Gossage's magical Midwest League season
Cracked Bats: Ken Guettler
Cracked Bats: the 1934 Los Angeles Angels
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On a day when the National Baseball Hall of Fame took center stage and Goose Gossage was deservedly elected to be enshrined in Cooperstown's halls, I started thinking about the storied history of Minor League Baseball and how it would be amazing to have a place where the treasures of that aspect of the national pastime were kept.
Yes, Cooperstown does have some Minor League displays based on individual achievements. But there isn't a wing devoted permanently to the game played down on the farm. And there certainly isn't a separate museum to honor former Minor League greats.
There has been some effort in this regard. Minor League Baseball has been exploring building something in Durham to celebrate its brand of the game. Described more as an interactive fan experience than a museum, it certainly would not ignore the past.
"We wouldn't tread into the Hall of Fame waters, so to speak," said Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner, who hoped to have a soft opening of this "experience" at the old Durham ballpark in late 2008, with an official opening in 2009 and the fan interaction part really getting going around 2010.
"I'm a traditionalist. There are two things there is one of: there is one commissioner of baseball and there is one Hall of Fame. Anything we do would obviously pay honor and tribute, but it will not head down the Hall of Fame road."
Some feel that road isn't right for Minor League Baseball anyway. Being enshrined in such a place could be, as Crash Davis explains in "Bull Durham," like setting the all-time Minors home run record -- a dubious honor. Dave Chase, the president and general manager of the Memphis Redbirds, is among those who feel a Minors Hall doesn't make that much sense.
"Especially now, people don't want to be known as great Minor League players," Chase said. "It doesn't resonate nationally."
It doesn't, Chase argues, mainly because most of the feats and performances that would be honored never registered on the nation's radar. Career Minor Leaguers who are the all-time leaders in specific statistical categories may not be known outside of the small Minor League cities they played in or their hometowns. That's why he wanted to build a museum that paid homage to the Minors but not as a Hall of Fame. It would, he says, basically tell the story of American history using Minor League baseball, what he feels has been the true national pastime.
Chase went so far as to get $2 million from Memphis to have such a museum designed. But that's as far as it's gotten. The project, which Chase estimates would cost around $40 million in total, has been stagnant for a few years. That doesn't mean he wouldn't mind picking it up, whether it's in Memphis or another worthy city with a rich Minor League history.
"I would love to get back to it and find it a home," Chase said. "I think there's a need and an interest. An estimated quarter million people have played Minor League baseball and it's fascinating to me why it means so much to a family to have had someone who played."
Consider this column, then, an unofficial start to both get the ball rolling again in Memphis and to support the effort in Durham (which will involve much more than the museum piece, as you'll learn in the near future). There's room for both entities since they would provide different services.
But I disagree with O'Conner and Chase on the Hall front. Sure, players -- especially in today's game -- don't want to be known as career Minor Leaguers. But I think if you ask those who have experienced that fate, they look back at their careers with joy and pride. I would think that most of them, particularly the old-timers, would be thrilled to be enshrined in a Minor League Baseball Hall of Fame.
There are certainly plenty of variables to consider. Who gets in? What are the criteria for entrance? Do players with Major League experience qualify? What about those enshrined in Cooperstown who did something noteworthy while in the Minors?
All of those things can be ironed out if this conversation were to continue. For now, though, I think I'll stick to guys who spent all or most of their careers in the Minors and can be found on the leaderboards. I'll include some executives and make one large exception to the "Major League" rule I just set. After discussing it with my MiLB.com colleagues (a special shout out goes to Jason Ratliff and our resident historian Kevin Czerwinski. If you haven't been reading his Cracked Bats series, you're missing out), here's a worthy inaugural class for the Minor League Baseball Hall of Fame:
Buzz Arlett: He's third all-time with 432 home runs and second with 1,786 RBIs. His 12 100-RBI seasons are the most in Minor League history, as are his eight 30-homer years. He had 11 20-homer campaigns and topped 200 hits in seven different seasons.
Joe Bauman: His 72 home runs in 1954 remains the Minor League record and was the pro mark until Barry Bonds hit 73 in the bigs in 2001. As a result, the annual award to the Minors' leading home run hitter bears his name. But he was more than just that one season: Bauman batted .337 in over 1,000 games with 337 home runs and 1,057 RBIs.
Ike Boone: Boone's .370 average puts him atop the Minor Leagues' all-time batting list. He won five batting titles and hit .448 in 1930 for the PCL's Mission Reds. In 1929 alone, he had 323 hits to go along with 218 RBIs and 195 runs scored.
Hector Espino: Perhaps the greatest player in the history of the Mexican League, no one has hit more homers in the Minors than his 484. He's already in the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. At one time, he held all-time Mexican records in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs and total bases.
Ken Guettler: He won eight home run titles, which ties Bunny Brief for the all-time lead. Guettler set the Texas League home run record -- and won league MVP honors -- when he slugged 62 dingers for Shreveport in 1956. He finished his career with 330 homers.
Spencer Harris: The all-time leader in hits (3,617), runs (2,287) and doubles (743), he's also fourth with 1,769 RBIs. He spent 19 years in the Minors, from 1930-48.
Joe Martina: The right-hander compiled 347 wins, second to Bill Thomas for the all-time record, but with a much better winning percentage (.558 vs. .524). He's also second in career strikeouts with 2,770 and tied for fourth with seven 20-win seasons.
Mike Moore: For the executive or "builders" wing, the recently retired president of Minor League Baseball did more in his 16 years at the helm than just about anyone. He implemented a major restructuring of how the industry was run, helping usher in an unprecedented stretch of growth and success.
Jackie Robinson: The aforementioned exception to the rule. He played just one year in the Minors, but no one can deny that one season had a greater impact on baseball than any other 10 seasons put together.
Jigger Statz: Playing his entire career for the Los Angeles Angels, one of the best Minor League teams of all-time, Statz holds Pacific Coast League records for games (2,790), hits (3,356), doubles (595), triples (137) and runs (1996). He finished his career with a .315 batting average over 18 seasons and won league MVP honors in 1932. The 1934 Angels were voted the best Minor League squad of all time, with Statz as their center fielder.
There you have it. Ten names to consider for induction. As with the annual Cooperstown announcement, I hope at the very least it sparks some interesting discussion.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.