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Does Roger Maris Belong In The Hall Of Fame?

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Longtime (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) sportswriter (of sorts) Robert Lipsyte has written a new memoir, and I'll bet it's pretty damned good. Perhaps in the service of promoting the book, Lipsyte's also written a guest column in which he's pulling no punches ...

His name was Roger Maris, and I'm pissed off that the press box hacks who vote on the Hall of Fame have never handed him the golden ticket in.

Last week, Bob Costas, as close as baseball has to a moral authority (You thought Bud Selig? Brian Wilson?), said that he would vote for Barry Bonds (but not Mark McGwire) because Barry had established on natural merit irrefutable Hall credentials before he started juicing. Right on!

So I asked Costas about Maris. He texted right back: "Want him in. Stature grows with each passing stats short but historical importance huge..."

Costas nailed it again. Maris has traditionally been smeared as a surly loner with middling skills who had one lucky season. He rarely got his due as one of the best all-around outfielders of his time, a reliable clutch hitter and a well-regarded teammate.

I don't know. It seems odd to suggest that Maris "rarely got his due," considering he won not one, but two Most Valuable Player Awards. And because Maris retired when still relatively young -- he won his MVPs in 1960 and '61, and played his last game in 1968, shortly after turning 34 -- his career was still relatively fresh in the minds of the Hall of Fame voters when he was eligible. The great majority of those voters had seen Maris play, and presumably followed his career with great interest, seeing as how he was one of the more famous players in the game for a few years.

In his first years on the Hall of Fame ballot, Maris pulled around 20 percent support. That doesn't seem strange to me. What does seem strange is that in his last few years on the ballot he was topping 40 percent.

Which doesn't say a great deal about the merits of Maris's case. There have been players with 20 percent who deserved far more, and players with 40 percent who deserved far less. My point is that the voters did see Maris play, and they did think he was great enough to win two MVP Awards, which suggests they 1) did not consider him a one-season wonder, and 2) probably did consider him a pretty good all-around player.

The biggest problem with Maris's candidacy, as you probably know, is that he was hurt a lot, playing in 140 or more games only four times in his entire career. By comparison, Dick Allen and Barry Larkin -- two more players who seemed to get hurt a lot -- topped 140 games six and seven times, respectively.

Maris won two MVPs, was a four-time All-Star, and played in 1,463 games.

Dale Murphy won two MVPs, was a seven-time All-Star, and played in 2,180 games.

And Murphy can't get into the Hall of Fame because his career wasn't long enough.

The truth is that Maris wouldn't be on anyone's Cooperstown radar without the 61 home runs in '61. Not even close. He just didn't play enough.

The Hall of Fame's voting rules include this:

6. Automatic Elections: No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.

I'm not sure what that means. What would an "automatic election" look like? But it does seem to discourage giving heavy weight to any particular accomplishment. Like hitting 61 homers in one season, for example.

Lipsyte's been a really good writer for many, many years. He's just wrong about Roger Maris, who's just not among the great players the hacks who vote on the Hall of Fame have treated unfairly.