Elliott on baseball

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The age of innocence has only hours left on the clock.

Even in this bustling little town in upstate New York on Hall of Fame weekend.

Most of the year, it is a sleepy little burg, a setting for a Norman Rockwell painting.

Today, former Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves reliever Bruce Sutter will be inducted, along with 17 former Negro National League and pre-Negro league players and executives.

A year from today?

Well, first comes January and the voting on the class of 2007. Will former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire, who hit a single-season record 70 homers in 1998, be elected?

McGwire is under a cloud after testifying before congressional hearings on steroids and refusing to answer questions, giving a reply that his lawyer provided: "I prefer to not talk about the past."

Yet, it is the past that will determine whether Cooperstown is in his future.

When Sutter -- only the fourth reliever inducted (Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley are the others) -- met the media yesterday, he urged writers to vote for closers such as Goose Gossage and Lee Smith.

We asked him later if he would urge writers to vote for McGwire.

"I'm a player, so I'm always going to back a player," Sutter said. "Baseball is trying to get things straight, but Mark has not been found guilty.

"I could say the same things to you that people are saying about him. Someone has to prove to me that he, or any other player, is guilty. That's the way I've always felt."

Sutter is not going to back McGwire or others all the way through a positive test.

"If players cheat and get caught, they'll pay the price," Sutter said. "Unless something more comes out about, I think voters should elect Mark."

McGwire faces long odds if you go off published polls that Baseball Writers of America Association members answer.

Sutter knows about long odds. He was elected in his 12th year on the ballot. In 1994, his first year of eligibility, he received 23.9% of the vote, and five years later he had moved up to 24.3%.

In 2002, Sutter climbed to 50.4% and steadily rose until January when he received 76.9%, getting elected by four votes.

Sutter, whose best pitch was a split-finger fastball, often pitched two innings or more for his saves. Not like today, when closers rarely go more than an inning. He averaged over 100 innings a season in his prime and finished with 300 career saves.

He led the National League in saves five times in six years from 1979-84, winning the 1979 NL Cy Young Award and finishing in the top six in voting four other times.

Jim Marshall was managing the 1976 Cubs and employing two closers -- Mike Garman and lefty Darold Knowles -- before Sutter took Garman's job. One game, against the Cincinnati Reds, both he and Knowles were warming up.

"They brought me in to face Joe Morgan. That was a defining moment. My split- finger worked well against left-handed hitters," said Sutter, who was a closer the rest of the way.

And today ... 12 years after he was placed on the ballot for the first time and 35 years after he signed for $500 US, he joins baseball's best in the Hall of Fame.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

In the hockey world, no one has the sartorial elegance of Jean Beliveau. In baseball, could anyone beat former Tiger Al Kaline? ... The thing that never ceases to amaze about Babe Ruth: In 90% of the pictures he is in, he is surrounded by children. ... What is the deal with Tim Hudson? The Braves right-hander has allowed 44 runs in his past nine starts covering 49 2/3 innings (a 7.97 ERA) ... We miss reading Peter Gammons, but is there a week we miss him more than this week?

LONGEST HOMER I'VE SEEN

"Dick Stuart at Fitzgerald Park in San Mateo in a semi-pro game. He hit the ball to deep, deep left-centre over a whole bunch of trees. I was the bat boy. I can still see the ball." -- Gary Hughes, Chicago Cubs vice-president.

PASSING ALONG KUDOS

Gene Elston, the voice of the Houston Astros receives the Ford Frick Award today in at the Hall of Fame ceremonies while our dear friend Tracy Ringolsby, of the Rocky Mountain News, will be presented with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.

We first met Ringolsby in 1985 when he covered the Kansas City Royals. No one knows more people in baseball. As a journalist, he changed the way the industry was covered, just as Gammons and Murray Chass did.

As friends go, he is trustworthy, dependable and loyal, a most worthy winner.

ON THE RISE

Phillippe Aumont solidified his spot as the top Canuck for the June draft -- and then some -- with an impressive outing on Friday in the Cape Cod Classic at Wareham, Mass. The right-hander from Gatineau. Que., pitched the seventh inning for the Red team in the televised game.

The 6-foot-7 stud allowed a bloop single, popped up the next hitter, then picked the runner off and struck out the final hitter.

Aumont hit 92 m.p.h. three times and was clocked at over 90 for all 11 pitches.

Heading into the second half of the summer, Aumont prepares to pitch for Team Canada at the world juniors in Cuba and could go as high as the second round of next June's draft.

NORTHERN LIGHT

Our Canadian minor- league player of the week is Mississauga right-hander Matt Kniginyzky. He picked up his eighth win of the season for class-A Burlington (Royals) in a 6-3 win over Beloit. He worked 5 1/3 innings allowing one run as he walked three and struck out four.

The runners-up were: Welland's Scott Bullett, who hit .412 (7-for-17) with two homers and seven RBIs for Tabasco in the Mexican league; Mike Saunders of Victoria, who hit .381 (8-for-21) with a homer and four RBIs for Wisconsin (Mariners); Mississauga's Chris Emanuele, who hit .333 (10-for-30) with two RBIs for Pulaski (Jays).

LOCAL HEROES

Guelph lefty Mike Goemans pitched the Intercounty Terriers to a 10-1 win over the Cincinnati Sharks in the final of the Sandlott 18s World Series in Nashville. Goemans had support from Brent Mitchell of Paris, who hit a grand slam in the title game, and had several multiple hit games during the series.

The lefty also beat the Kentucky Colonels 3-1 and picked up a save in the semi-final, a 5-2 win over Hit After Hit Academy, with the win going to Mississauga's Eric Ventura.

On the season, Goemans was 17-2 for the Terriers, who are 66-12 since 2005 under coach Danny Thompson.

Steve Harley, also of Paris, blanked nationally ranked Team Florida 2-0.

LOCAL HEROES II

The Team Toronto Mets won the NABF Northeast 16s regionals, edging the Bayside Yankees of Queens, N.Y., 5-4. Greg Densem pitched a four-hitter. The Mets, coached by Joe Heeney, advance to the World NABF Series in Northville, Mich.

BRIEFLY

Jeff Francis pitched his first complete-game shutout as the Colorado Rockies beat the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday. When the Surrey, B.C. native was asked how big a deal it would be at home, he said: "The start of hockey camp is approaching, so I don't know if it will be that big of a deal" ... Sarnia's Justin Farina pitched a 7-0 no-hit ter for Anzio over Modena in the Italian league. Farina fanned 15 while walking two.


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