Wednesday, January 8, 2014

From Classic Park to the Hall of the Fame?

It's time for a diversion from coaching search discussions and frost quakes. Fortunately, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced the results of its most recent voting Wednesday.

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas are entering the Hall in July.  Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina are bracing for next year's vote. And Jack Morris is waiting for the veteran's committee to examine his case.

Maddux's selection should be symbolic to Lake County baseball fans. One of his early stops on the way to Cooperstown was Peoria, Ill., where he pitched for the 1985 Peoria Chiefs.

The Chiefs play in the Midwest League, the 16-team circuit the Lake County Captains joined in 2010. Maddux is the seventh Midwest League alum selected to the Hall of Fame, according to league historian Craig Wieczorkiewicz. The other six: Orlando Cepeda (Kokomo), Juan Marichal (Michigan City), Carlton Fisk (South Bend), Goose Goosage (Appleton), Bruce Sutter (Quincy) and Paul Molitor (Burlington).

By Minor League Baseball and Midwest League standards, Lake County is in its toddler stages of producing big-leaguers. The Captains played their first game in 2003, and there list of alums reads like a depressing tale of high draft picks and big hopes gone awry.

Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, is the top major-league performer in Captains' history. If there's a Hall of Fame for baseball's best mid-career name changes, Hernandez makes the ballot.

But grooming big-league players requires annual patience. Grooming Hall of Famers requires generational patience.

Maddux went 13-9 with a 3.19 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 27 starts for the Chiefs in 1985. He was 19 years old when he pitched in Peoria, his second of four minor-league stops.

He needed a spot to hone his deceptive pitches. Peoria represented a rung on the Cubs' developmental ladder.

Maybe Lake County becomes a similar stop on somebody's trail to Cooperstown.

Consider this a warming winter thought.  

-- Guy Cipriano | @newsheraldguy


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