MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Truthfully, Scott Rolen did not ring in my mind as a Hall of Famer; he never has. Frankly, neither does Fred McGriff, with whom Rolen will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer in Cooperstown.

Rolen becomes the 18th third baseman voted into the Hall of Fame, as he and Chipper Jones are the only full-time third basemen there to have begun their careers after 1982 – third base being exclusive because of the demand on the defense of the position.

But don’t misunderstand me (thank you, BTO), I have nothing against either player, Rolen or McGriff; in fact, I have always liked them both very much as baseball players, because they were both pros and they both had great careers. This is not an indictment on either one of them being voted in. Yet, for a lot of baseball fans, it is. But there’s nothing wrong with that, either. Conversation about baseball is always healthy.

New York Yankees fans, you see, are in a fluff again, because, once more, somebody who didn’t “star” for the Yankees was voted into the Hall of Fame. Which, of course, brings us to – gadzooks! – Donnie Baseball (ack!), aka, Don Mattingly, who is not in the Hall of Fame after all of these years.

Look, we’re not here to argue or to say this person or that person doesn’t belong, and this one does. Nor are we here to swap statistics. Don Mattingly certainly has compelling points to be in the Hall of Fame. He was a fantastic player for, unfortunately, far too short of a time.

While his accomplishments are remarkable and while it was a joy to watch him play (basically because the Yankees were horrible in the 1980s), because of severe injuries to his back, his window was far too short.

It would not hurt my feelings at all if Mattingly were in the Hall of Fame. All I am saying is, I have never thought of him as being a Hall of Famer, which doesn’t mean I don’t admire his ability or his career. But for beginners, as damn-skippy good as Mattingly was, he wasn’t even the best first basemen of his era – or his division.

Hall of Famer Eddie Murray was.

Now if Mattingly had been able to stay healthy, he would be in the Hall of Fame. Tragically, we can speculate the same on the late, great Thurman Munson. Both players, seemingly, were well on their way to Cooperstown, although, frankly, Munson was a lot closer than Mattingly ever was.

Just my opinion. And that’s the point. This ain’t rocket science – it’s baseball, which means perception and opinion are the reality. It’s the core of the spirit of the game.

Now, right off the top of my head, who rings in my mind as a Hall of Famer in his era? Dave Parker, that’s who. The Cobra dominated his era (which, by the way, is a voting consideration; or at least used to be), but he had baggage, so he wasn’t given the secret knock or the key to the executive washroom.

Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, et al? Of course they’re Hall of Famers based on their on-field performance, but Rose created legitimate reasons why he’s not eligible to be on the ballot (he’s banned from baseball; and earned it). As for the other guys, they were at the heart of the steroid era that legitimately clouded all individual performances of the time.

How about Alex Rodriguez, who got caught twice?

Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire? In my opinion, both were frauds of the highest level until they juiced up, which made them both even bigger frauds. Yet Major League Baseball looked the other way until Congress brought it to everybody’s attention – even though everybody knew, anyway.

I’m shocked. Shocked!

(And by the way, the king of the juicers, Jose Canseco, was far better than both of them.)

The whole thing has always been so speculative, even in normal times. Right or wrong, that’s baseball.

You want guys who are in, but who, unbelievably, were not voted in on the first ballot? How about Roberto Alomar? In his case, it was a matter of the spit hitting the fan. Or the ump.

David Ortiz? He’s another one with some baggage, which is fine, but, truthfully, I never thought of him as first ballot.

Yet here are some guys who should have been first balloters, but didn’t get in on their first ballots: Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, Mel Ott, Eddie Mathews, Roy Campanella and Harmon Killebrew. All of them had to wait until at least their second ballot to be elected. Seriously.

It’s all about different eras, and different eras are just that — different. How did a player affect the era in which he played?

For instance, Harold Baines being in the Hall of Fame might make you say, hmmmm … But after losing his legs and his speed to multiple surgeries, Harold Baines was one of greatest designated hitters to ever to ever swing a bat. And, in case you haven’t noticed, the DH has been a big part of baseball for 50 years now.

Ask David Ortiz. The DH punched his ticket.

Now, though, it’s based on analytics and metrics many of us never knew existed – even on the fifth ballot. Ask Scott Rolen, whose analytics and sabermetrics make him far more worthy than Donnie Baseball. I guess.

Of course, all of this could be worse, you know. It could be football, which has never had even a whiff of perception – just politics.

Ask Joe Jacoby.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT