Well, Phillies fans, it's that time of year again. Yes, Spring Training will be starting in a matter of days, but that's not what I'm getting at in this instance. What will be discussed here is a low-key event that takes place within the Philadelphia Phillies organization this time of year: the annual Wall of Fame balloting.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Phillies Wall of Fame, here's a quick rundown. It was formed in 1978 with a past member of the Phillies and Philadelphia Athletics being inducted each year. This continued through 2003, with the lone exception being 1983, when the Phillies decided to commemorate their 100th anniversary by inducting an All-Centennial Team. No members of the A's were enshrined that year. When the Phils moved to Citizens Bank Park in 2004, the practice of inducting an A's player ceased. CBP being an exclusively Phillies venue was a reason for this, as was the fact that the Athletics had only 54 seasons of history in Philadelphia to choose from. The plaques honoring the A's players now reside at the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society in Hatboro, PA.
Starting in 2005, the Phillies decided to open the Wall of Fame balloting to fans online at phillies.com. Each voter may pick a first, second, and third place candidate. The fan vote is combined with voting from within the organization to determine the winner. It's been rumored that the winner is predetermined before all of this takes place, and the voting is just a stunt to stir some interest, but we won't get into that here.
The requirements for nomination (according to phillies.com) are that a player must have spent at least five full seasons in a Phillies uniform, while a coach or manager had to have served at least four seasons. All candidates have a three-year waiting period after retirement to become eligible. Aside from a player's statistical accomplishments, other considerations include longevity, character, special acheivements and contributions to the Phillies. The nominees for 2012 are: pitcher Larry Christenson, manager Jim Fregosi, outfielder and current hitting coach Greg Gross, outfielder/first baseman Von Hayes, pitcher Jim Konstanty, catcher Mike Lieberthal, pitcher Ron Reed, catcher and longtime coach Mike Ryan, pitcher Curt Schilling, third baseman Pinky Whitney, catcher and manager Jimmy Wilson, and pitcher Rick Wise.
Given the title of this post, it's no secret that Curt Schilling will be getting my first place vote this year. While the guy's personality leaves quite a bit to be desired (if a Toolbag Hall of Fame exists, I'm sure he'd go in on the first ballot), the fact remains Schilling is one of the top pitchers in Phillies history who in all likelihood will be a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame at some point in the future. Schilling's 101 wins as a Phillie currently rank him 6th on the club's all-time list and his 1554 strikeouts are 3rd, with the 319 he tallied in 1997 being the single-season franchise record. He was also the MVP of the 1993 National League Championship Series, in which the Phils upset the heavily-favored Atlanta Braves and tossed a five-hit shutout in a 2-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 5 of that year's World Series. Schilling pitched for the Phillies from 1992-2000 and was a National League All-Star in 1997, 1998, and 1999. In the last of those three seasons, he finished second in the NL Cy Young voting to Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
This is the second year in which Schilling has been a nominee. Last season, he lost out to John Kruk in a vote that did draw some criticism. Not to say Kruk was more deserving than Schilling, but I do think people tend to underrate Kruk's career with the Phillies, maybe remembering more as a fat guy with a beard and mullet than one of the game's better hitters during his time in Philly. Kruk's personality on ESPN is off-putting to many, which may have played into the criticism as well.
Of course, very few Phillies that I can recall were ever more off-putting than Curt Schilling. I chose the picture of him with the towel over his face for that reason, as it was one of the most immature, bush-league ways of showing up a teammate that I've ever seen. Schilling had a way of always knowing when the camera was on him, and whenever Mitch Williams took the mound in the 1993 postseason (I can't remember a single time in which Schilling did this during the regular season), Schilling and his towel got almost as much airtime as did the Wild Thing. Sure, it was an adventure watching Williams and his high-wire closing act, but at least be a man and support your teammate. It also seemed like Schilling pitched the last three or so years of his tenure in Philadelphia with one foot out the door until eventually getting his wish when he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2000 season. While Schilling's criticisms of the front office were certainly not unfounded at the time, it all got tiresome after a while. As Ed Wade once said of Schilling, "On the day he pitches, he's a horse. On the other four days, he's a horse's ass." Though I'm far from an Ed Wade fan, I have to admit that was pretty much a dead-on assessment.
That said, it can't be denied that Curt Schilling was an outstanding pitcher with the Phillies, and he catapulted to stardom in Philadelphia after bouncing around between three different organizations (Red Sox, Orioles, Astros) until being acquired from Houston in exchange for Jason Grimsley just before the start of the 1992 season. The winner of the balloting is generally announced sometime in June, and as much as the organization may want to avoid it, I expect that Schilling will be this year's inductee. If nothing else, it could make for a pretty awkward ceremony come August.
Here's a look at the other nominees and what I think of their chances:
Larry Christenson: Debuted with the Phillies at the age of 19 in 1973 and went on to spend all or part of an injury-plagued 11-year career with the Phils. Had a lifetime record of 83-71 with a 3.79 ERA, including a 19-6 mark in 1977. Probably would've been a no-brainer with a couple more healthy and productive seasons. Has consistently been on the ballot and will likely remain in the running going forward. Could eventually sneak in depending on who the other candidates are.
Jim Fregosi: Manager of the 1993 NL Champions. Took over for Nick Leyva 13 games into the 1991 season and remained at the helm through 1996. His 431 wins rank 5th all-time among Phillies managers, but he also lost 463 games with the Phils and '93 was his only winning season. While his sub-.500 record is partially an indicator of what he was given to manage during his tenure, I can't see Fregosi getting in. He's been on the ballot a few times, though that's mainly been due to a lack of deserving candidates.
Greg Gross: Played for the Phillies from 1979-88 and has served two separate stints as a coach (2001-04 and 2010-present). His 117 pinch-hits are by far the most in franchise history, as Tony Taylor ranks second with 53. Gross totaled 143 pinch-hits in his career, 5th-most in MLB history. Laid down the greatest bunt in Phillies history, off Nolan Ryan to load the bases with no outs in the eighth inning of the deciding Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS. The Phils scored five runs in the inning to take a 7-5 lead en route to an 8-7 victory to win the pennant. Like Christenson, I think Gross will remain on the ballot in the coming years. Depending on what the Phillies ultimately do during his tenure as hitting coach, I could see Gross making it due to his service time within the organization. Keep in mind, nobody has ever won a World Series as both a player and coach for the Phillies to this point.
Von Hayes: Arrived from the Cleveland Indians in an infamous 5-for-1 trade following the 1982 season. Hit .272 with 124 home runs, 568 RBI, and 202 stolen bases in nine seasons with the Phillies. A solid player, but was never able to live up to the enormous expectations placed on him. May have already been inducted had his career in Philadelphia taken place under different circumstances. Probably will be an uphill battle for Hayes to make it unless he sneaks in before the players from the current era start to become eligible.
Jim Konstanty: The first relief pitcher to be named Most Valuable Player, Konstanty won 16 games for the 1950 NL pennant-winning Whiz Kids. Appeared in 74 games that season, a club record that stood until broken by Kent Tekulve (90 games) in 1987. With a lack of fresh arms, Konstanty was forced to start Game 1 of the 1950 World Series vs. the Yankees, allowing a run on four hits over eight innings in a 1-0 loss. Pitched for the Phillies from 1948-54, compiling a record of 51-39 to go along with a 3.64 ERA. Online fan balloting is generally a kiss of death among players from older generations, which will certainly hurt, as will the fact that Konstanty's six seasons in Philadelphia aside from 1950 were rather pedestrian.
Mike Lieberthal: A Phillie from 1994-2006, Lieberthal is the franchise's all-time leader in games caught with 1139. Also has the most career hits (1128) and home runs (149) among Phillies catchers, as well as single-season marks for home runs (31) and fielding percentage (.997), both of which came in 1999. Lieberthal's decline basically coincided with when the Phillies moved to Citizens Bank Park, and there's a sizable contingent of fans who only really remember the end of his tenure, when he also drew a lot of criticism for his handling of the pitching staff. Before that time, however, there was about a five-year period (1999-2003, excluding an injury-shortened 2001 campaign) in which Lieberthal was on a very short list among baseball's top all-around catchers. Received one of the loudest ovations when returning for Alumni Weekend last year, and it was nice to see his whole body of work was given its due. This is Lieberthal's first time on the Wall of Fame ballot, and I imagine it won't be too much longer before he is inducted.
Ron Reed: Appeared in 458 games with the Phillies from 1976-83, with all but nine of those appearances coming in relief. Reed posted a record of 57-38 and an ERA of 3.06 with the Phils, and his 90 saves rank 6th on the franchise's all time list. His 763 innings pitched and 54 wins out of the bullpen are the most among Phillies relievers. Saved Game 2 of the 1980 World Series against the Kansas City Royals. Prior to his MLB career, Reed spent time in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons. If you were to take into account both a player's performance and longevity with a club, Reed is probably the second-greatest reliever in Phillies history behind Tug McGraw. The right-handed Reed wasn't nearly as colorful as his lefty bullpen counterpart, and had somewhat of a reputation as being a difficult person to get along with. Perhaps that's what has been keeping him off the Wall of Fame, as he does appear to have the credentials.
Mike Ryan: Also known as "Irish," Ryan was a catcher for the Phillies from 1968-73, but his nomination stems from his 16-season tenure as a coach for the Phils, which lasted from 1980-95. Fifteen of those seasons were spent as the club's bullpen coach, the lone exception being 1985, when he served as the first base coach. Ryan's 16 seasons as a Phillies coach were the longest in franchise history until John Vukovich surpassed him in 2004, and to date is the only person to be a uniformed member of three Phillies teams that appeared in the World Series (1980, 1983, 1993). Bench-clearing brawls are rare in baseball, but if the Phils were involved in one during Ryan's tenure, it was a pretty safe bet he was right in the middle of things. He also caught the first ball at Veterans Stadium, which was dropped in from a helicopter. Despite all that, bullpen coaches generally toil in anonymity and it's hard to envision Ryan finding a place on the Wall.
Pinky Whitney: A third baseman who saw action with the Phillies from 1928-33 and again from 1936-39, Whitney ranks 10th on the franchise's all-time list with a .307 lifetime batting average with the club and his 1076 games at the hot corner place him 3rd. His 103 RBI in 1928 are the most ever by a Phillies rookie and his 1931 streak of 10 consecutive games driving in a run are a franchise mark. Among Whitney's single-season club records for third baseman are RBI (124 in 1932), batting average (.342 in 1930), fielding percentage (.987 in 1937), and triples (14 in 1929). He was also the first Phillie to drive in a run during the All-Star Game, which he did in 1936. The numbers are certainly there, but no way does Whitney make it the way things are set up now, unless the Wall of Fame creates some sort of Veterans Committee.
Jimmy Wilson: To date, the only native Philadelphian to both play for and manage the Phillies. Was a Phillie from 1923-28 before returning as a player/manager from 1934-38, hitting .288 in 838 games. Wilson's managerial record was 280-477. A nice nomination for his local connection, but Wilson is the longest of longshots. Would be surprised if he appears on the ballot again.
Rick Wise: Best known as the pitcher the Phillies traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Steve Carlton and for hitting two home runs while pitching a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds on June 23, 1971. Wise made his MLB debut at the age of 18 on April 18, 1964 and remained with the Phils through the '71 season, compiling a record of 75-76 with a 3.60 ERA. In addition to his no-hitter, Wise also retired 32 consecutive Chicago Cubs batters over 12 innings on September 18, 1971. His 11 home runs are tied with fellow nominee for the most in Phillies history among pitchers, and the six he hit in '71 are the most in one season. Despite some dazzling performances, Wise's overall numbers as a Phillie are too mediocre to remain a serious candidate going forward.
As previously mentioned, Schilling gets my first place vote, with Reed taking second. Third place is a little tricky. Right now, I'd say it's a tossup between Lieberthal and Whitney. I guess I'll take Pinky, since I know Lieberthal's time will arrive in the not-too-distant future. I do know that in the coming years, the pickings are going to be a little slim until the players from this era start retiring. Then it will basically come down to deciding who to take first. Charlie Manuel, Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels, and Ryan Madson are basically shoo-ins, while Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee should also fall into that category assuming they end up spending at least five seasons in a Phillies uniform.
Voting runs through March 14. My purpose in writing this was not to sway any of you one way or another, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on this year's nominees and other players you'd like to see on the Phillies Wall of Fame.