Billy Wagner gained some support in the Hall of Fame balloting this year — but just a little. The former Jackson Generals star was named on 11.1 percent of the ballots, getting 47 votes. He was named on 10.2 percent (45 votes) in 2017. The cutoff for election is 75 percent. It would appear that Wagner, who ranks sixth on the all-time saves list, isn’t going to rise to that benchmark. The little left-hander is among five former Jackson Mets or Generals to rank in the MLB top 20 in career saves. None of the others – Jeff Reardon, Randy Myers, Todd Jones, Rick Aguilera – came close to making the Hall. With 422 saves, a 2.31 career ERA and seven All-Star Game appearances over 16 seasons, Wagner has great credentials. But tickets to Cooperstown are hard to come by, especially for closers. Trevor Hoffman, No. 2 on the all-time saves list, became just the sixth reliever to make the Hall of Fame when he was announced on Wednesday. P.S. There are no former Jackson area Double-A players — JADAPs — in the Hall of Fame, though recently retired ex-Generals outfielders Bobby Abreu and Lance Berkman surely will get strong consideration when they become eligible. And there are a couple of ex-Mississippi Braves still out there building a case, including a closer: Craig Kimbrel, who is still in his prime in Boston and ranks 29th on the saves chart. Catcher Brian McCann, nearing the end of his brilliant career, should get in someday. … Worth noting: Mississippi State alum Jonathan Papelbon, ninth on the saves list and not yet officially retired, could also be a viable Hall candidate down the road.
There’s clearly not much cooking on the Hot Stove when Rafael Palmeiro’s comment on making a comeback gets so much attention. Former Mississippi State star Palmeiro floated the idea in a published report that he can still play at the big league level. It’s hard to take this seriously. He is 53. He last played in an MLB game 12 years ago. True, he did go 2-for-4 in one appearance for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters in 2015. But it’s a long way from the Atlantic League to the major leagues. Palmeiro is in both the 500-homer and 3,000-hit clubs but not the Hall of Fame, mainly because of a failed drug test in 2005 that came not long after he defiantly wagged his finger at Congress during its inquiry into PEDs. Palmeiro fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in short order. “Maybe 12 years later, if I can come back and prove I don’t need anything as an older player with an older body, then people might think, OK, maybe he didn’t do anything intentionally,” Palmeiro told The Athletic. That sounds pretty far-fetched.
Trivia question: How many former Jackson Mets and/or Generals are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame? Answer: None. Still. Jeff Bagwell, elected to the Hall on Wednesday, wore a Generals uniform for four games in 1995. But he was on a major league rehab assignment from the parent Houston Astros, so it would be a stretch to call him a “former Jackson General.” He was originally drafted by Boston and didn’t come up through the Astros’ system. There were three true former Generals on the 2017 ballot: Billy Wagner, Carlos Guillen and Melvin Mora. Wagner, a seven-time All-Star who had 422 career saves, was named on 45 ballots (10.2 percent), down one vote from last year, his first on the ballot. There’s a lot of debate among writers about Wagner’s worthiness; he may yet get in. Guillen and Mora didn’t get a vote in their first year of eligibility and now fall off the ballot. Both were fine players but obviously not Hall material. It’s worth noting that Lee Smith, who got 151 votes this year, pitched in two games for the Generals in 1998, at age 40, as part of an ill-fated comeback attempt. He wasn’t on a rehab assignment, but it would still be a stretch to call him a former General. Incidentally, he falls off the ballot, too, now after 15 years on it. … Interesting to see Rafael Palmeiro’s comments about the Hall in a column by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “It bothers me to say that I’m not in the Hall of Fame,” the ex-Mississippi State star said. “Obviously, it would be so cool.” Palmeiro, who has 3,000 hits and 500 homers, infamously wagged his finger at members of Congress during a 2005 hearing on drugs in baseball and then months later failed a drug test, which he calls “a careless mistake.” He fell off the Hall ballot in 2014. He might get in some day, too, as the perspective on PED use continues to shift. “That’s my dream,” Palmeiro told Nightengale. … Trivia question: How many Mississippi-born major leaguers are in the Hall of Fame? Answer: None. The two Mississippi natives in the Hall are former Negro Leagues stars: Cool Papa Bell, from Starkville, and William Foster, the one-time Alcorn State dean and coach who is listed in Hall publications as being born in Rodney. Dizzy Dean, an adopted Mississippian who is buried here, was born in Arkansas. Columbus native Red Barber is in the broadcasters wing of the Hall. Several Magnolia State natives who played in the majors have generated Hall consideration – Buddy Myer, Dave Parker, Frank White among them – but we’re still waiting on that breakthrough player.
Eighty years ago, they ruled the Earth. Well, in 1935, the Pittsburgh Crawfords ruled a segregated part of the Earth. The ’35 Crawfords are widely regarded as the greatest Negro Leagues team of all-time, and — wait for it — a pair of Mississippians were part of the club. Owned by the legendary – and deep-pocketed — Gus Greenlee, the Crawfords trotted out five future Hall of Famers, including Starkville native Cool Papa Bell. The lightning-quick Bell, one of just two Mississippi natives enshrined in Cooperstown, was the leadoff batter in a lineup that also featured Josh Gibson, player-manager Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson and Sam Bankhead. The brilliant Satchel Paige pitched for that Crawfords team for a time, though their ace was Leroy Matlock, who, according to one source, went 18-0 that season. The team went 26-6 in the first half of the Negro National League season, 39-15 overall and beat the second-half champion New York Cubans in the league championship series. A lesser known star on that Pittsburgh team was Bill “Lefty” Harvey, a Clarksdale native who pitched and occasionally played first base and pinch hit. Harvey famously beat Bob Feller in a head-to-head matchup in a California winter league game in 1939 and also hit three home runs in a game at Yankee Stadium, according to the Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues. Good as he was, Harvey was just a bit player on the ’35 Crawfords team that validated its greatness by winning a thrilling seven-game championship series over the Cubans. The Crawfords, down 3-2 in games and three runs in the ninth, rallied to win Game 6 on the road, then got homers from Gibson and Charleston to take the pennant in Game 7 at home at Greenlee Field. When the conversation turns to greatest teams, remember the Crawfords.