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October 22, 2014

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There should be no debate about baseball Hall of Fame

About the writer

  • Ken Korach is the radio play-by-play man for the Oakland A’s. The Henderson resident’s broadcast career also has included stints with the Chicago White Sox, Las Vegas Stars and UNLV football and basketball. He will write occasionally from the road during the A’s season.
  • More about Ken Korach

Now that the dust has settled and Jim Rice and Rickey Henderson have been voted into the Hall of Fame, here’s two cents from someone who will never have a vote for the Hall.

The Hall of Fame voting, by the way, will always be the domain of the baseball writers, which has sparked some friendly debate among us media types, but that issue is for another time.

OK, I give in to temptation. This will be my 18th year in the American League, but my writer friends tell me that broadcasters would be biased because most of them work for the teams. Who’s to say a writer might be biased because he is writing a book about, let’s say, Bert Blyleven? And, the media line has been blurred so much anyway. There are writers spending more time broadcasting than writing. We all have to reconcile our own integrity.

I spent one year with Rickey, 1998, when he returned for his fourth stint with the A’s. He was still a marvel at 40. He only hit .236, but his on base percentage was .376 and he stole 66 bases.

I shared a stage with him at an Oakland fundraiser last summer, and, believe me, he still thinks he can play, and except for a few more lines on his face he looks the same as he did when he debuted for the A’s in 1979. I’m not sure he will ever formally retire.

I’m getting sick of the Hall of Fame debate focusing so much on numbers. I’ve always felt you’re either a Hall of Famer or you’re not. It shouldn’t require a whole lot of discussion or investigation.

And, it is a good thing that baseball’s Hall is most discerning of any of the major sports.

I used to have some fun with Jerry Reuss, the old lefthander, when we broadcast the Las Vegas Stars games. There are all-time “greats” and all-time “goods”. The all-time “greats” are Hall of Famers. Jerry pitched for 22 years, won 220 games and pitched a no hitter, and one day he asked me my opinion of him. “Jerry,” I said. “In all do respect, you were an all-time “good.”

When I was a kid, the Hall of Famers were royalty. Just mentioning the names, you didn’t need the baseball encyclopedia to determine if they were worthy. Mays, Clemente, Koufax, Aaron. They were Hall of Famers. You didn’t have to look it up, you just knew.

That’s the way I feel about Frank Thomas, although I’m not certain if the Big Hurt will be a big lock.

Frank, who lives in the Valley, is one of the top 10 hitters of all-time. And, you can look that up. Compare Thomas to Ted Williams and any of the other complete hitters in the categories of average, power and patience.

Very few measure up, but where Frank will get hurt is where Edgar Martinez will be hurt as well. The DH debate.

It’s absurd that someone would be denied the Hall because they spent much of their career as a DH. The American League game is played with a DH. It’s part of the game. Show me the last time an American League manager made out his lineup without one.

It’s like my late, great partner with the A’s, Bill King, used to say about Ray Guy, the Raiders’ punter. The punter is a hugely important part of football. OK, he is a specialist, but how many games did Guy impact with his leg? He was All-Pro nine times. King was incredulous that Guy never made the pro football Hall of Fame.

I spent six years with Thomas, four with the White Sox and two with the A’s, and the fact his lifetime average is .301 is a remarkable testament to his talent. I remember looking at a box score after a typical Thomas game in his prime: 2-4 with a walk, and thinking he might have gotten only two or three good pitches to hit all night.

I’m not saying defense isn’t important, and that’s why Ozzie Smith is in the Hall, and it’s why I think Omar Vizquel is a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Vizquel, to me, has always been the perfect ballplayer. Besides having the best fielding percentage of all-time at shortstop, he made himself into an effective hitter. He could barely get the ball out of the infield when he first came up with Seattle, but as he matured, he learned to hit and if you needed a sacrifice bunt or needed to move a runner from second to third, he almost always delivered.

As we reach the end of the first decade of the millennium, here are my Hall of Famers of the active players:

• AL West: Vlad Guerrero, Ichiro, Omar Vizquel

• AL Central: Gary Sheffield, Jim Thome

• AL East: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, John Smoltz, Mariano Rivera

• NL West: Randy Johnson,

• NL Central: Trevor Hoffman

• NL East: Chipper Jones

• Still looking for jobs: Tom Glavine, Ken Griffey, Jr., Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Ivan Rodriguez, Frank Thomas

• On their way someday: Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, Albert Pujols

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