Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where this is none of my business, but … let’s get to it:
*My dad was in Minneapolis to visit this weekend, and as is common our conversation turned to baseball. It was Sunday night, and I had given him a book of famous baseball photographs as an early Christmas present, and one of them featured an aging Ted Williams having a conversation in the mid-1980s with two of the best hitters of that era: Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs.
My dad asked if Mattingly was in the Hall of Fame, and I said “no,” but then I hopped onto Baseball Reference to confirm my answer (it was correct) and started rattling off Donnie Baseball’s stats. He was a career .307 hitter, had four unbelievable seasons as part of a very good six-year prime and continued to be a contributor until his retirement. He won one MVP award, could have won another, and nabbed nine Gold Gloves at first base. Mattingly is a borderline candidate, we both agreed, but he never got more than 28 percent of the Hall of Fame vote.
Next, my dad asked about Keith Hernandez. He fell even shorter of enshrinement, but he also won an MVP award plus a batting title and mustered 11 Gold Glove awards. Mattingly is probably a stronger candidate, but Hernandez had a better career than I remembered (.296 career average, .821 OPS, fantastic defense and some truly outstanding seasons).
By pure coincidence, after our late night conversation I was scrolling through my phone before falling asleep (I know, bad habit) and saw that Harold Baines had been elected to Cooperstown. I have nothing against Baines and freely admit he had a very nice, long career. By playing parts of 22 seasons, he amassed some great counting numbers: 2,866 hits, 384 home runs and 1,628 runs batted in with a .289 career batting average.
Those sound like Hall of Fame numbers. But Baines is not a Hall of Fame player. He’s a Hall of Very Good player. That’s why Baines never got more than 6.1 percent of the vote — when 75 percent is needed — and fell off the ballot pretty quickly during initial Hall of Fame voting. He came in through the back door with the Today’s Game Era Committee giving him 12 of a possible 16 votes — the bare minimum to get in.
Baines himself said he was “very shocked” to get elected.
The idea of the committee is not a bad one. They also elected Lee Smith, one of the dominant closers of his era who for a long time held the MLB record with 478 career saves. Even if you think saves are overvalued, Smith feels like a Hall of Famer — a guy who was at the top of his game for long enough but couldn’t get over the hump with regular voters.
Baines? He led the American League in slugging once, made six All-Star teams and was an MVP top 10 finisher exactly once. It was a very nice career. But putting him in the Hall of Fame next to the best of the best? I’d sooner put in Mattingly or Hernandez, and it’s not even close.
I think my dad would agree.
*As our Ben Goessling already noted, the Vikings got tons of help in their pursuit of a playoff berth Sunday when Carolina, Philadelphia and Washington all lost. The Vikings can clinch a playoff spot simply by winning three of their last four games.
*The Packers, too, had their slim playoff hopes given a little bit of life with Sunday’s results — including their 34-20 win in Joe Philbin’s debut after the sacking of Mike McCarthy. It was almost a perfect day for Philbin, except for this: He had two failed challenges in the first 90 seconds of the game, meaning Green Bay didn’t have any more the rest of the day.
*As part of your Monday night viewing plan, don’t forget the Wolves have a late tip-off (9:30 p.m. vs. Golden State on FSN). Two Minnesota teams are underdogs in big games out West. What could go wrong?