got here.

John Wathan (3.2): Duke sure had an interesting career. He debuted in 1976, retired after 1985 – you couldn’t pick a better 10-year stretch – and spent his entire career with the Royals. He set the still-standing major-league record for steals by a catcher in 1982, with 36, and he wasn’t padding the record with a lot of high-risk attempts – he was only caught nine times. In 1980, he hit .305 and got named on an MVP ballot. And after Herzog and Howser, Wathan is pretty clearly the best manager in Royals history – the 1987 Royals almost caught the Twins in September after Wathan took over, and the 1989 Royals won 92 games, more than they had in 1985.

So in the end, with a nod to Al Fitzmorris, my ballot is: Kevin Appier by acclamation, Darrell Porter, and Bo Jackson. Joe Randa and Kevin Seitzer are peering in through the window, and while I don’t like the idea of changing my vote on a player, I can’t say with certainty that I won’t reconsider my no votes for them.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Royals Hall Of Fame Ballot, Part 2.

(First off, “The Baseball Show With Rany And Joe” is not only available on iTunes, but for some strange reason, iTunes has ranked the show among the top 20 sports podcasts for the past week. I am thrilled, and baffled. Many thanks to those of you who have downloaded the show, and I hope the rest of you will give it a try.)

The season’s barely a week away and I really need to get back to the 2011 Royals soon, so here’s a quick rundown of the Hall of Fame ballot. Players are listed with their Wins Above Replacement for their Royals career.

Brian Anderson (1.0), Scott Service (1.2), and Kris Wilson (-0.4): Joe Posnanski broke down the ballot last week, and wasn’t shy about mocking the Royals for allowing certain woefully unqualified players from appearing on the ballot. I don’t really agree with Posnanski – I think that the nature of a Hall of Fame ballot is that, by necessity, certain players are going to appear on the ballot that have no business being there. You have to set the bar for nomination a lot lower than the bar for induction. The alternative is that you risk leaving off a borderline deserving player, who then gets excluded not because of a voting consensus but because of the capricious decision of a single person. I’d rather a hundred undeserving players get listed on the ballot than a single deserving player get left off.

That said, the Royals set themselves up for this kind of reaction by setting the innings limit so low that these three guys made the ballot. Anderson was good for about six weeks in 2003 – granted, he was good when the Royals needed him to be good, and his terrible pitching in 2004 and 2005 didn’t matter. Wilson was a nice 11th man on the pitching staff for a couple of years. Service was a quality middle reliever in 1998. (The next year, he had a 6.09 ERA, allowed 132 baserunners in 75 innings, and still saved eight games because the alternatives were even worse. The 1999 Royals had the worst bullpen – no, really – in major league history.)

They have no business being on the ballot. And if the Royals don’t increase the innings requirement from 150 to 300, as I recommended…here’s a partial list of pitchers who threw 150 innings (and pitched in three different seasons) for the Royals since 2000:

Blake Stein
Mike Wood
Mac Suzuki
Jose Lima
Chris George
D.J. Carrasco

I’d say the Royals are just setting themselves up for more derision in the future unless they tighten their standards a little bit.

Kevin Appier (44.1): I’m not going to make the case for Kevin Appier here, because I already made the case for Appier for the National Hall of Fame here. Suffice it to say that he’s the greatest Royal I’ve ever seen.

No, no, he wasn’t better than George Brett. But after 1980 – when I was five years old – Brett never strung together back-to-back dominant seasons. He was very good in 1982, excellent – but frequently hurt – in 1983, transcendent in 1985. He had a nice bounce-back season in 1988. He won a batting title as a 37-year-old in 1990. But except for 1985, I missed the glory years of Brett, from 1976 to 1980, when he was a force of nature, a .330 hitter with power and panache and a flair for the dramatic. From 1981 until the end of his career, Brett amassed 40.3 WARP.

From 1990 to 1997, Appier was one of the best starters in the major leagues every single year – and in those eight years alone, he amassed 44.2 WARP. He’s my favorite Royal of all time, and by the numbers he’s the greatest Royals pitcher of all time. At least according to WARP – and this is certainly debatable – but according to WARP, it is Appier, not Frank White or Hal McRae or even Amos Otis, who stands to Brett’s right on the podium as the second-best player in Royals history.

He was criminally underrated throughout his career, to the point where I worried that the voters – or at least the fans – might overlook him. Thankfully, at last check Appier was running away with the fan vote. I expect him to be inducted this summer. He deserves one final moment in the sun, and we deserve one final opportunity to thank him for so many good memories.

Al Cowens (10.7): It was a hell of a year. In 1977, Cowens hit .312, slammed 23 homers, legged out 14 triples, added 32 doubles, stole 16 bases, and drove in 112 runs. He played in all 162 games, one of only three Royals who have ever done that. (Carlos Beltran did it in 2002, and Hal McRae also played in 162 games in 1977.) Cowens even won a Gold Glove that year. The Royals won 102 games, their most ever. Cowens finished second in MVP voting that year, the highest finish by any Royal not named George Brett.

It was a hell of a year. It was also a hell of a fluke. The year before, Cowens hit .265/.298/.341 with three homers. The following year, Cowens would hit .274/.319/.388 with five homers. I have never really heard an explanation for what possessed Cowens in 1977, which may be the greatest fluke season in the history of the franchise.

Cowens would be traded after the 1979 season, and in exchange the Royals got Willie Aikens, who gave them four good years of his own. Cowens would still be contributing with the Seattle Mariners through 1985. He was one of the all-time great draft finds, having been selected in the 75th round in 1969. But he’s not a Royals Hall of Famer. It was just one year.

Al Fitzmorris (14.2): Without question, of all the players on the ballot, Fitzmorris is the one whose performance record most surprised me. That’s partly a function of when he played – he pitched for the team from 1969 to 1976, prior to the glory years that I’ve read so much about that, and way prior to the decline and fall that I witnessed personally. But looking at his numbers right now, I feel like I’ve given him short shrift all these years.

Fitz was a swingman from 1969 to 1973, making 41 starts and 98 relief appearances in that span, and pitching well enough – ERAs of 4.44 as a rookie in 1970, then 4.17, 3.74, and 2.83. In 1974 he became a full-time starter, and for the next three years was excellent – he was 13-6 with a 2.79 ERA in 1974, then 16-12 with a 3.57 ERA in 1975, then 15-11 with a 3.06 ERA in 1976. Those numbers are terrific.

Well, they’d be terrific today. Fitzmorris was only slightly above-average during his Royals career. Consider that 3.74 ERA in 1972. That year, the league ERA was 3.06. (There’s a reason the AL voted to implement a DH after the season.) Fitzmorris’ ERA+ was just 81 that season, meaning he was 19% worse than league average. By comparison, when Mark Redman had a 5.71 ERA for the Royals in 2006, his ERA+ was 82.

Fitzmorris was legitimately excellent from 1973 to 1976; his ERA in that span was 3.13, and with the DH now a part of the American League, that was good for an ERA+ of 121. The Royals wouldn’t have won the AL West in 1976 without him. But there’s still a caveat there – more than perhaps any other successful starter in Royals history, Fitzmorris relied on his defense to succeed.

In 1974, when Fitzmorris had a career-best 2.79 ERA, he struck out just 53 batters in 190 innings. In 1976, he set a career high in strikeouts – with 80, in 220 innings. He nearly walked as many batters as he struck out, a very unusual trait for a successful pitcher. He succeeded in part because he kept the ball down so well – in 1976 he allowed just six homers in those 220 innings – but he also succeeded because the Royals had a very good defense behind him. His double-play combination was Freddie Patek and Frank White; Amos Otis patrolled center; Cowens was in right field. Brett was young and error-prone at third base, but had good range. Even John Mayberry could pick it a little at first base.

The Toronto Blue Jays selected Fitzmorris in the expansion draft after the 1976 season, then traded him to Cleveland for Alan Ashby and Doug Howard. The Indians did not have a good defense. In 1977, Fitzmorris did what he usually did – he walked a few more batters than usual, but also struck out a few more batters than usual. His ERA climbed to 5.41. He was out of the league a year later.

Fitzmorris was a very good and versatile pitcher for the Royals for a lot of years. But ultimately, he wasn’t quite as good as he looked, because he was helped by both his era and his teammates. I can’t support his selection.

Jason Grimsley (4.0): Among the many bits of baseball Conventional Wisdom that I believe to be vastly overrated or just plain wrong, there is the aphorism that “there’s a difference between pitching the eighth inning and pitching the ninth.” I find the notion that some pitchers can be effective middle relievers, but who don’t have the mental fortitude to close out a game, almost insulting. There are a lot of people who would succumb to the pressure of getting the last three outs of a game. Those tend to be the same people who succumb to the pressure of pitching against the best hitters in the world, with 40,000 people watching from the stands and millions more on TV. If you have the guts to pitch in the major leagues, you have the guts to pitch the ninth inning. A closer is just a reliever who got the opportunity.

That said, there are exceptions to every rule. In my experience as a Royals fan, I’d say there are only two pitchers who, in my estimation, were different pitchers when asked to close out a game than when asked to simply hand off a lead to the closer. The first was Jason Grimsley. Grimsley was the Royals set-up man from 2001 until they traded him at the deadline in 2004 (for a pretty fair return in Denny Bautista), and except for 2003 was very effective in that role.

But everyone – I mean everyone – around the team made it clear that Grimsley simply couldn’t handle the pressure of closing out a win. He pitched 15 years in the majors, relieved in 480 games, but Grimsley only saved four games. Only one came as a Royal, on August 30, 2002, when he came to get the final out of the eighth inning with the Royals up 4-1. The Royals tacked on an insurance run in the top of the ninth, and Grimsley was left in to close out a 4-run lead.

The other pitcher was Kyle Farnsworth. Good luck with that, Tampa Bay.

Bo Jackson (6.4): Bo Jackson played in just 511 games as a member of the Royals. He had a .308 OBP. He wasn’t a very good defensive outfielder, despite his speed and his arm – he made a whopping 40 errors in 467 games. The only thing he ever led the league in was strikeouts, 1989. He was always hurt.

He gets my vote anyway.

For the National Hall of Fame, I think that the ultimate standard has to be the greatness of a player on the field, and no amount of recognition off the field should matter. It’s not called the Hall of Fame in order to recognize a player’s fame, but in order to confer fame onto the player. Fame is the reward for greatness, not the other way around.

But for a team’s Hall of Fame, I think that the ultimate goal is to celebrate the history of that franchise – and that means telling the stories of the most significant players in that franchise’s history. By and large, significance and greatness go hand and hand. But not always. And perhaps no player in major-league history, let alone Royals history, had a significance that so outstripped his on-field contributions. (Okay, maybe Jackie Robinson. But he was a great player by either metric.)

Bo Jackson was more than a player who hit .250/.308/.480 and swatted 109 homers as a member of the Royals. The first home run of his career is still the longest ever hit at Kauffman Stadium. Like that home run, everything else he did was big and bold and led Sportscenter. He threw out Harold Reynolds at the plate from the warning track. He climbed the wall in Baltimore. He tried to call timeout right before the pitch was delivered, and when time wasn’t granted he hit the pitch into the bleachers. He broke bats over his thighs. He hit a home run in three straight at-bats at Yankee Stadium, then hurt himself diving for a ball, missed six weeks, then hit a home run off Randy Johnson in his first at-bat back. Oh yeah, he won the Heisman and averaged 5.4 yards per carry in the NFL, an average exceeded by only two running backs in NFL history (Marion Motley and, ahem, Jamaal Charles.) He made Nike commercials with Wayne Gretzky and Bo Diddley and everyone in between. He was the most famous athlete in America, and – at least until baseball season ended – he was ours.

And by the end, after all the hype and all the learning at the major-league level, he had become a great player. In 1990, he hit .272/.342/.523, setting a career high in walks (44) and a career low in strikeouts (128). He was 27 years old, and the world was his oyster. And then he was caught from behind and his hip twisted the wrong way and he was, for all intents and purposes, done.

His performance on the field doesn’t merit induction into the Royals Hall of Fame. But the whole point about Bo Jackson was never purely about performance. He was about potential and freakish athleticism and hype and marketing and everything that America loved about sports. Ultimately, the Royals Hall of Fame should be telling the story of the Kansas City Royals. Moreso than any player in history other than George Brett, you can’t tell the story of the Kansas City Royals without talking about Bo Jackson. For that reason, he gets my vote.

I'll be back with the second half of my ballot tonight or tomorrow. (No, really, I promise - it's already written!) And then we'll get back to the present day.