Johan Santana’s Cooperstown Case: The Puckett Clause
Image courtesy of Gregory Fisher-USA Today SportsThe Puckett Clause
Twins fans are well aware of the legend of Kirby Puckett. His career tragically ended too soon at the young age of 35 after 12 seasons. Puckett was a dominant player during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as the Twins won two championships in a five year span. For 10 straight seasons, he was named an American League All-Star and he won six Gold Gloves for his defensive prowess. Some would argue he willed the Twins to a Game 7 of the 1991 World Series with his heroic actions in Game 6.
Puckett was on a path for the Hall of Fame before his career was cut short. He wasn’t able to compile the same type of careers numbers that would scream Hall of Fame player. He only had two seasons in the top 10 for WAR and his career WAR only places him as the 184th all-time position player. That ties him with Brian Giles. Heck, even Joe Mauer ranks higher. There are plenty of people who believe he shouldn’t be part of Cooperstown’s elite group.
The members of the BBWAA thought differently about Puckett. He was elected on his first ballot with 82.1% of the vote which easily cleared the 75% needed for induction. By receiving 36 more votes than were needed, he joined Dave Winfield in the Class of 2001. Puckett was able to pack enough into 12 seasons and the writers honored him for being one of baseball’s best for the better part of a decade.
Applying the Puckett Clause
Much like Puckett, Santana saw his career ended too early because of injury. Santana wasn’t hit in the head with a Dennis Martinez fastball. Instead, his golden left arm was betrayed by an ailing left shoulder. Some Santana supporters will point to his no-hitter on June 1, 2012 as his Puckett-Martinez moment. On the way to the first no-hitter in Mets’ franchise history, Santana tossed 134 pitches. At the conclusion of that contest, his season ERA dropped to 2.38 but he posted an 8.27 mark over his final ten appearances. He would never pitch in another MLB game.
With writers limited to 10 names per ballot, it could be easy for some to ignore what Santana was able to accomplish. From 2003 through 2008, he pitched at much more than a Hall of Fame level. In over 1400 innings, he posted a 2.86 ERA (156 ERA+) while striking out four times as many batters as he walked. Throw in two Cy Young Awards and a third award that was stolen from him and it looks like he has a solid case for Cooperstown.
As with Puckett, Santana didn’t have the longevity to accumulate many of the numbers needed to be deemed Hall of Fame worthy. He couldn’t pitch 3,000 innings. He couldn’t strike out 2,500 batters. He couldn’t accumulate a large career WAR total. If he had been able to pitch four or five more seasons in the back-end of a rotation, he’d be a lock for the Hall. His ailing shoulder took those seasons away.
The greatness of careers shortened by injury should be given the benefit of the doubt. When Twins fans examine Kirby Puckett, it is clear that he was a Hall of Fame player. One high and tight fastball from Dennis Martinez deprived Twins Territory of the end of his career. Santana fits the same mold as he dominated the game before an injury forced him off the mound.
The Puckett Clause applies and only strengthens Santana’s case for Cooperstown.
Should the Puckett Clause be applied to Santana? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. Don’t forget to stop back in the coming weeks as I continue to make the Cooperstown Case for Johan Santana.
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