"I really have nothing to say," he said. Clearly, his career speaks for him.
Exhibit B: Atanacio Rigal Perez
Between 1967 and 1976, the Cuban-born first-baseman of the Cincinnati Reds had more runs batted in (1,028) than any other player in baseball--but he never won a crucial home run or RBI title. Not even in 1970, when he hit 40 home runs and had 129 RBI. By the end of his 23-year career, he was sixteenth on the all-time RBI list with 1,652, and every player ahead of him in that category--except for the still-active Dave Winfield--has already been elected to the Hall of Fame. For instance, the aforementioned Billy Williams, of the Cubs: In eighteen seasons Williams hit .290 to Perez's lifetime .279 and stroked 426 home runs (most of them in homer-friendly Wrigley Field) to Perez's 379. But Perez has 177 more runs batted in, and in postseason play for the Big Red Machine and the Philadelphia Phillies--six championships and five World Series--he batted in 24 runs.
A pair of Perez's famous Cincinnati teammates, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan, are already in the Hall, and a third one, the brilliant and tainted Pete Rose, may one day be enshrined--once the nickel-dime moralists have their say about Rose's off-field indiscretions and return to the matter of baseball. But Perez, without whom the Reds would have finished second or third in each of their glory years, can hear the clock ticking.
"It's getting harder and harder every year to get into the Hall of Fame," he said last week. "It's disappointing." Go further than that in Perez's case: It's a crime.
Exhibit C: Donald Howard Sutton.
Let's see here. In his 23 seasons the Dodgers right-hander notched 324 victories (an even 100 more than Catfish got in his fifteen years) and 256 losses, for a winning percentage of .568. Don't tell anyone, but that compares favorably with, say, the record of Sutton's former Los Angeles teammate, the late Don Drysdale, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984. In fourteen years Drysdale had 209 wins and 166 losses for a .557 win mark. Even more illustrative, have a look at Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry. In 22 seasons he won 314 games (ten fewer than Sutton) and lost 365 (nine more). As for durability, Sutton stands eighth on the all-time list in innings pitched and fifth in strikeouts. Like Niekro, though, Sutton never won a Cy Young Award, and the voters can't seem to get over that.
By the way, every pitcher with more wins than either Sutton or Niekro has been enshrined at Cooperstown.
Which brings us back to the voters. Before long, they may need to elect a new president, and we've got the perfect candidate. He can't field a ground ball or make heads or tails of a record book, and he's got a heart of stone: Cooperstown's own Cardiff Giant.