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The curious tale of shortstops in the Hall of Fame ...

I read the other day that Omar Vizquel intends to take up bullfighting in the offseason. I guess that’s cool; certainly the “sport” has a different cultural significance in Venezuela than it does in Vermont.

Of more interest to me is the ultimate fate of Vizquel’s Hall of Fame chances, and those of his fellow countryman, Dave Concepcion. The former seems like he ought be a surefire Hall of Famer once he actually deigns to retire, maybe not first ballot, but eventually, but then you would think the same thing about the latter.

Concepcion was the best shortstop in the National League in the 1970s, and yet he got very little love from the baseball writers, ending up with about 16 percent in his final year under the scrutiny of the BBWAA in 2008.

My Concepcion theory would be similar to my explanation of why Gil Hodges is still on the outside looking in: too many teammates from one of the great all-time ball clubs are installed in Cooperstown, so the last guy has to struggle to get voters to remember the depth of his contribution.

With Hodges, it’s trailing Pee Wee, Duke and Jackie; with Concepcion, it’s even more complicated. Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan are Hall of Famers, and Pete Rose is a de facto Hall of Famer. The result is that a wonderful shortstop ends up denied for the moment at least, and that’s too bad.

It’s also ominous in the long term, because the new voting arrangements for Veterans have really raised the bar in terms of any individual player’s prospects for getting a nod significantly in defiance of the results of 15 years of voting by the BBWAA. That was the goal when the system was revised several years ago and it seems to have been achieved. It’s one of those things in life that is laudable in theory but problematic in practice for the individuals affected.

I have a sneaky suspicion that Vizquel is not going to have smooth sailing to Cooperstown despite having career numbers either indistinguishable from or in many instances better than his most suitable comparison player: Ozzie Smith.

He’s 42 now and still playing in a part-time role, so it’s almost a certainty he can’t hang around long enough to snag the 300 or so hits he would need to get to 3,000. He shouldn’t have to reach that particular milestone number to get elected, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.

As it stands, I figure it will hurt him having played substantial chunks of his career for four different teams. That ain’t fair, but I am convinced it’s a factor in how a player is preceived by the voters.

It also doesn’t help that the Hall of Fame roster for shortstops is kind of an odd listing mostly made up of guys with a decided turn-of-the-century or Depression era look to them.

It’s ironic that one of the most important positions on the field should get short shrift in Hall of Fame balloting, especially when you consider that from Little League all the way to the high school level, the best athlete on the squad often ends up at shortstop. But in the near six decades of Major League Baseball since the end of World War II, only a half dozen or so shortstops have been inducted, and one of those: Ernie Banks, wasn’t really a shortstop for more than half of his career.

Since Pee Wee and Rizzuto, there have only been Luis Aparicio, Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken. It’s true enough that there are plaques awaitin’ for Derek Jeter and A-Rod (spare me the chest thumping about steroids), but in the meantime it would be nice to see Concepcion get his due.

Hell, the way Vizquel is hanging around, it’s not clear his first vote will come before Jeter’s anyway.


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