Twenty-seven names are on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame ballot for the class of 2012, and none of them are shoe-ins to be enshrined. The announcement comes Monday, and though most of the game’s former stars aren’t worthy this becomes a time to reminiscence and remember just how good they were.
Tim Raines Sr., Alan Trammel, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Barry Larkin, Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, Bernie Williams, Jack Morris, and Mark McGwire are on the ballot of ESPN’s Jim Caple. Each of these players had tremendous careers. Some may surpass the 75 percent needed to be inducted at some point during their stay on the ballot. Others, rightfully not on Caple’s ballot, aren’t thought of as Hall of Fame material yet were very successful. Bill Mueller and Javy Lopez are two such players.
They represent two periods of my life. Growing up, I passionately followed the Atlanta Braves. Then I followed the Boston Red Sox. These two teams had so many talented and likable stars. Lopez and Mueller, stars at different stages of my childhood, were two of them.
Lopez caught for the Braves for the better part of 12 years. He came up in 1992, hit his first homer in 1993, struggled in his rookie season of 1994, and then found his stride. He never played in more than 134 games in a season for the team but he sure was productive. He was never heralded as a good defensive catcher, but he worked well with the staff and was renowned for his bat. He had the pleasure to catch Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, three future Hall of Famers, and was a consistent power threat. He was more than a home-run hitter, though. He was smart, had a keen eye, hit for a high average, and did his part in creating some of the most successful teams baseball has ever seen.
He hit 20-plus homers six times in his 15-year career. His best season was in 2003, his last in Atlanta, when he batted .328 with 43 homers, 109 rbi’s, and a fifth-place finish in the MVP voting. During his glory days with the Braves, the right-handed hitter complimented the Jones Boys–Chipper and Andruw–well, forming a dangerous trio. I had the pleasure to watch most of the team’s games, as they were broadcast on TBS. My grandmother loved Atlanta, and, as early as my toddler stage, I came to, too. Lopez was just one of many Braves who fueled a love for baseball, and who made my childhood that much more enjoyable.
While Lopez was mashing homers in 2003, I was following another team intently: the Red Sox. Mueller, a 5’10″, 180-pound third baseman, was an integral part of their effort to reverse the Curse of the Bambino. He wasn’t intimidating. He just simply knew how to hit. He won the batting title in 2003, his first of three seasons with Boston, by hitting .326. He had a .398 on-base percentage–one of three Red Sox in the top six in that category, joining Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon–and a higher slugging percentage than New York Yankees’ Jason Giambi. He clubbed 45 doubles and crushed 19 homers. These four statistics were, and would remain, career-highs in each category.
After Aaron Boone’s infamous and gut-wrenching drive down the left-field line in Game 7 of the ALCS ended Boston’s 2003 season, Mueller was unable to stay fully healthy in 2004 but still put up respectable numbers. He hit .283 with a .365 on-base percentage in 110 games and redeemed himself in the postseason after struggling in the 2003 edition.
Mueller had 1,229 hits in his career but none were bigger than his single in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the great Mariano Rivera and his New York Yankees. What happened is engrained in baseball lore. With his team down 3-0 in the series and facing elimination, Kevin Millar worked a walk and was lifted for pinch-runner Dave Roberts. The speedy outfielder took an incredibly lead, was nearly picked off, and then, with Mueller at the plate, stole second base by an eyelash. The tying run was in scoring position and Mueller, who hit Rivera well throughout his career, laced a single up the middle to score Roberts. The rest is history.
Many players on the Hall of Fame ballot are common names. Lopez and Mueller aren’t. They flew under the radar. Gaudy numbers weren’t put up by the two year after year, but they were consistently good and immensely valuable to their teams. Their production doesn’t warrant enshrinement, but that doesn’t take away from what they accomplished. They shouldn’t be forgotten, and they never will be by me, representing two incredibly joyful periods of my baseball-filled childhood.