Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Juan Gonzalez gone from HOF ballots
By Jim Reeves ESPNDallas.com
The slick promotional publication hit the mailbox sometime in late November or early December, just as it has for several years now. On the cover was the man we came to know and love as "Juando the Condo."
Maybe you preferred his more common nickname of "Igor." Either way, you know who I'm talking about: Juan Gonzalez, who still ranks No. 1 in Texas Rangers history in six different offensive categories.
Those exploits are spelled out in glorious detail in the publication, which each year has been expertly prepared and presented in hopes of spurring Baseball Writers' Association of America members with Hall of Fame votes -- those, like me, who covered at least 10 consecutive major league seasons as a beat writer or baseball columnist -- to put a check beside Juan's name on the ballot.
Juan Gonzalez remains the Rangers' career leader in home runs and RBIs.
Yet it has failed -- through no fault of its own -- so miserably, that Gonzalez, a two-time MVP, received just 23 of the 573 votes cast this year, a measly 4 percent, which means he failed to acquire the minimum 5 percent support required to keep his name on the ballot.
Thus fades away, after just two years of Hall of Fame consideration, the greatest hitter -- in my opinion -- in Rangers history, a man who in 1998 posted a single-season offensive line of .318 with 45 homers, 110 runs scored, 157 RBIs and 382 total bases. That's the same year he had a jaw-dropping 100 RBIs by the All-Star break. Despite a career marred by frequent injury, he belted 434 home runs and drove in 1,404 in his career, HOF numbers by anyone's standard.
Yet he is one of many steroids-era players who will never see his likeness grace a plaque in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. The evidence against Juan is mostly circumstantial, as it is against most of the PED crowd. He was heavily implicated in Jose Canseco's book, the expose that broke the dam of baseball's dirty little secret, along with Rafael Palmeiro and Pudge Rodriguez. A piece of Juan's luggage was also snared at the Cleveland airport after he left Texas because it contained PEDs and steroid paraphernalia. It was claimed by one of Gonzalez's associates and Juan disavowed any knowledge of the contraband it contained. All of this meant Juan's name was prominent in the Mitchell report.
It also spelled doom for Juan's hopes of making the Hall of Fame, no matter how many slick and colorful propaganda brochures his people produce. It doesn't matter that he ranks 40th all-time in career home runs or that only 21 of the current members of the Hall of Fame hit more baseballs out of ballparks than Juan did. His link to steroids is a death knell as far as the Hall goes, just as it is for Raffy and may well be for two other Rangers offensive leaders, Pudge and Alex Rodriguez.
Juan's Hall of Fame ambitions always depended almost solely on the numbers. He was the opposite of flamboyant -- a quiet, reserved, almost reclusive player who was uncomfortable in the spotlight. He was often embarrassed because he didn't speak English well and avoided interviews and TV cameras. Yet he was a truly nice guy, humble and courteous to reporters and well-liked by his teammates.
His reticence also hurt him when he missed games with a bad back, which plagued him through the second half of his career, or his frequent leg injuries. He was reluctant to play when he felt he couldn't be at 100 percent, and that's another aspect of his career Hall of Fame voters tend to remember.
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But Juan was a different person when he was back home in Puerto Rico. I remember walking down the street with him in his hometown of Vega Baja one winter, watching kids of all ages trail adoringly in his wake and people coming out of their homes and storefronts to shout his nickname: "Igor! Igor! Igor!" He would stop and visit briefly with each one, signing an autograph or posing for a photo. In their eyes, he was already a Hall of Famer.
In early October 1996, I had the distinct pleasure of tagging Juan with yet another nickname. On the night that he slugged two home runs in Yankee Stadium to lead the Rangers to their first -- and for 15 years their only -- postseason victory, in my postgame column I dubbed him "Seņor Octubre" in honor of his Reggie Jackson-like performance. Juan would go on to hit five home runs in that playoff series against the Yankees, but to no avail. The Rangers wouldn't win another postseason game until their march to the World Series in 2010.
In his two years on the Hall of Fame ballot, as much as his numbers said he deserved it and as much as I wanted to, I could never bring myself to put a check beside his name, any more than I could for Raffy or Mark McGwire or any of the other steroids cheaters.
Now, as he fades into history, Juan earns one last nickname.
Sadly, it's "Seņor Adios."
Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.