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These games helped define new Hall of Famers

July 25, 2018

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- This Friday, the Hall of Fame will premiere its new movie in its brand new theater. It was my honor to write that movie with my friend, the fantastic documentarian Jon Hock. I don't say that to brag, though, yes, I'm extraordinarily proud of how it turned

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- This Friday, the Hall of Fame will premiere its new movie in its brand new theater. It was my honor to write that movie with my friend, the fantastic documentarian Jon Hock. I don't say that to brag, though, yes, I'm extraordinarily proud of how it turned out and humbled to be a part of it. The point is that when you're trying to create a 15-minute movie that will be shown exclusively, and many times, daily, at the Baseball Hall of Fame, you find yourself having to make a lot of tough decisions.
Think of how you would reduce the long, wonderful, exciting, challenging and enduring history of Major League Baseball and its greatest players into a quarter of an hour. Think of what you must leave in. And think of what you have to cut out. I remember talking about it to Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein during the filming, and he said something like, "Oh, sure, tell baseball's whole story in 15 minutes. No problem there."
Thing is, we actually do this all the time. Here I am, in this week's Throwback Thursday, writing about the six players going into the Hall of Fame here this weekend. Each of the six is a book.
Just consider Vladimir Guerrero. If I had to list the 10 most fun athletes of my lifetime, any sport, the ones I could not watch without breaking into a huge smile, I'd certainly include Barry Sanders, Stephen Curry, Lionel Messi and Roger Federer. Rulon Gardner would be on my list, as would Simone Biles. I've kind of felt that way about golfer Jordan Spieth. And for baseball, there would be a long line of candidates, but I feel sure I'd pick Vlad. Watching him at the plate was pure wonder, filled with endless possibilities, though walking was not one of the likelier ones.
(Addendum: Vladimir Guerrero walked more than most people remember. He walked 737 times in his career and as many times as 84 in a season, which is certainly respectable. But if you look closer, you realize 250 of those walks -- more than one-third of those walks -- were intentional. That doesn't happen; nobody else in baseball history with more than 400 walks in a career has even close to that high an intentional walk percentage. Vlad would walk. But he sure did not want to walk).
I could go on like this for pages and pages, just singing about how much fun it was to watch Guerrero dig in. You knew there wasn't a pitch alive that would not tempt him. In the dirt. Over his head. Pickoff throw to first. Guerrero was swinging, and he was usually connecting; it was like a Vegas magic show every day.
And here we are, a few hundred words in, and I haven't really gotten into Guerrero's greatness, and I haven't even mentioned the other five guys.
So, here's what we'll do: We'll pick a moment game for each player. We're going to cheat a little on this for Guerrero, because he deserves it, but one game for every player. Maybe it's his best game -- Jack Morris fans probably know where this is going -- and maybe it's just a cool game to remember.
And we do start with the obvious one:
Jack Morris
October 27, 1991
World Series Game 7, Braves vs. Twins
It's easy to forget, looking back, just how shocking that World Series was. The Atlanta Braves were a laughingstock; one year earlier, they had finished with the worst record in the National League. The Twins were no bargain either; they had just finished dead last in the American League West with the second-worst record in the league. Everything about that season felt a little bit off, like baseball was tipsy on champagne.
And then that turned out to be an amazing series. Five of the seven games were decided by one run. Game 2 went to Minnesota on a late-inning Scott Leius home run. The Braves won Game 3 in the 12th inning on Mark Lemke's RBI single and Game 4 in the bottom of the ninth when Jerry Willard hit a sac fly that scored the aforementioned Lemke.
All of which led to the huge tension of Game 7 … and the moment that Morris had been waiting for all his life. It has been said many times, but Morris really was a bulldog, in every pitching sense of that word. I like to describe Morris this way: Imagine what you think Morris is like. You have the image? Well, that is exactly what Morris is like. Tough. Stubborn. Old school. A cowboy in cleats. He was all hard stuff as a pitcher -- fastball, slider, splitter. He wouldn't give in, and he wouldn't come out of the game, and he wasn't out there to be your friend. This makes him a contentious figure. I don't think Morris would want it any other way.
Game 7 was his moment, and the game caught a bit of magic because his opponent that day was a 24-year-old kid who -- nobody knew this year -- had many of the same qualities, John Smoltz. Back and forth they went into the eighth inning. Both teams had multiple runners in scoring position. Braves fans have never forgotten a Lonnie Smith baserunning gaffe that prevented the go-ahead run from scoring. But the game was destined to stay scoreless.
Smoltz bowed out in the eighth after throwing 106 pitches and putting runners on first and third. Morris kept on going and going, he survived his own problems in the eighth inning, and then he became invincible. He got two groundouts and a strikeout in the ninth. He got a strikeout, a groundout and a popup in the 10th. You got the feeling he could have gone like that forever.
Morris' Hall of Fame case argument was loud and heated; I readily admit that for years, I saw him falling just short of the Hall of Fame line. But, there is no question that when Morris was right, like he was on that October night in 1991, he was larger than life.

Chipper Jones
Oct. 9, 2001
National League Division Series Game 1, Braves vs. Astros
The trouble with trying to pick a single moment for Jones is that it is the antithesis of what his career was about. Chipper was consistent. From 1998-2003, his prime years, he hit .313, .319, .311, .330, .327 and .305. He had at least a .400 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage every one of those years. He played at least 150 games every year. He notched at least 100 RBIs every year. He scored at least 100 runs in all but one of those years.
To reduce that -- to reduce Chipper -- to a big moment, well, it's like going to the Grand Canyon and saying, "Look how big it is TODAY."
Still, that 2001 game in Houston was pretty special. Jones came up in the top of the eighth with the score tied. And Houston put in Billy Wagner. This was at a time when nobody threw a baseball harder than Wagner. Chipper could not touch him. Put it this way: From 1996-2004, Chipper faced Wagner 11 times in the regular season. He got zero hits. He struck out nine times.
"What does Billy do to get you out?" Jones was asked.
"Anything he wants," he said. "I couldn't see it, the guy throws so hard. … I certainly wasn't bubbling over with confidence when I walked into the batter's box."
Wagner threw his first pitch -- 96 mph, middle-in -- and Jones turned on it, a wicked line drive over the left-field wall. It was a game-winner and series-ender in one shot.

Trevor Hoffman
Sept. 12, 1998
NL West Division clincher, Dodgers vs. Padres
This was hardly Hoffman's best game -- he allowed a hit, threw a wild pitch -- but it was the most magical. It was T-shirt Day at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, and everybody knew it was also the day the Padres could clinch the NL West. But that did not seem likely when the Dodgers jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
"When you have a 7-0 lead," then Dodgers manager Glenn Hoffman said, "You're supposed to hang on."
The Dodgers didn't hang on. The Padres chipped away -- a Wally Joyner homer here, an Andy Sheets hit-by-pitch with the bases loaded there -- until San Diego took an 8-7 lead into the ninth.
And that's when AC/DC's "Hells Bells" began to play. That was the year the Padres discovered the power of playing "Hells Bells" as Hoffman came into the game. I have no connection to the Padres, but I used to get goosebumps when "Hells Bells" began and the crowd went crazy and Hoffman ran into the game.
Here's why, I think: You hear "Hells Bells" and you expect a crazy fireballer to be coming out of the 'pen, rock 'n' roll pitcher breathing fire, throwing gas, breaking bats. And Hoffman was none of these things. He was a mild-mannered and friendly former infielder who couldn't hit well enough. His wicked pitch was a Bugs Bunny-esque changeup that spurred hitters to swing 10 minutes before it arrived. The contrast between the music and the pitcher always felt so interesting and thrilling.

Hoffman on this day put on the tying and winnings runs, but he ended the game by striking out Matt Luke while fans spun around their free T-shirts. For a man who was on the mound finishing more wins than anyone not named Mariano Rivera, it was still unforgettable.
"That was something," Hoffman said. "It was awesome to dogpile at home."
Alan Trammell
Oct. 13, 1984
World Series Game 4, Padres vs. Tigers
Tram blended in. That was his personality. That was his style of play. And that's undoubtedly a big part of the reason he was so underrated. Had he come across, say, 10 years later, everyone would have swooned over his offense -- but he played in the time of Robin Yount and, even more, Cal Ripken. Had he come across, say, 10 years earlier, everyone would have swooned over defense -- but he played in the time of Ozzie Smith. And so he was slightly obscured, always just out of focus.
In 1987, for instance, he had one of the great shortstop seasons ever. He hit .343, roped 28 home runs, scored and drove in 100 runs, stole 21 of 23 bases, played his typically superior defense and -- this was important in the MVP voting in those days -- led the Tigers to the division championship. And, somehow, he STILL lost the MVP award to George Bell, who did mash 47 home runs, but in no other way was even close to Trammell's equal (AND to top it off, his Blue Jays lost the division race).
As Game 4 of the 1984 World Series began, the outcome was very much in doubt. The Padres proved to be plucky, and it was only a couple of breaks (and the tough clutch pitching of Jack Morris) that gave the Tigers a 2-1 series lead.
But by the end of Game 4, the Series was essentially over and Trammell was the reason. With Morris on the mound again, Trammell homered in the first inning to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead. The Padres inched back, but in the fourth inning, Trammell hit another two-run homer to end the Padres' realistic hopes and perhaps break their spirit. The Tigers went on to win the Series in five, and Trammell, finally, was named the MVP.

Jim Thome
July 3, 1999, Royals vs. Indians
Fourth of July baseball is a big deal in Cleveland. Sure, it's a big deal everywhere. But back in the 1970s and 1980s, when Cleveland and the Tribe were barely scraping by, there were two big baseball days every season: Opening Day and Fourth of July. The rest kind of blended together.
So, yes, that does impact my judgment about Thome's moment -- Jim was a guy with a lot of moments. Fans of every team he played for can remember a Thome moment; I saw that a White Sox blog put the 10 greatest moments for Thome in a Chicago uniform, and he was in Chicago for not quite three seasons.
But this one will stand, not because it was particularly important. It wasn't. The Tribe was playing the Royals, who were having a rough season. It wasn't a crucial moment at all -- he came up in the bottom of the second inning with Kansas City leading, 2-0. He faced Don Wengert. It was the only start of Wengert's Kansas City career.
And Jim Thome hit a ball to center field that, well, it boggles the mind how hard and how far he hit it.
"All right, Bart, measure that one," Cleveland announcer Tom Hamilton said on the air to Cleveland's director of media relations Bart Swain.
"It may not go that far, those measurements might not go out there," his partner said.
"Jim Thome has just left Jacobs Field onto Eagle Avenue," Hamilton said. "That will take two tape measures,"
The two-tape-measure homer has become legend in Cleveland; it was eventually estimated to be 511 feet, the longest home run ever at Progressive Field. But more than the numbers, more than the acclaim, that home run represented something about Jim Thome -- he could, at any moment, against any pitcher, hit a baseball beyond imagination. These days, there is a statue of Jim Thome on the spot where that baseball landed.

Vladimir Guerrero
Sept. 25-Oct 1, 2004
Yes, with Vlad we can't pick just one game. Let's pick a full week. On Sept. 25, 2004, the Anaheim Angels were three games behind Oakland with nine games to play. They had just lost to the A's and had been defeated the previous two games by last-place Seattle. They seemed spent.
And then -- Vlad time. He didn't do much in the first game of the stretch, though the Angels beat Oakland to cut the lead to two games. The next game, Guerrero went 1-for-3 and scored a run; not a huge performance, but the Angels won again to cut the A's lead to one game.
Then, he started going bonkers. Next game against Texas, he went 2-for-3, homered off Kenny Rogers, scored a key run with the Angels trailing, and Anaheim won again to stay a game back.

Next day, Guerrero went 4-for-5 with two home runs, three runs scored and five RBIs, as the Angels moved into a tie atop of the AL West division with Oakland.
Next day, two more hits. Day after that, a 4-for-4 performance with two home runs.
In the seven games, Guerrero hit .519 with five homers, nine runs scored and nine RBIs, and the Angels chased down the A's and won the AL West division title. Guerrero was named American League MVP that season. He was probably the most fun player I ever saw -- him or Ichiro Suzuki or Mark Fydrich or Javier Baez -- but he was more than that. He was great.

Joe Posnanski is a national columnist for