He was the greatest player of all time
This year’s Hall of Fame ballot is loaded with former Astros. In addition to Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, there are a few players who didn’t spend their entire careers in Houston. First-timers on the ballot include Roger Clemens, Kenny Lofton, Woody Williams, Curt Schilling, and Steve Finley. Bagwell and Biggio both deserve to be in the Hall. Hopefully they will get enough votes this year and be inducted together. Clemens has a resume that no pitcher can match but the cloud of suspicion of PED use could delay his election to the Hall.
Lofton, who was drafted by the Astros but only played 20 games with the club before being traded to Cleveland, could get some support from voters. Williams, a native Houstonian who pitched for the Astros in his fifteenth (and final) big league season, probably shouldn’t even be on the ballot.
Both Schilling and Finley came to the Astros in a 1991 trade that sent Glenn Davis to Baltimore. Schilling spent one season in the Houston bullpen before moving on to Philadelphia where he became a starter and put together a career worthy of consideration for enshrinement in Cooperstown. Although Finley’s chances of actually getting voted into the Hall of Fame are almost non-existent, I can make a case that Steve Finley was the greatest baseball player of all time. In case you’re new here, and don’t already know, Finley was my favorite player… ever.
When Finley came to Houston back in ’91 he possessed a raw set of skills that I thought could develop into something special. Finley excelled in nearly every facet of the game. He was a team player. Whatever needed to be done, he got it done. In his first season with the Astros Finley finished in the top ten in the National League in hits, triples, stolen bases, sacrifice hits, and outfield assists.
Finley played centerfield with reckless abandon, routinely making diving catches and robbing hitters of extra-base hits. In his second year with the Astros Finley played in all 162 games and was once again among the league leaders in several categories. Finley led the league in triples in 1993 and was beginning to show some power in ’94. That season he would spend a month on the disabled list after being hit by a pitch and breaking a bone in his hand. It was also his final season with the Astros.
Its been fourteen years and two days since the Astros traded away Steve Finley. But, then again, who’s counting? Oh, that would be me. The bright side for me was the fact that I was living in San Diego at the time. That gave me an opportunity to see my man-crush play on an everyday basis. It was joyous. Finley displayed an unrelenting desire to win that was unsurpassed. It was obvious that he had fun playing the game.
In his first season with the Padres Finley finished in the top five in the league in hits, runs, triples, and stolen bases. He also captured his fist Gold Glove Award, an honor that was long overdue. I remember going to a game against the Seattle Mariners that season to see Ken Griffey Jr. play. At the time, Griffey was widely regarded as the best player in baseball. In that game there were two balls hit by the Padres that got over Griffey’s head and landed on the centerfield warning track. I don’t think there were two balls all year that got over Finley’s head. If they kept stats for homerun-saving catches Finley would be among the all-time leaders.
To get 1996 started with a bang Finley traveled to Tokyo with the U.S. team and was named MVP of the All-Star series against Japan. Back stateside, Finley would enjoy his finest season to date. H established Padres franchise records for doubles, runs, and total bases; finishing in the top three in the N.L. in all three categories. Finley also won his second straight Gold Glove, smashed 30 homers, and finished tenth in the MVP balloting.
The following season Finley made his first All-Star Team. He hit 28 homers, launching three in a game on two separate occasions. That season he was arguably the best outfielder on a team that included future Hall-of-Famers Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson.
Finley had a bit of a down year in ’98. His strikeout total of 103 was the only time in his career he would eclipse the century mark. But Finley produced in the NLCS against Atlanta, helping the Padres reach the World Series for the first time since 1984. It would turn out to be Finley’s last season in San Diego. In what was an unpopular decision with fans, the Padres allowed their centerfielder to enter Free Agency. Finley signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks and had a bounce back season, hitting 34 homers, scoring 100 runs, driving in 103 and winning another Gold Glove. Finley pretty much duplicated those numbers in 2000 and was named to the All-Star team.
After a disappointing regular season, Finley stepped it up in the 2001 playoffs. He hit .365 in 16 games, helping the Diamondbacks secure their first ever World Series Championship. Finley enjoyed continued success in Arizona until being traded to the Dodgers at the 2004 trade deadline. It was a deal that would prove to put the Dodgers over the hump as Finley put the team on his back and single-handedly carried them to the post-season. Finley capped off a performance that included 13 homers and 46 RBIs in 59 games with a walk-off grand slam against the Giants that clinched the division title.
Finley played in 162 games that season, tying Pete Rose as the only other 39-year old to do so. He also blasted a career high 36 homers and earned his fifth Gold Glove Award. Finley would one again become a Free Agent that offseason, eventually signing a 2-year deal with the Angels. But 2005 was the beginning of the end for Finley. After a disappointing season he was traded to San Francisco where his struggles would continue. Finley would sign a $1 million contract with the Rockies for the 2007 season but would end up getting released in June.
Finley ended his career with 304 homeruns and 320 stolen bases. He is one of only seven players to reach the 300 mark in those two categories, proving his combination of power and speed was rarely equaled. Of those seven, only Finley and Willie Mays logged over 100 career triples. Finley also ranks in the top 100 all-time in runs, hits, doubles, triples, extra-base hits, and total bases.
Although his numbers may not look good enough to most Hall of Fame voters, anyone who had the pleasure of watching Finley play on a regular basis knows he was a special player. Dare I say the greatest of all time? Well, maybe not, but the skinny kid from Paducah Kentucky had a tremendous big league career.
Results of the BBWAA ballots will be announced on January 9th. Stay tuned as I will reveal my entire ballot between now and then.