OK, so the last live blog didn’t quite work … I think I messed up the time slot. Let’s try it again.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about our plans to take our daughters — particularly our nine-year-old Elizabeth — to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in Orlando. I worried, I suppose, that nothing surprising and magical would happen. Well, as it turned out, something surprising and magical did happen.
The first thing I had to do when we got to Harry Potter World was stand in line. This was not unexpected. We had been told by several people to prepare for 1930s Soviet bread length lines. However, it was a bit surprising to find that I had to wait in line just for the right to go into Harry Potter World, where I could wait in those long lines. It turns out that Harry Potter World is rather small, and they can only let in so many people at a time. So, I had to wait in a 45-minute line that twisted and turned through the park just to get a return ticket — which would allow us to go into Harry Potter World four hours later.
Well, for the most part, Hall of Fame day went as expected. Roberto Alomar didn’t just go into the Hall of Fame, he received 90% of the vote, a higher percentage than Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson among most others. This seems to solidify the perception that last year (when he felt short of election) a bunch of voters (more than 100 of them) thought Alomar deserved a year’s penance for the spitting incident that marked his reputation. This seems churlish to me, but it has become clear that Hall of Fame voters like to make their points.
And Bert Blyleven, finally, made it into the Hall of Fame. This should cut back my writing work load by about 10% in 2011. There has been quite a bit of discussion, it seems, about how Blyleven’s Hall of Fame percentages could have risen from 17.5% his first year of eligibility down to 14.1% his second year all the way up to 79.7% and election on Wednesday. There has been talk about how big a role the Internet played, how big a role our amazing access to statistics played, how a big a role intelligent lobbyists like Rich Lederer made and so on.
Seems to me that the issue is that Blyleven was wildly unappreciated in his day and this carried over into the voting. I sometimes wonder what would happen if we could find an Elizabethan Era English theater fan. I sometimes wonder if he would say: “Shakespeare? That’s who you guys chose as the best of the era? Are you kidding me? That guy was NOTHING compared to Ben Jonson and John Webster. Christopher Marlowe kicked his butt. And then you have the Spanish guys like Cervantes and Lope de Vega. Are you serious? Shakespeare?”
Point being: While it is interesting how a player was viewed in his day, and while it certainly plays a part in how we judge his career after he finished playing, I think we have to consider much more than that. You will hear people say: “Well, if you it’s all just about statistics, we even have a vote? Why not just put an arbitrary line of Wins Above Replacement and be done with it?” I would agree with the premise that a Hall vote should be based on more than numbers. But I think the converse is even more absurd: “Well, if it’s all just about how we viewed them when they were playing, we even have a vote? Why not just put an arbitrary line of All-Star Game appearances and MVP votes and Cy Young votes and be done with it?”
Bert Blyleven was a great pitcher. People didn’t see it clearly during his era for several reasons, some of them, I suspect, may have had to do with Blyleven’s attitude. Over time — and it does take time — people saw through the fog and realized just how good Blyleven was at striking out hitters, throwing shutouts, pitching complete games and those very real things that made him one of the best of his or any era.
Beyond those two great players getting into the Hall of Fame, there were some other interesting Hall of Fame trends and one gigantic bit of foreshadowing that was easy to miss. I’ll get to the news in a minute. First, five smaller things:
1. I think Barry Larkin is now on the brink of the Hall of Fame. His vote total jumped pretty dramatically — from 51.6% to 62.1% — and this on a stacked ballot. Larkin was a great player, I think, one of the most well-rounded players in baseball history. But he did have numerous injury problems, and he was SO well rounded that he does not have any one dramatic Hall of Fame sell point the way Ozzie Smith (greatest defensive shortstop ever) or Tony Gwynn (best pure hitter of his generation) did.
It’s like Bill James said when determining characteristics of overrated and underrated: “Specialists and players who do two or three things well are overrated; players who do several things well are underrated.” Larkin did many things well.
But I think next year is his year. The only viable Hall of Fame candidate being added to the ballot next year is Bernie Williams, and while it will be interesting to see how much support he gets, you can bet it won’t be that much. That will make Larkin, in the minds of voters, the premier guy on next year’s ballot. I think he’s well situated to be the only player elected in 2012.
2. Jack Morris made almost no movement. He went from 52.3% in 2010 to 53.5% in 2011. I think that could be bad news for his Hall of Fame candidacy on two fronts. First, Morris’ time on the ballot is running out. This is his 12th year, meaning he has only three more. But even more than that, the 2013 ballot is looking absolutely stacked. That ballot will include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling — it is going to be a voter’s nightmare is what it’s going to be. And even to those who are determined not to vote for any suspected steroid users, I think Jack Morris’ case iwill not look especially compelling with those players on the ballot. Add Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas to the ballot in 2014 and … well, yes, Jack Morris really needs to make it next year.
And I don’t think he has that kind of momentum. That’s the second thing. I kind of think that Morris’s support is kind of maxing out. Yes, about half of the voters will vote for Morris based on his Game 7 performance, his general grit, his excellent mustache, he remarkable durability, his most-wins-of-the-80s feat. But are there another 125 voters who are going to vote in a guy with a 3.90 career ERA, no Cy Youngs and advanced numbers that are generally inferior to Dennis Martinez and Frank Tanana and clearly inferior to Kevin Brown? I kind of doubt it.
3. Tim Raines simply cannot get any momentum going. His percentage did go up from 30.4% to 37.5% so that’s not an insubstantial jump. But Raines faces the same general problem that Morris faces … the dark cloud of steroid players is approaching. I think he will could fall entirely off the radar when that wave of players roars in.
I guess Raines’ best hope is that in the steroid cloud he will become a cause celebre, an anti-steroid option, sort of the way Jim Rice did. Raines’ greatness — his amazing base stealing and his ability to get on base and create havoc — sort of cuts against the Selig Era of baseball. I always want to remind people: Tim Raines got on base more times than Tony Gwynn in just 127 more plate appearances. Gwynn had 488 more total bases, which is a lot. But Raines had 540 more walks, which would be more. Raines also had almost 500 more stolen bases while being caught just 21 more times. He was essentially as valuable as Tony Gwynn only in different ways … and Gwynn was a first-ballot, slam-dunk Hall of Famer. Someday, I hope, people will appreciate just how good a baseball player Tim Raines was.
4. Mark McGwire’s total, as I suspected, went backward (from 23.7% to 19.8%) after he admitted using steroids but refused to concede that they made him the player he became. I understand this, and I understand those voters who have decided plainly that steroid use was cheating, and cheating makes a player unworthy of the Hall of Fame. I suspect McGwire will probably never see even 25% support again. I voted for McGwire, and I will again. But I also don’t think this is any great tragedy. He knew what he was doing.
I guess my only thought is that, as far as I know, the only person on this ballot or any of the next three ballots who has actually come forth and admitted using steroids … is Mark McGwire. We all know he isn’t the only player in his era or on those ballots who used steroids. He’s just the one who came forth and admitted it and said it was wrong and that he was sorry.
If the Hall of Fame voters feel like they should punish McGwire for admitting he used steroids — even if he was evasive about the effects — then it seems to me that we are discouraging anyone from coming clean. It’s almost like the voters don’t really want to know the truth. Maybe we would rather think the worst.
5. When you consider all infighting that led up to Wednesday, Jeff Bagwell did reasonably well in the voting at 41.7% — that’s exactly what Hoyt Wilhelm got his first year (it took him eight years), and better than the first year percentages of Hall of Famers Billy Williams (six years), Luis Aparicio (six years), Duke Snider (11 years), Eddie Mathews (5 years), Ralph Kiner (13 years — Kiner got 1.1% his first year on the ballot) and Early Wynn (4 years) among others.
Bagwell’s first year percentage suggest that he is on pace to get in four or five years down the line, but of course Bagwell faces the same issue as Morris and Raines, only more so: The ballot is about to get swarmed with a bunch of hitters with remarkable numbers. He’s no lock to get in.*
*Brilliant reader Barry asks this question — before Pujols, was Jeff Bagwell the best first baseman in National League history. It’s kind of a trick question because the best first basemen — Gehrig and Foxx in particular — were American Leaguers, and so was Frank Thomas, Eddie Murray, Harmon Killebrew, Hank Greenberg and Mark McGwire for the most part. I’d say the top contenders would be Johnny Mize — granting him the three years he lost to war — Willie McCovey and, going way back, Cap Anson. But Bagwell has a case.
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The biggest story on Wednesday, I think, is that the opinion about steroid use seems to be hardening. Rafael Palmeiro, with 3,000 hits and 500 homers, got only 11% of the vote. Mark McGwire’s numbers went down. Kevin Brown actually fell off the ballot. Juan Gonzalez, despite a campaign that featured a full-color brochure, barely stayed on the ballot. All of them have been connected with steroids.
And I think they are the canaries in the coal mine, the ones that are telling us what is coming in two and three and four years. I guess I have believed that, in time, the steroid fury would settle down and that while it might hurt borderline cases, all-time greats like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens would still get in. I’m not sure I think that anymore. I think there was a powerful statement made on Wednesday. I’m not sure a strongly-suspected steroid user can get to 75%, no matter how good he was.
I’ve said plenty on the subject, and I’ll undoubtedly babble about it more over time so I don’t have anything else from a personal perspective to add here. But from a news perspective, well, before the announcement, I talked a bit with Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson. I was curious how the Hall of Fame views the voting and how they view the future. And I have to say the answers surprised me. Jeff said a few things that reiterated that surprising thought in my mind: Right now, from the way everything is pointing, I don’t think Barry Bonds is going into the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Roger Clemens is going to the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Sammy Sosa is going to the Hall of Fame. Not for for a long time.
Here’s what makes me say that: Jeff made it clear that the Hall of Fame, at least for now, is extremely pleased with the way the voting is going. He thinks — and I would agree — that the Baseball Writers of America take the task seriously and are doing their best to follow the longstanding voting directive, which is as follows:
“Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.”
There seems no question that any voting directive that has “integrity” AND “sportsmanship” AND “character” on there will encourage voters to become moral arbiters. Idelson is comfortable with that. More than that: He and the Hall of Fame want sportswriters to think hard and be firm when it comes to a player’s on-the-field character.
“Baseball has historically been held to a very high standard, right or wrong,” he says. “There’s a certain integrity required when it comes to baseball’s highest honor, which is being inducted into the Hall of Fame. The character clause exists as it relates to the game on the field. The character clause isn’t there to evaluate and judge players socially. It’s there to relate to the game on the field. … The voters should have the freedom to measure that however they see fit.”
I told him that this was fine to say now … but that there could come a time in the near future when the All-Time home run king (Barry Bonds), a man with a case as the greatest pitcher in baseball history (Roger Clemens), and several other players who seem to have slam-dunk Hall of Fame credentials but are shadowed by indistinct and blurry steroid rumors could be denied the Hall of Fame. And the Hall of Fame could be denied them as well. How comfortable is he with some of the greatest players in baseball history not being elected to the Hall of Fame?
Answer: Very comfortable. It seems clear to me from what he says here that the Hall of Fame has no problem with the exclusion of known steroid users or even strongly suspected steroid users.
“When you look at the Hall of Fame elections,” he said. “you see that those who are elected are representative of that era. The Hall of Fame election is a continuum. And the standards have upheld the test of time. We believe they work. We believe the voters have exercised a great understanding about the candidates in the Hall of Fame. I think when you look at who the writers have voted into the Hall of Fame, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t belong there.”
Well, um … no, don’t get me started here. Back to Jeff Idelson:
“There’s always going to be arguments about who’s in,” he says. “Only 1% of all players are making it to Cooperstown. Am I worried that this era will be under-represented? No. I mean, you have a set of guidelines and rules in place. … I think we are happy with the way the voting has gone, we’re happy with the diligence of the voters who have participated, and the chips will fall as they fall.”
Well … I think that’s pretty clear. The Hall of Fame, Jeff is plainly saying, will be just fine if the voters do not vote in Bonds or Clemens or anyone else because of steroid use. I have always been uncomfortable with sportswriters as judges of sports morality — seems to me we have a hard enough time agreeing on fairly obvious baseball points.
After talking with Jeff, though, I think judges of sports morality is PRECISELY what the Hall of Fame wants.
“You know this … as you walk through Cooperstown, you have the history museum where every facet of the game represented,” he said. “That will not change. That’s the celebratory nature of the Cooperstown experience. But when it comes to players inducted, we feel strongly that the rules for election need to be where they are. … There’s no question that in many ways, this is an odd time. But at the end of the day, we want to maintain the high standards of the Hall.”
Red Klotz points out the sliding glass door at the ocean just 100 yards away.
Red:: Look out there.
Me: Yes. It’s beautiful.
Red: You know, every day it looks different. Every single day.
Me: Because of the weather?
Red: Because of the ocean.
Ed Price and I have been great friends for almost 20 years now — ever since we worked together in Augusta, Ga. — and I have great respect for him as both a person, a baseball writer and a thinker. He wrote something on Monday that I thought was heartfelt and thoughtful. I also happened to disagree with it.
Well, that’s not exactly right … I disagreed with two relatively minor parts of what he wrote. The main thing he wrote, in my mind, is that he believes that the Baseball Hall of Fame’s voting instructions — to choose players based on their “record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team” — demand that he not vote steroid users into the Hall. I think that is a fair interpretation of the Hall of Fame’s charge. I happen to think those words are absurdly outdated, and bizarrely vague, and there is absolutely no hint that the Hall of Fame voters have EVER taken them seriously based on the fact that the very first person voted in was Ty Cobb. But I cannot disagree with Ed taking the words literally. I think every voter has to make that judgment.
But there are two more minor parts of what he wrote that bother me:
1. That the Hall of Fame is not a “court of law” and as such does not demand the standard of “innocent until proven guilty.”
2. His announcement that he will now keep his votes private rather than publicly accuse players of PED use without evidence.
No. 1 was ably handled by the excellent Ken Davidoff but I thought I would throw a thought in here as well because we often hear the words: “This is not a court so I don’t have to go by the standard of innocent until proven guilty.” I think it’s kind of tragic to hear anyone say that. “Innocent until proven guilty” is not simply a standard for a court of law … it is a fundamental right of society. Perhaps what Ed and others really mean when they say that is that they don’t want to go by the rigid court standard of proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I can see someone arguing that reasonable-doubt is too stringent for something like the baseball Hall of Fame, especially when you consider how players fought drug testing, lied dramatically, and have hidden as much as they can hide.
But the basic concept of “innocent until proven guilty?” Are we really going to throw that one away? The concept goes back at least 700 years to the Jean Lemoine, a French Cardinal, who figured that since most people are not criminals they should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Are we going to start assuming that most people ARE criminals? And if we are going to assume that … does that even make them criminals?
I’m not trying to go all philosophical here … but don’t we believe in the concept of innocent until proven guilt in every facet of our life? If an employer charges you with stealing petty cash, if your parent charges you with breaking the living room vase, if your friend charges you with backstabbing her at a party, don’t they need at least SOME standard of proof? Every single day of our lives, we are faced with some test of innocent until proven guilty, and it seems to me that those words are not about legalities, they are about common decency.
I don’t think the Hall of Fame is a court. I don’t think a non-vote for the Hall of Fame is declaring guilt either. Ed is exactly right, when he says the Hall of Fame is an honor not a right. But you know what this part of the Baseball Hall of Fame really is? It’s a room in the baseball museum in Cooperstown where they put the plaques of the greatest players in baseball history. It’s a tourist attraction. It’s a place where fans go and remember their childhood, reminisce about the game, consider their connections. It’s so easy to get high and mighty about this thing, so easy to lose the whole point. I’m not sure how the Hall of Fame became about innocent and guilty in the first place. It’s a room overflowing with cheaters and liars and gamblers and fools. It’s a room overflowing with heroes and devoted fathers and good neighbors and nice men. But, really, it’s a room with the greatest baseball players ever along with some very good players along with some good players who had powerful lobbyists.
It seems to me that throwing away our standard of innocent until proven guilty when talking about a baseball museum … well, there’s just something kind of sad about it.
No. 2 … well, Ed absolutely has every right to keep his votes secret. Every voter has that right. And I realize that what Ed is saying and what he believes is that the burden of proof needed to suspect a steroid user and not vote him into the Hall of Fame is MUCH LOWER than the standard or proof needed to publicly call someone a steroid user. I don’t think I fully agree with the premise, but I don’t fully disagree either. I would prefer him and others raising the burden of proof for not voting someone into the Hall of Fame … but, yes, public condemnation is a serious matter.
I guess, even more: I don’t believe in things done in the dark. The Hall of Fame voting is an odd process. Players, assuming they get enough support, can stay on the ballot for 15 years. Why? As many, many people have pointed out, players don’t get any better after they retire.
I think the reasoning is two-fold: One, circumstances change. For instance: A player might find himself on an overcrowded ballot for a time, which would hurt his chances. This very thing probably happened to Luis Tiant.
Two, more importantly, viewpoints change. It has taken a long time for voters to move beyond their initial impressions and biases and finally vote Bert Blyleven into the Hall of Fame (we all think). I think that, as we move away from Rickey Henderson’s induction, people will begin to fully understand and appreciate the rare skills of Tim Raines. Some of the most cherished players in the Hall of Fame — Harmon Killebrew, Billy Williams, Eddie Mathews, Yogi Berra and many, many others — took time to get into the Hall.
So I think the Hall of Fame views evolution as an important part of the voting process. I think they want voters who are willing to keep developing their views and willing to change their minds. I think they want voters who will challenge their own convictions. And to me, keeping your vote secret encourages stubbornness and inflexibility. If you don’t want to defend your reasons publicly — where they will be disputed and mocked and protested — it seems unlikely to me that will want to defend your reasons privately either.
This is not true of Ed, who I know takes his voting very seriously and will always challenge his own views. He thinks about this stuff a lot and thoroughly. I honestly believe that he is taking an honest stand here. But I really dislike the concept of keeping things secret. If I get an anonymous email or letter, I throw it out without reading it. If I get an anonymous phone call, I pay no attention to it. I believe we should stand behind what we think or what we say. A person’s opinion, in my mind, is worthy of respect if he or she stands behind it. I’m not saying that anyone has to trumpet all their Hall of Fame picks or write stupid 15,000 word blog posts about it. But I think that the process is better if it’s an open dialogue. I think voting for the Hall of Fame is a pretty cool honor, and what we’re trying to do is create a living and breathing history of baseball. My own belief — and I know very smart people who strongly disagree with me — is that we should stand behind our votes.
When Buck O’Neil fell one vote short of the Hall of Fame in a special Negro Leagues election a few years ago, I thought the nay votes should have had the courage of their convictions and explained their reasoning. I suppose you could argue — some have argued — that by keeping the balloting secret they did not have to publicly embarrass Buck by saying that they thought he wasn’t a good enough player or his accomplishments were not quite enough or whatever reason they would have given. And some think a secret ballot is pure because you won’t vote based on public pressure. But I think all that’s kind of a copout. I have been led to believe — and probably will always believe — that some of the Buck O’Neil voting was political and petty and mean-spirited … and it’s a lot easier to be petty and mean spirited when you don’t have to stand publicly behind your vote.
I guess my point is that I believe in light. I think Ed is onto something here, and I think as these ballots get trickier and tricker more and more writers will follow his lead and simply stop giving out their ballots. I hope not. I don’t think we have reached any real consensus on what the Hall of Fame should look like after the baffling Selig Era. And I think we should reach a consensus. That’s our job as voters. We have been asked as a group to imagine the future Hall of Fame. I think for that we should have open dialogue, with all the bumps and bruises that go along with it.
@JPosnanski Gotta say I’m not bothered that 7-9 team made playoffs. I’m bothered that a spectacularly crappy 7-9 team is in the playoffs.
There were three 7-9 teams in the NFL this year. I would say the Seattle Seahawks were the worst of the three. Now, that is simply my opinion, and it is contradicted by the simple fact that Sunday night the Seahawks beat one of those 7-9 teams — the St. Louis Rams — in order to get into the playoffs. But the game was at home, and the Rams had beaten the Seahawks convincingly when the game was in St. Louis. I don’t think the Rams are a good team. But I think they’re probably better than Seattle. I feel sure the 7-9 Dolphins are better.
The Seahawks were outscored by almost 100 points this year. They were absolutely demolished by the Giants and Chiefs at home. They were crushed on the road by San Francisco, Oakland and Tampa Bay. They played only four playoff teams all year, and they went 1-3 and were beaten by an average of two touchdowns. They were the second-worst rushing team in the NFL, one of the league’s worst defenses both in yardage allowed and points allowed — and this against an absurdly easy schedule. The only great team they played all year, I think, was the Atlanta Falcons. And they got pummeled.
Now, my point is not that I think the rules should have been changed to prevent Seattle from making it. I don’t have any problem at all with the Seahawks making the playoffs. Everyone understood the rules before we began. And, I kind of like the division system. I kind of like that the atmosphere changes every year, and that sometimes you are in a murderous division and sometimes you’re in a horrible division but the singular goal of winning the division (using tiebreakers) remains the same. It keeps things interesting.
Still, it does seem obvious that this Seattle team is not even a good 7-9 team. Let’s take a look at the 7-9 teams from the last five years and their point differential:
2007 Bengals: -5
2009 Bears: -6
2006 Bills: -11
2007 Bears: -14
2009 Dolphins: -30
2006 Falcons: -36
2010 Rams: -39
2008 49ers: -42
2009 Bears: -48
2010 Dolphins: -60
2007 Broncos: -89
2009 Jagauars: -90
2010 Seahawks: -97
2007 Lions: -98
2007 Bills: -102
2006 49ers: -114
So the Seahawks do not have the worst point differential*, but they’re close. And the 2007 Bills hardly count since 77 of those 102 points came in two games against the 16-0 New England Patriots.
*The last 7-9 team to outscore their opponents? The 2004 Kansas City Chiefs, which figures. Dick Vermeil did some remarkable and odd things in his tenure as coach of the Chiefs because their offense was SO good and their defense SO bad (and Vermeil often didn’t seem to mind — as long as they were scoring points, he seemed reasonably happy).That year the Chiefs scored 483 points and had a losing record — that was BY FAR the most points ever scored by a team with a losing record. Those Chiefs outscored opponents by seven touchdowns, but still finished 7-9.
Now the Seahawks get into the playoffs and even get a home playoff game. I don’t think they will beat New Orleans, and I don’t think they will even stay particularly close. But at home … it’s not impossible. And, absolutely, it’s ridiculous. It’s also a nice reminder that playoffs are not the perfect culmination of a season like so many seem to think. Hey, I like playoffs … especially in football, basketball and hockey. I think they lift up the games and give us thrills.
But playoffs are not perfect — I think we forget this all the time, especially when ranting about college football’s ludicrous BCS system. I don’t think there’s any question the BCS system is impossibly flawed, and it is in place to protect special interests, and that a playoff would be more popular with the vast majority of college football fans. Most of the negative things people shout about the BCS are, in my mind, exactly right. I think it is absurd that this year TCU went undefeated and beat a very good Wisconsin team in the bowl game and has no access to winning what people widely consider the “national championship.”
But, granting all of that, the BCS system IS giving us a fascinating game between Oregon and Auburn, two undefeated teams that had remarkable seasons. A playoff might not give us that game. The best playoff system I have seen is the Death To The BCS 16-game playoff featuring champions from every conference. That system would give us college football fans a thrilling month of football that would tower over the bizarre bowl setup we have now. But it would also, every single year, give us inferior Seattle Seahawks playoff teams while clearly superior teams who had much better seasons were left at home.
The point is that when it comes to crowning a champion, you have to pick your poison. You can make the season more or less important. You can make the postseason tournament more or less important. You can come up with all sorts of tiebreakers, and division setups and wildcard entries. You can put the tension wherever you want. Every ending has its positives and every ending has its problems. The best ending in sports history, in my opinion, was a World Series that matched up the two best teams from each league as determined over 154 or 162 games. And they messed that up with playoffs.
Twitter is a not a great thing for me. I have a lot of unformed thoughts — some of them dumb but many of them vapid — and Twitter makes it too easy to type out a quick sentence and send these unformed thoughts out into the world. Because these thoughts are unformed, and because clarity isn’t necessarily a 140-character trait, I often find myself thinking: I should explain that more. I usually don’t. But today, I will. Today, I’ll post a few Twitter Expansions. “Why?” you ask. I have long stopped asking why when it comes to this blog.
@JPosnanski Just ran into former star Jeff Montgomery, who told me about 3 colleges that told him he’d never make it in baseball. #dontstopbelievin
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I have this theory about talent. It’s not a fully formed theory — unless by “fully formed” we actually mean “stupid” — but it’s something I have been thinking about ever since I was a little kid. My theory is that “talent,” in a way, is the capacity to make time repeat.
Here’s the best way I can explain it: Let’s say that you like to play golf. Maybe you’re an 18 handicapper — you shoot around 90, sometimes you shoot in the 80s, sometimes when nothing is going well you shoot 100. To shoot around 90, you already know, is to be a million miles away from being on the PGA Tour.
BUT, what if you had some sort of watch that allowed you to manipulate time so that you could actually shoot every shot over and over until you were able to hit the very best shot within your capabilities. That is, you hook a drive out of bounds, you rewind, you slice your drive into the trees, rewind, you top the ball, rewind, you hit a 240-yard drive down to the left, rewind, you hit a 270-yard drive down the middle … eventually you will hit a great shot. Maybe it will take you 10 shots, 20 shots, 50 shots, a thousand shots, but eventually you will hit a great shot.
If you had this kind of watch, and you had the fortitude to keep swinging until the shot was just right, you would make every long putt. You would make chip shots that would leave everyone in awe. People would call you the most talented player who ever lived — and this is YOU, right now, with no more ability than you have as you read these words.
I have usually connected my time theory to golf because it’s the starkest example, but I think it would work in most sports — assuming you have some ability and are allowed to see the results before rewinding and, more than anything, are relentless. Nothing matters more than being relentless. If you were a basketball player, and behind the timewall you had an unlimited number of chances, you could make every halfcourt shot you tried. You could get hits every time you came up to the plate (assuming you didn’t lose patience after swinging and missing 100 times or 500 times or 1000 times). You would never miss a pool shot.
There are some things that that my time theory doesn’t seem to cover — I’m not sure that it would work with some of the most physical events. I’m not sure that by running the 100 meter dash over and over and over or swimming the 200 meter butterfly over and over and over you would ever win Olympic Gold. But maybe you would. Maybe the act of doing it so many times, many many more times than anyone in the world, would get you to the finish line first.
Of course, no one gets that sort of time-manipulation watch — and if someone ever did invent the watch they probably would not waste its powers on getting really good at golf. But that gets to my point. I don’t think “talent” is great ability, or a natural knack for something, or a stunning burst of inspiration. I think talent just might be what we call hunger, the unquenchable desire to hit the golf ball 10 times or 50 times or 1,000 times, long after everyone else has grown bored or frustrated or disappointed, long after it makes any sort of sense, to keep hitting that ball until you hit the great shot. We have all seen this in sports so many times. The stories grow cliche after a while, but I think it’s telling that Michael Jordan once failed to make his high school team, that Albert Pujols wasn’t drafted after high school, that Kurt Warner worked in a grocery store after college, that three colleges told Jeff Montgomery that he wasn’t cut out for big time baseball.
I saw Jeff on Sunday as I was getting on a plane heading home. We have had a long and interesting relationship, Jeff and I, but at the end we have come to a place of mutual respect, I think. And he told me a story I had never heard. Jeff grew up in a little town, Wellston, OH, about 25 miles away from Ohio University. And the Ohio University coach was one of three Ohio schools that simply didn’t offer him a scholarship. The Ohio U coach was the most devastating though, since he grew up right down the street.
The coach offered to pay for Jeff’s books — probably out of guilt since he was a local kid. But Jeff knew he would not get a chance. So he found a school — Marshall — that gave him a real chance. He worked insanely hard. He pitched brilliantly. He was a ninth round pick out of college. He spent five years in the minors proving himself again and again — he was viewed as too small, without an out pitch. He worked insanely hard. And you know the ending: He made it to the big leagues, and from 1989-93, five years with Kansas City, he saved 159 games with a 2.22 ERA and twice appeared in the All-Star game. He was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame after his career was over.
The point is that he kept working insanely hard, and he kept believing in himself, and he kept seeing the happy ending. I don’t think many people can do that. I guess in the end I’m saying THAT is talent.
OK, so there are five players left on my ballot … and I’m exhausted. I have written about 15,000 words about the Hall of Fame already this week, and I’m not even through the entire ballot? You have got to be kidding me.
No, it’s worse than that. I have left what are, for me, the five toughest calls. If you read Thursday’s installment of Hall of Fame Week, then you know that I have used up eight of my 10 Hall of Fame votes (I have never entirely understood why the Hall of Fame limits writers to 10 … but they do). So I have two votes left and five players who in my mind all have both strong Hall of Fame cases AND serious flaws in their Hall of Fame cases. I voted for two of the five. I suspect these final two will not match many other ballots.
Here we go:
— Kevin Brown: OK, this is an oversimplification — just like most of my arguments. But it seems to me there’s a pretty good chance that every single pitcher with at least 3,000 innings pitched and an ERA+ of better than 120 will end up in the Hall of Fame … every one of them except two. This is, I admit, using my own projections, and it is certainly possible that I’m wrong about who will and won’t go into the Hall of Fame.
But here is the list of the 3,000 inning/121-or-better ERA+ pitchers who are not in the Hall of Fame.
1. Roger Clemens (143 ERA+): I think he will have some serious blowback because of the steroids stain, but he has an argument as the greatest pitcher of all time and I think that will win out. He will get in.
2. Randy Johnson (136 ERA+): First ballot.
3. Greg Maddux (132 ERA+): I think he will break Tom Seaver’s record for highest percentage of the vote (originally remembered Nolan Ryan with highest, but Seaver’s percentage was 98.84% and Ryan’s 98.79%).
4. Curt Schilling (128 ERA+): It won’t be an easy ride, but I think in the end his great postseason record and impact on the game will get him in. More on Schilling in a minute.
5. John Smoltz (125 ERA+): With his dominance as both a starter and closer, I think he will be a first ballot pick.
6. Mike Mussina (123 ERA+): I could be wrong here, but I think 270 wins, a .636 winning percentage and retiring while on top will eventually send Mussina to Cooperstown.
So who are the two who I think will not get in? Well, one is Eddie Cicotte, who you might remember was played by Edward R. Murrow in the movie “8 Men Out.” Cicotte was banned from baseball for his pro-communist statements on television, no, wait, I’m confusing things. Anyway, he’s banned from baseball forever and no one even seems to be fighting for him anymore.
The other is Kevin Brown. I admit to having mixed emotions about him. He was an undeniably dominant pitchers at times in his career. He twice led the league in ERA, finished second two other times — when it comes to preventing teams from scoring runs (which many would say is the pitcher’s No. 1 goal) he was undoubtedly one of the best at it of his generation. He ranks 10th among non-Hall of Famers in another little stat I like called “Runs Saved Against Average” — he saved 304 runs above average, just one behind certain Hall of Famer Tom Glavine.
But Brown’s case is still borderline. His case is, on the surface anyway, the same case as Schilling. It is NOT the same case Schilling, but it is on the surface. First the similarities:
Kevin Brown: 211-144, 3.28 ERA, 127 ERA+.
Curt Schilling: 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 128 ERA+.
Awfully close. Kevin Brown is Schilling’s No. 1 comp on Baseball Reference. And Schilling is Kevin Brown’s No. 7 comp (Higher up on the Brown comp list are No.1 Bob Welch, No. 2 Orel Hershiser and then a couple of Hall of Famers, No. 3 Don Drysdale and No. 4 Catfish Hunter).
But here are a couple of key differences: Schilling’s strikeout-to-walk (3,116 to 711) is is historic, the best ratio since 1900. I mentioned above that many people would say a pitcher’s No. 1 goal is preventing runs, but the numbers strongly suggest that there are only so many ways a pitcher can do this — walks and strikeouts are two of the very few things somewhat within a pitcher’s control. Brown’s strikeout-to-walk is is very good too (2,397 to 901) but obviously not in Schilling’s stratosphere. When you consider they are both borderline Hall of Fame choices, this seems a big advantage for Schilling.
The other thing, as mentioned, is Schilling’s remarkable postseason record — 11-2, 2.23 ERA (4-1 with a 2.06 ERA in the World Series). He pitched the famous bloody sock game. He was breathtaking enough in the 2001 World Series to be SI’s co-Sportsman of the Year. People have different views on how much postseason performance should be considered when talking about the Hall of Fame, but this is a big checkmark in Schilling’s column. Brown, meanwhile, was generally blah in the postseason, and his 0-3, 6.04 World Series record is less than blah.
And this is Brown’s biggest Hall of Fame problem for me: He was a terrific pitcher. But when you have a borderline Hall of Fame case, I think you need to bring something extra, something that separates you from all the other borderline Hall of Fame cases. As I have grown older, I have come to believe that greatness is not simply a line … Willie Mays wasn’t great simply because he hit well and fielded well and ran well. Greatness is a multilayered, three dimensional thing. Brown’s often brilliant pitching earns him his day in court, but in the end, is the verdict that he he great? He was at points in his career. But he was also a surly pitcher who did not seem to add much to team chemistry, and he did not distinguish himself in the postseason. He signed a gigantic contract at age 34 but did not age well, to the point where at the end he was considered an albatross. He falls short of the Hall of Fame for me, but not by much.
— Fred McGriff: I have a soft spot in my heart for McGriff. To me, he was an awful a friendlier and shorter-lived version of Eddie Murray … at least from an offensive perspective. Murray hit .287/.359/.476 with a 129 OPS+. McGriff hit .284/.377/.509 with a 133 OPS+. Murray played in 8 All-Star Games and started one. McGriff played in only five All-Star Games but started three. Neither won an MVP award, though Murray finished second two times. They were both very solid hitting first basemen with remarkable, almost mystical, powers of consistency.
That said, there are some important differences. Murray was a far superior defender. And Murray was good enough for long enough to hit 500 homers and amass 3,000 hits. McGriff fell just short on the homers (493) and well short on the hits (2,490). Murray’s career value (66.7 WAR) is quite a bit higher than McGriff’s (50.5).
I’m a big fan of Jay Jaffe’s Hall of Fame posts — I think he has the most sensible numbers approach to the Hall of Fame question by measuring a players career AND his peak. Jay’s research shows McGriff falls just short of the Average Hall of Fame first baseman in both career value and peak value. To keep the Murray comparison going, Murray’s peak was just a touch higher than McGriff bit it is also borderline for the Hall of Fame. But Murray’s career value soars. I think in the end, when it comes to the Hall of Fame, you need to offer something sensational. A sensational peak. Sensational career totals. Something. I guess my feeling is that McGriff wasn’t quite good enough for LONG enough. The vote is a regretful no. But I plan to look at it again next year — and every year he’s on the ballot.
— Dale Murphy: People who have followed my Hall of Fame votes (this would include my mother and perhaps my father) know that Dale Murphy is my Hall of Fame weakness. I have voted for him every year. And I have done this knowing full well that he has a tragically flawed Hall of Fame case.
The problem with Murphy is that his career is almost all peak value. He had six great years. He had one or two decent years in addition, but just one or two. And everything else was pretty awful. His heights, I think, were markedly higher than Jim Rice and Andre Dawson, the last two outfielders voted into the Hall of Fame. But Dawson had nine good-but-not-great seasons; Rice had four or five. Murphy had those one or two. And that is why they are in the Hall and Murphy probably won’t get there.
I get that. But I keep voting for Murphy anyway. I don’t know that six exceptional years is enough to make someone a Hall of Famer if they can’t back it up with some value in other years. Jimmy Wynn had seven terrific seasons, and, impossibly, did not get a single Hall of Fame vote (even Tommy Helms got a vote that year). But maybe that’s because people didn’t appreciate Wynn’s great seasons (so much of his value was tied up in his ability to walk).
People did appreciate Murphy. He won two MVP awards, he won five straight Gold Gloves, he was the singular star for the SuperStation Braves teams of the 1980s who fitfully wore the self-proclaimed mantle as “America’s Team.” He, as much as anyone I suspect, spread the gospel of baseball in the South with the way he played and the way he carried himself.
Murph, you probably know, began his career as a catcher. The line at the time was that one day the Braves decided he was too tall to catch. The Braves made him a first baseman, where he wasn’t very good, and they came to realize that his great athletic ability might play in center field. At 6-foot-4, there was a gnawing feeling he was too tall for center field too, but at the point they had to do SOMETHING with the guy. He was 24 years old, had a gigantic hole in his swing and his position was still up in the air.
But in 1980, he had his first great year, hitting .281/349/.510 with 33 homers and he made a stunning defensive transition to center field. He was fluid, and he rarely made mistakes, and he showed off a strong arm. After an uneven strike year, he jumped into the conversation of best player in baseball. He won his first MVP in 1982 (.281/.378/.507) and his second in 1983 (.302/.393/.540 — led league in slugging and had a 30-30 season). He was helped out by his ballpark — the affectionately named Launching Pad — and a great defensive reputation that people still argue about (he won Gold Gloves both years but some say Murphy did not have enough range to play center). Still, he was legitimately great both those years, and pretty close to great the next two years after. And he probably had his best season in 1987 when he hit .295/.417/.580 with 44 home runs and a good transition to right field.
And then … he fell off a cliff. He didn’t just fall a cliff, he did a Wile E. Coyote fall off a cliff and then had a big chunk of rock fall on top of him. After his a decent 1988, he hit .236/.304/.403/.388 the rest of his career was was just barely above replacement level.
Is that enough to make a Hall of Fame career? Most would say no. I wrote yesterday that I loathe the Hall of Fame character clause and I do. But if it is going to be there — and I have no illusions that it will ever go away — shouldn’t it be there to REWARD class and dignity as much as to PUNISH players who don’t quite live up to standards? Bill James suggests — and I concur — that the clause may have been a direct effort to reward a player like Eddie Grant, a light hitting infielder from the early part of the 20th Century who hit .249/.300/.295 over 10 seasons for four teams from 1905 to 1915. But he went to Harvard, was widely respected in baseball, and he gave the last full measure of devotion when he died in battle in France during World War I. Our guess is that Kenesaw Mountain Landis may have written the Hall of Fame character clause to encourage people to vote for Eddie Grant. Few actually bought the argument — Grant never received more than three votes. But it seems likely the clause was not put in to exclude as much as INCLUDE.
Murphy tried to be a role model … he took that seriously. He was a class act, and he promoted the best of the game with the way he played and the way he carried himself. Like Musial, I would say you probably can’t find anyone who dealt with Dale Murphy — teammates, fans, media, anyone — who did not love and admire the guy. I’m not saying this alone should get him into the Hall of fame. But I do think it can be part of his case.
I’m under no illusions that Murphy will ever get any Hall of Fame momentum. He is drawing fewer votes now than he did his first couple of years, and I suspect with the loaded ballot this year he will take a big drop. I was torn about who to give my 10th vote to … but in the end I decided to stick with Murphy for another year. At his peak, he was a Hall of Famer, and a six-year peak is pretty strong historically. I voted yes.
But, yes, I’ll admit, I wish he’d had a few even reasonably productive years after age 32. If he did, I think he’d be a solid Hall of Famer. Through age 31, his numbers compared very well with Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield. Those guys had a second act. Murphy decidedly did not. It seems silly that what is keeping Murphy out of the Hall of Fame is not additional greatness but rather a few years of solid mediocrity. But baseball is a tricky game.
— Rafael Palmeiro: The question that I suppose can be asked here is — should Rafael Palmeiro’s positive drug test have a different impact on Hall of Fame voters than the drug noise the surrounds Mark McGwire Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez and so on?
Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t tell anymore. I guess the point is that none of those others ever failed a drug test … or at least not a drug test where the results were to be made public. More to the point, Palmeiro’s failed drug test came at a time when baseball WAS testing. I think we can argue nonstop for the next month about what the baseball guru’s stance was about steroids in the 1990s. But to me the trump card is that, for whatever reason, baseball did not test. And because baseball was not testing, I do not think they can make any legitimate claim that they were trying to discourage players from using steroids.
But then steroids in baseball became a real embarrassment, and testing was instituted, and by then there could be no mistaking baseball’s stance: They wanted performance enhancing drugs out of the game. That’s when Palmeiro tested positive. It is not impossible — or even entirely improbable — that it was a false positive (as Palmeiro claims). These things DO happen more than anyone wants to admit. But considering that Palmeiro was widely viewed as a steroid user, and considering that he was probably the most obnoxious of the deniers at the Congressional Hearing, he certainly wasn’t going to get the benefit of the public doubt.
I vote for Mark McGwire, so I am openly voting for someone who has admitted taking steroids. Is Palmeiro different because of the timing, because he tested positive when steroids was CLEARLY AND INDISPUTABLY against the rules? Maybe. Maybe not. Like I say, I can’t tell anymore. Palmeiro’s Hall of Fame case is pretty clear and pretty forceful from a career perspective. He had 3,000 hits AND 500 home runs, and both of those have been magic Hall of Fame numbers.
But … again I turn to Jay Jaffe. Rafael Palmeiro’s peak just wasn’t quite Hall of Fame. His career numbers are awesome, as mentioned, but he played in one of the greatest offensive offensive eras in baseball history, and he spent his career in terrific hitters parks. In many ways, I think he is simply Fred McGriff in a more favorable hitting environment. Look at their neutralized statistics (that is putting their numbers into a 716-run environment):
Comme ci, comme ca.
There are players in the Hall of Fame with great career numbers and uninspiring peaks. I think Palmeiro has a powerful case because of those career numbers, but it’s a borderline case. And the big question is: If Rafael Palmeiro has a borderline case, does his positive drug test tilt the scales to “No?”
With my ballot bursting already, I decided this year: No.
— Larry Walker: How good does someone have to hit at Coors Field to be considered an all-time great? It’s a fascinating question. It’s funny — Coors Field seems to be the first park that has actually altered how the average fans views baseball players. Whenever you would tell people that, say, Jim Rice’s numbers or Don Drysdale’s numbers or, yes, Dale Murphy’s numbers were greatly aided by their home park, people would generally shrug. So what? But I get the impression that many people, maybe even most people, look at Larry Walker’s great numbers and think only “Yeah, mirage, Coors Field.”
The player whose Hall of Fame election probably has most to do with home park was Chuck Klein. From 1928-33, Klein played in the absurd Baker Bowl … one of the most ridiculous hitters parks in baseball history. The right field wall was only 280 feet from home plate, and right center was only 300 feet away. It was so ludicrously close to home plate, that they kept adding height to it just to give it some semblance of fairness. They never could make it tall enough.
Here is what Chuck Klein hit at the Baker Bowl:
1929: .391/.434/.734 with 25 doubles and 25 homers in 71 games.
1930: .439/.483/.794 with 32 doubles and 26 homers in 77 games.
1931: .401/.469/.740 with 23 doubles and 22 homers in 76 games.
1932: .423/.464/.799 with 26 doubles and 25 homers in 81 games.
1933: .467/.516/.789 with 25 doubles and 17 homers in 74 games.
OK, that’s just laughable, right?* In those five years, He led the league in homers four times, in doubles twice, in runs three times, in RBIs twice and he won the triple crown in 1933 (despite hitting .280/.338/.436 on the road). Well, OF COURSE he did. He was traded to the Cubs for three players and $65,000 in 1933. And he never led the league in anything again. He hit .278/.343/.447 the rest of his career.
*Other great Baker Bowl feats:
— In 1929, Lefty O’Doul — who was trying to remake himself as a hitter after his pitching career was halted by an arm injury — led the league with a .398 batting average. He hit .453 at the Baker Bowl.
— In 1930, the entire Philadelphia team hit .344 at the Baker Bowl.
— That’s OK. In 1939, opponents hit .359 at the Baker Bowl.
Chuck Klein is in the Hall of Fame, though it should be said he never got much support from the writers. The veteran’s committee voted him in. He was inducted in 1980, long after his death in 1958. That always makes me sad. If you’re going to put a man in the Hall of Fame, you should put him in while he’s alive and can celebrate it.
Larry Walker put up three or four of the most remarkable offensive seasons in baseball history while playing in the pre-humidor Coors Field. I’ve tried to make this point many times in many ways, but I don’t know if I ever have fully made it: The number effects that people attribute to steroids can be reproduced simply and legally with a great hitters park or a livelier baseball. Walker was a very good player in Montreal from 1990 to 1994 — his OPS+ was 130, and in 1994 he hit .322 and led the league in doubles with 44. He could hit a baseball hard.
Then he went to Coors and in 1997 he hit .366 with 46 doubles, 49 homers … you know how many other players in baseball history have hit .350 or better with 45 doubles AND 45 homers in the same season? One. Lou Gehrig in 1927. It was pure lunacy.
So what did Walker do the next year? He hit .363. And the next? He hit .379/.458/.710 — you bet, he led the National League in the all three of those splits. In 2001, he hit .350 (led the league again) with 38 homers, 123 RBIs, 107 runs scored. In all, he hit .334/.425/.618 his years in Colorado.
How much of that was Coors Field? A lot of it. Over his career, Walker hit .381 at Coors Field and he slugged .710. Overall, Walker hit 70 points better at home (.348 to .278) and slugged 142 points higher at home (.637 to .495).
But if you have done your math, you know that I’m voting for Walker. I think he was a great all around player. His 140 career OPS+ — and that, of course, takes into account his ballpark — is significantly better than Dawson (119), Rickey Henderson (127), Rice (128), Tony Gwynn (132), Dave Winfield (130) and Kirby Puckett (124) — the outfielders who have been voted in since 2000. Obviously, they each have different cases (Henderson’s OPS+ is entirely beside the point when looking at his career), but it shows how good a hitter Walker was. His .278/.370/.495 split for road game certainly pales against his home numbers, but those are still very good road numbers — yes, he played in a good offensive era, but it’s worth point out that his road on-base percentage is better than George Brett’s CAREER on-base percentage, and that .495 road slugging is higher than Reggie Jackson’s CAREER slugging.
Walker was also a fabulous right fielder, based both on reputation (seven Gold Gloves) and numbers (his defensive WAR is 9.6 which is very high). He was an outstanding base runner and base stealer (he stole 230 bases at a 75% rate).
There are not many players in baseball history who were really good at everything. Larry Walker was really good at everything. Injuries shortened and interrupted his career, and he definitely got a huge numbers boost from his home park. But the Larry Walker I remember hit the ball hard, ran the bases brilliantly, played superior defense and kept finding ways to be productive even as his body was breaking down on him. He had a huge peak, and took advantage of his home ballpark to put up some of the best seasons in baseball history. For that, he got my 10th and final vote.
In my mind, there are eight players on this year’s ballot who are clearly above my Hall of Fame standard. That does not mean that they are without their flaws. A couple of them have significant flaws … I refused to vote for one of them for a while until my thoughts about him and what he did crystallized somewhat.
In any case, when I first got the Hall of Fame ballot I gave it a quick glance and counted the players who seemed like easy Hall of Fame choices. These were the eight who came up.
— Roberto Alomar: There are differences of opinion about Roberto Alomar’s fielding. He won a Gold Glove every year but one from 1991 to 2001. That’s 10 Gold Gloves, and the general consensus at the time seemed to be that he was a brilliant defensive second baseman, one of the best of all time. But, since then, a few people studied the subject — Bill James for one — and came away with the contrary conclusion that Alomar was wildly overrated defensively. Sean Smith’s Total Zone Rating concludes that Alomar was actually a below average defensive second baseman for his career, and was below average every year from 1993 to 1996, when he won four of those Gold Gloves.
I bring this up because I think Alomar’s legacy depends on how you feel about his defense. If you feel that he was a solid but overrated defender — which probably sums up the anti-Alomar-defense stance — then he is one of the 10 best second basemen in baseball history. I would say only Morgan, Ryne Sandberg and Craig Biggio could match Alomar’s combination of power and speed. Alomar also hit .300 for his career, he walked more than he struck out, and he had three or four MVP type years. Yes, even without his defensive reputation, he is one of the best to ever play second base.
But … if you believe Alomar was a GREAT defensive player, as many people do, then he’s one of the five best second basemen ever and should be in the discussion with Joe Morgan and Rogers Hornsby.
All of which is to say: He’s a Hall of Famer either way. I think it was sad that Alomar was not elected to the Hall of Fame last year. His snub seemed to be based on some sort of wordless anger about Alomar’s infamous spitting incident and perhaps some of his post-career troubles. I should say here (and I’ll come back to this in a minute) that I truly loathe the fact that there is a character clause in the Hall of Fame voting instructions, a clause (perhaps written by Kenesaw Mountain Landis himself) that states: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.” I think that clause frees up voters to make moral judgments. And I think that kind of freedom often brings out the worst in people.
That’s not say that people who did not vote in Alomar last year were wrong. The beauty of the Hall of Fame voting is also the biggest problem with it: It’s messy. You have several hundred people (539 last year) with different standards, different ideals, different priorities, different moral attitudes, different point of views. They all vote based on what they are and what they believe. This leads to all sorts of interesting, sometimes bizarre, sometimes shameful individual votes — you already know that some people did not vote for Willie Mays or Hank Aaron or Stan Musial — but the hope is that the large number of Hall of Fame voters, and the high threshold of 75% needed for induction, will give us the worthiest candidates.
It was that high threshold that cost Alomar the Hall of Fame in his first year. He should get elected this year.
— Jeff Bagwell: OK, let me say this as clearly as I possible can say it: Jeff Bagwell, in my opinion, is one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. His 149 OPS+ ranks 19th all-time among players with 8,000 plate appearances. He is one of only 16 players to finish a lengthy career with an on-base percentage higher than .400 (.408) and a slugging percentage higher than .500 (.540). Among those 16, only Ty Cobb and Barry Bonds stole more bases.
He was a breathtaking offensive player, almost without weakness. He hit for average, he hit for power, he drew walks, he stole bases, he scored runs, he drove in runs, and he looked like a serious badass doing all of it. Remember how everyone talked about Jim Rice’s intimidation factor, so much so that after a while it became kind of a joke. Well, Jeff Bagwell was a scary hitter. He would plant himself into that wide stance, and he would swing the bat with ferocity, and I never knew if it was scarier to be the pitcher or the third baseman or some seated in a low seat without a net in front. There was enough fear for everyone. The guy was like a cartoon character.
It’s true that Bagwell played in huge offensive time. But he demolished the era. Every single year he was good for a .300 or so average, a .400 or so on-base percentage, 35 homers, 100 walks, 110 RBIs, 110 runs scored … that was just the starting point for Bagwell. A couple of times, he demolished even those numbers. His aborted 1994 season — when he hit .368/.451/.750 — is untouchable in any era. But his 1996 season, when he hit .315/.451/.570 isn’t far behind. In 1999 he walked 149 times and scored 143 runs. In 1997, he became just the sixth National Leaguer to hit 40 homers and 40 doubles in the same year*.
*And two of those six (Larry Walker and Todd Helton) did it Colorado, another one (Chuck Klein) did it in the old Baker Bowl — two absurd hitters ballparks. Bagwell did it in the bleeping ASTRODOME, a legendarily bad hitter’s park. Nobody had ever hit 40 homer runs playing half their games in the Astrodome. And this guy added 40 doubles to the trick.
Bagwell was a force of nature until he turned 35. By then, his shoulder was beginning to deteriorate. He had some sort of arthritic condition there … and it made his career end suddenly. At 35 he hit 39 homers, walked 88 times, and received an MVP vote. At 37, he was done.
Bagwell, to me, looks like a first-ballot, slam-dunk, didn’t have to think twice Hall of Famer. His rare combination of power and speed (he’s the only first baseman to have a 30-homer, 30-stolen base season, and he did it twice) along with his solid defense (he won one Gold Glove, but was generally viewed year-in, year-out as a very good defender), along with his ability to get on base, along with his solid nature and spectacular peak makes him seem like the surest of sure things.
But it doesn’t look that way. It looks like Bagwell will fall well short. And I can only come up with two somewhat related reasons:
1. The crazy offensive Selig Era has made us jaded about spectacular offensive numbers. That’s understandable, I guess. Bagwell’s six seasons of 39-plus home runs would have seemed otherworldly twenty years ago. After all, that’s as many as Willie Mays had, more than Mickey Mantle had, as many as Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt COMBINED. But the Selig Era has taken the jolt out of those numbers, in part because of steroids but also in part because we simply have grown numb after seeing home run after home run after home run after home run.
2. Jeff Bagwell — though he never tested positive for steroids, never was implicated in any public way, was not named in the Mitchell Report or by anyone on the record as a suspected user, and is not even on this rather comprehensive list of players linked to steroids or HGH — seems to have become in some voter’s minds a player who used performance enhancing drugs.
I can’t even begin to describe my disgust at No. 2 … it makes me absolutely sick to my stomach. This is PRECISELY what I was talking about when I said how much I hate the character clause in the Hall of Fame voting. I think it encourages people to believe their own nonsense, to stand up on high and be judge and jury. It’s something my friend Bill James calls the “I see it in his eyes” tripe. Bill has finished a book on crime — it is, he says, actually about crime books as much as crime — and one thing he kept running into in his research was people who claimed that they could pinpoint the murderer because “it was in their eyes.” Well, as Bill says, that’s a whole lot of garbage. Eyes are eyes. Some people look guilty when they’re innocent, and some people look innocent when they’re guilty, and most people don’t look innocent OR guilty except when we want to see that something in their eyes. Oh, but we love to believe we know. It’s one of the flaws of humanity. And the Hall of Fame character clause gives voters carte blanche to judge the eyes and hearts and souls of players.
I think my e-migo Craig Calcaterra has made this point on Twitter, but I’d like to also make it as strongly as I can: I’d rather a hundred steroid users were mistakenly voted into the Hall of Fame over keeping one non-user out. I don’t know if Jeff Bagwell used or didn’t use steroids. But there was no testing. There is no convincing evidence that he used (or, as far as I know, even unconvincing evidence). So what separates him from EVERY OTHER PLAYER on the ballot? Were his numbers too good? That’s why you suspect him?
Bagwell has written (or spoken) a story defending himself from the steroid charges. This is the takeaway: “I’m so sick and tired of all the steroids crap, it’s messed up my whole thinking on the subject. … If I ever do get to the Hall of Fame and there are 40 guys sitting behind me thinking, ‘He took steroids,’ then it’s not even worth it to me.”
I would say this to those people who would not vote for Jeff Bagwell because they simply believe he used steroids, based on how he looked or some whispers they heard. I have a better idea: Let’s just burn him at the stake. If he survives, you will know you were right.
— Bert Blyleven: My colleague and friend Jon Heyman wrote an entire column this year about why he did not vote for Blyleven, and it’s fair to say that I didn’t agree with much of it. Jon’s main point seems to be that though Blyleven’s career numbers may be impressive, his career lacked impact. He never won a Cy Young award (or finished higher than third), he never was a factor in the MVP voting, he only made two All-Star teams.
The facts are there, but I guess it depends what you mean by impact. Blyleven STILL ranks fifth on the all-time list for strikeouts — wedged between a couple of guys named Carlton and Seaver — and strikeouts seem to have some impact on the game. He ranks ninth all-time in shutouts, fourth if you only count the years after the deadball era — and shutouts seem to have some impact on the game. He won more games 1-0 than any pitcher in 90 years — and 1-0 victories seem to have some impact on the game. I guess I would like to believe more in those than in the award voters who often underrated him* or All-Star Game managers who usually have their own agendas.
*Blyleven was probably the best pitcher in the American League in 1973. This was not seen in his 20-17 record, but he was second in the league in ERA, first in ERA+, first in shutouts and he threw a staggering 325 innings. You may or may not have use for Wins Above Replacement, but he finished first in the league in WAR — not just for pitchers but for ALL players. The MVP voters were 30-plus years too young for WAR, however, and gave him one 10th place vote.
But Jon is hardly the first person to say, essentially, that Blyleven does not FEEL like a Hall of Famer. Blyleven was rarely talked about as one of the great pitchers of his time (though people did acknowledge his historically great curveball). I have never thought this should matter — after all, I can remember Steve Garvey, Fred Lynn, George Foster, Dave Parker and many others referred to as “future Hall of Famers” when they were at their peak, and it didn’t quite work out that way. This, I think, is why we wait five years before voting on a retired player. We want to let a lot of that nonsense dissipate.
And it should have dissipated. Maybe Bert Blyleven did not have a reputation as a great big-game pitcher, but 5-1, 2.47 ERA in the postseason (one of those wins coming over sainted big-game pitcher Jack Morris) and his record in 1-0 games suggest that he didn’t really let that reputation stop him from pitching well in big games.
Maybe Bert Blyleven did not get a lot of Cy Young support, but six times he had a higher WAR than the guy who actually won the Cy Young, which can only mean one of three things:
1. WAR is impossibly flawed and the voters were right.
2. The voters picked a lot of really bad Cy Young winners.
3. Bert Blyleven was absurdly underrated by the Cy Young voters.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be just ONE of those three three things. It could be all of them.
Anyway, yes, Blyleven’s Hall of Fame case has some lumps in it. I don’t think even the most devoted of Blyleven’s supporters — I would be in the team photograph, I suspect — would deny that. His winning percentage should have been better, he was kind of a pain in the neck, he was fairly mediocre for three or four years in the middle of his career, and he really only had one good year after age 36. He’s not Greg Maddux (who I think really should have a chance at being voted unanimously). He’s one of the 30 best starting pitchers in baseball history, I think. But if you want to find flaws, there are some there.
But I guess there was something else about Jon’s Blyleven piece that really bugged me … and he knew it was really bug a bunch of people. He said so right in the piece. He said: “Blyleven’s backers sometimes will also act astounded or even apoplectic over the fact that some, including myself, support Jack Morris over Blyleven.”
Yes. Apoplectic is the word. This, I find, is precisely where I stop being reasonable. I saw three or four stories from other people who voted for Morris over Blyleven, and it so boggles my mind that I have to keep myself from ranting. And I’m never very good about keeping myself from ranting.
I guess my simple comparison of Blyleven and Morris is this: Bert Blyleven won more games with an ERA more than a half run lower and an ERA+ advantage of 118-105. Blyleven struck out 1,223 more batters but, even more remarkably, walked 68 fewer batters. Why are the walks more remarkable? Because Blyleven threw 1,146 more innings than Morris. That’s 127 nine inning games if you are scoring at home. And he still walked fewer batters.
Blyleven had a reputation as a gopherball pitcher — well earned since his 50 homers allowed in 1986 is still the record — but he gave up fewer homers per nine than Morris. Blyleven threw more than twice as many shutouts, threw 70 more complete games, had a significantly lower WHIP, and he has more than twice as many wins above replacement (90.1 to 39.3). Morris had the better winning percentage, but it has been shown that is almost entirely attributable to Morris’ superior teams. Blyleven also has the better overall postseason numbers. I’ve written about this a million times, it’s out there on the internets if you want to go into greater detail.
Here’s the thing that bugs me most: Jack Morris has a Hall of Fame case. I don’t buy in, but I can see the case. He was an extremely durable pitcher who completed a lot of games and won a lot of games and pitched one of the more famous World Series games ever. There’s a case for him. But to make that case, logic insists that you MUST ACKNOWLEDGE Bert Blyleven first. Because Blyleven was better than Morris in every way that Morris was good. He was MORE durable, and completed MORE games, and he won MORE games, and he was so clearly more dominant in every way that can be recorded. And, as mentioned, when they faced each other in the postseason, Blyleven’s team won.
But some people have simply dug in against Blyleven. The stuff that Jon wrote about Blyleven not having impact — him not being a factor in Cy Young voting or MVP voting — is essentially true about Morris too. He never won a Cy Young. He never was a factor in the MVP race.
Jon’s essential explanation for his Morris support is to say “to some degree, you had to be there.” I sometimes say that very thing about a Midnight OIl concert I went to in 1994 — to understand Midnight Oil’s greatness you had to be there. But I would probably concede that doesn’t make Midnight Oil into the Beatles.
I should also say that I think Blyleven will get in this year and we can finally end these kinds of posts.
— Barry Larkin: Bill James and I have each done a list of our 32 Best All-Around Players in baseball history. Well, I don’t think Bill’s list is quite 32, and I’m not entirely sure we had the same thing in mind when thinking what “best all-around players” even means. We’ll run that thing out there sometime in January to keep the hot stove talk burning.
But I can tell you now that Barry Larkin is on both of our lists. He did everything. He hit. He hit with power. He ran. He defended. He threw. He walked. He played the game with a high level of intelligence and verve. I think he was a deserving winner of the MVP in 1995 (assuming you weren’t going to give it to Bonds every year), and he was probably even better in 1996.
The knock on Larkin is simply his durability — he only played 150 games in a season three times. But he was a fabulous player from 1991-98. That’s eight seasons when he posted a 134 OPS+ (Take Cal Ripken’s eight best seasons — not even in a row — and you get a 132 OPS+), he stole 206 out of 240 bases, he won two Gold Gloves, he slugged .487. There are not many shortstops in baseball history that can give you eight seasons like that. And he offered value in other years too. I think he’s a clear cut Hall of Famer.
— Edgar Martinez: I’ve made my peace with Edgar Martinez as designated hitter. Here’s why: It seems to me that had Martinez come along before the designated hitter, he would have played third base or first base left field or something. And he probably would have been well below average. But he still would have played. And he still would have hit as few have ever hit. The Hall of Fame has lousy defenders in it. Harmon Killebrew tried hard everywhere he played, but nobody ever viewed him as a great fielder. Ted Williams rather famously regretted how little effort he put into playing outfield. Willie Stargell was viewed as a subpar defender. Dave WInfield scored a minus-9.2 defensive WAR for his career, which is (A) the worst among Hall of Famers and (B) startling because he was widely viewed as a very good defender.
Anyway … the point remains. Martinez was a hard-working player and undoubtedly would have worked as hard as he could on defense if that had been his fate. But he had a different fate. He came up in the American League in the late 1980s. He did not play his first full season until he was 27, and that first full year he hit .302 and walked more than he struck out. He was almost exclusively a third baseman. The next year he hit .307, walked 85 times, increased his power somewhat, and played almost exclusively at third base again.The next year he hit .343 and led the league in hitting. He was still a third baseman.
And then he had injuries. He only played 131 games in 1993 and 1994. In 1995, he was 32 years old, coming off injury, the Mariners made him a DH. And he he had an absolutely remarkable season; he hit .356/.479/.628 with 52 doubles, 29 homers, 121 runs scored, 111 RBIs. That .479 on-base percentage is the second-best in the American League the last 40 years (behind only Frank Thomas’ 1994 season).
The Mariners struggled to find an effective third baseman to fill Martinez’s spot. But after 1995, there was no way the Mariners were going to put him back at third base and take any chances losing that bat. Over the next five years, Martinez never hit worse than .322, never had a lower on-base percentage than .423, never slugged lower than .554. His combined OPS+ those five years — and remember that DOES NOT EVEN INCLUDE HIS SICK 1995 SEASON — was 160.
The year after that, when he was 38 years old, he hit .306/.423/.543. His OPS+? Yep: 160.
Above, when I wrote about Jeff Bagwell, I mentioned that Bags was one of only 16 players to finish a career (min. 5,000 plate appearances) with an on base percentage higher than .400 and a slugging percentage higher than .500. Martinez is one of those 16. He’s one of only 13 to also hit better than .300. Throw in his 300 homers, his 500 doubles … the names are suddenly: Ruth, Gehrig, Hornsby, Williams, Musial, Bonds and Martinez.
He was a fabulous hitter — an all-time fabulous hitter. I understand people being a bit hesitant about naming a one-dimensional designated hitter to the Hall, but there is some precedent (Paul Molitor played more games at DH than any other individual position), and if we really consider being a great offensive player who offers little to no defensive value as “one dimensional” then the Hall of Fame has quite a few one dimensional players. I do think that for a designated hitter to be a Hall of Famer he needs to be a truly extraordinary hitter. I think Martinez was a truly extraordinary hitter.
— Mark McGwire: Last year, after I wrote how I felt about the Mark McGwire apology, I got a phone call from Mark McGwire. It was a bit of a strange phone call because, best I remember, I have never talked to McGwire in a one-on-one setting. Also, I was never really sure how he got my phone number.
Also, he didn’t exactly say why he was calling. We just kind of got to talking about things, and it was a good conversation, and before he hung up he thanked me for writing what I wrote. That was nice, but I can tell you: The McGwire saga is one of the most baffling things I can ever remember in sports. I have spent more time thinking about it than just almost anything else with the probably exception of Bruce Springsteen’s music and the remarkable appeal of Snuggies. And, after all this time, I still can’t say with any certainty that I have it right. Most people seem to be pretty sure I have it wrong, to tell the truth. But no matter how many times I spin it around in my mind, I keep coming back to the same place.
And that place is this: I think Mark McGwire belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I think it now more than ever. I didn’t always think this way. The first couple of years, I did not vote for him. But, as time has gone on, I have started to see steroids usage as a part of McGwire’s era. It’s not a happy part of the era — just like amphetamines was not a happy part of baseball, just like the color barrier was not a happy part of baseball, just like spitballs and corked bats and the electric system rigged up by the 1951 Giants are not a happy part of baseball.
But I believe steroids were a significant part of the game. As Buck O’Neil always said, players will constantly search for an edge (“The reason we didn’t use steroids,” he said, “was ’cause we didn’t have ’em.”). I find myself marveling these days at the NFL’s efforts to temper violent hits in football games. Who is fighting the NFL hardest of all? THE PLAYERS, that’s who, the very people who the NFL is trying to protect. This is because players don’t want to give up their right to pummel each other, health risks be damned. “That’s football,” they say. They want to push envelopes, stretch rules, come back too early from injuries, reach for the very boundary of whatever happens to be considered “fair play.” That sort of striving is hard-wired in the brains of many, many elite athletes — maybe even most of them.
When baseball did not test for steroids, what many players heard was: “Go ahead. Cheat. We don’t mind” And players don’t need to be told twice.
This is doubly true for steroids because I can see how easy it would be to convince yourself that it’s NOT cheating. After all, it’s only an injection. How much different is it than taking some of these “legal” supplements. Sure, it helps players work out longer, but the players still have to work out, they still have to deal with the pain and exhaustion of working out. Yes, it helps players get stronger, but they still have to connect with the pitch or throw it in the strike zone. Yes, it might help a player come back from injury quicker and maybe it will hold off the years — but, inevitably, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t the whole point of training staffs to get players to come back from injuries quicker and hold off the years?
And most of all: Yes, it’s illegal, and it’s wrong, and it’s dangerous and can have long-lasting health risks … but if nobody’s even testing, how wrong and dangerous could it be?
I’m honestly not trying to explain away the moral choices these players made. I admire the players who didn’t take steroids. I wish I knew for sure who those players were so we could celebrate them more. No, I’m simply saying that I have come to believe steroid use (and HGH) was widespread, and that a lot of people with authority looked the other away, and that it all became part of the game. And we will probably never know the full scope of it or all the players who did it.
I believe Mark McGwire when he says he used steroids at that point in his life when he was hurt and worried that his baseball career was over. It seems believable to me. I’m not saying he never did them before … I don’t know. I’m just saying It seems to me that faced with the choice of using steroids to help you come back or face life after baseball when you’re only 30 years old, yeah, it seems believable to me. Mark McGwire used steroids, and he worked out like a mad-man, and he reworked his swing, and he became the greatest home run hitter the world had ever seen.
And I finally decided that, for me, that last part — the greatest home run hitter the world had ever seen — merited my Hall of Fame vote. I don’t know what part steroids played in his historic home run performance, and I would suggest nobody else does either. If people believe steroids was the biggest factor, the crucial factor, then they will not vote for McGwire, and I get that. I believe steroids were probably not as big a factor as others believed. Yes, I think they helped him keep healthy. Yes, I think they helped him increase his strength. But, I also think McGwire made himself into a rare hitting talent. There were a lot of advantages to being a power hitter in the 1990s that had nothing to do with steroids (smaller strike zones, smaller parks, harder bats, perhaps even livelier baseballs). Also lots of players — hitters and pitchers — were using steroids. Only McGwire hit a home run once every 10.6 at-bats. It’s a better percentage than Ruth, better than Bonds, better than Mantle and better than Kiner. McGwire also walked a lot, offered some defensive value early in his career and put on an unprecedented show in 1998 just when baseball really needed something to capture America’s attention again.
I don’t think Mark McGwire will get into the Hall of Fame. I have written quite a bit about timing when it comes to the Hall of Fame, and I think McGwire’s timing is kind of lousy. I believe that the general fury about steroids in baseball will gradually fade. I think people may start to realize that taking steroids and taking amphetamines are not very different, at least on moral grounds, and nobody seems to care at all about the effect of amphetamines on baseball going back fifty years and more. I think legal supplements will only get better and more effective. I think people will start to wonder why they were so angry about steroids in baseball when it is undoubtedly a much bigger problem in football, where bulk and strength are more directly connected.
But by the time the fury dissipates, I think McGwire’s Hall of Fame case will be lost. Maybe that’s a fair price for what McGwire did. I’m not saying it isn’t. I’m saying that I have one vote, and I will use it to vote for Mark McGwire.
One final thing: I vote for Mark McGwire this year with a little bit of extra emphasis. And that is because of last year’s apology. This is probably where many people will disagree with me most. I think most people found McGwire’s apology to be inauthentic and self-serving and incomplete.
But I was thinking about this: How many players have voluntarily come forward and admitted steroid use? I’m not talking about players who got caught and THEN admitted it. I’m also not talking about players who were trying to get attention or sell books. I’m asking: How many players have come out of private life and admitted that they used steroids?
There have been two that come to mind. Ken Caminiti did. And Mark McGwire did. There may be others but those are the only two I can think of at the moment. Yes, you might say McGwire came forward because he wanted to get back into baseball as a hitting coach. I say: Isn’t that actually admirable? He wanted to come back and contribute in the game he loves (in a role that isn’t exactly glamorous). And to come back to the game he came forward and settled old scores and admitted what he did.
Yes, you might say McGwire refused to say that steroids made him the player he became and until he admits that he can’t really be sorry. I say: I think he’s sorry for taking steroids. I also think he refuses to believe they were a major reason he was a great player. You may disagree. But that doesn’t mean you’re right.
And, finally, I’m not sure we have come to appreciate just how extraordinary a thing it was for McGwire to come forward the way he did. Almost nobody else has done it. McGwire may have, along the way, lied to protect himself. But when he was pulled before Congress, he refused to lie. He was not ready to tell the truth, but he refused to lie. He became a private person and, as far as I know, at that point he never once lied about steroids. And then, one day, he came forward and said what he said. He did not blame anyone else. He asked for forgiveness. Did he tell everything? Was he hard enough on himself? Was he contrite enough? I don’t have any better answer than anyone else.
I just think when you compare him with all the other retired baseball players who have come forward to admit they used steroids and apologize for it, he looks pretty damned good.
— Tim Raines: The other day, I wrote that if there had never been a Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines might have been the greatest leadoff man in baseball history.
My friend King Kaufman didn’t buy the premise. He asked on Twitter “Who is the best No.2 hitter?”* His point — and it’s a solid one — is that it can be kind of pointless to break down hitters by batting order since the best ever No. 3 hitter — say it’s Babe Ruth — would also have been the world’s best No. 4 hitter, or No. 5 hitter, or No. 2 hitter or leadoff hitter too.
*I responded Wade Boggs or Rod Carew … Ty Cobb would have been one helluva No. 2 hitter, but Ty Cobb — like Babe Ruth — would have been a helluva wherever-he-hit hitter.
King is right … but it’s not exactly what I was trying to get across. By leadoff hitter, I didn’t mean a player who leads off the game (though, in seeing how silly that sentence looks, I can understand why it might have come across that way). There is a certain skill set that I think is suggested by the words “leadoff hitter.” I think it as follows:
1. A fast player.
2. Gets on base a lot.
3. Has some power just to add some spice to offensive contribution.
4. Steals bases at a high percentage.
5. Scores lots of runs.
There have been 41 players who have stolen 400-plus bases in their careers. That would get us through the No. 1 quality of my mythical idea of a leadoff hitter. Of those 41, fewer than half — 17 — have an on-base percentage greater than .360. Of those, 11 hit at least 100 home runs. I realize that we’re just slicing this list in an haphazard way, but I think the 11 remaining would be a good list of the 11 best potential leadoff hitters (by on-base percentage):
1. Barry Bonds.
2. Ty Cobb
3. Tris Speaker
4. Rickey Henderson
5. Joe Morgan
6. Tim Raines
7. Kenny Lofton
8. Roberto Alomar
9. Paul Molitor
10. Frankie Frisch
11. Craig Biggio
Bonds, Cobb and Speaker were not leadoff hitters, not in the way I am defining them here. They could have been, sure, but they all slugged .500 or better and were better suited for positions a couple of of spots lower in the lineup.
So the list would look like this ranked by on-base percentage:
1. Rickey Henderson
2. Joe Morgan
3. Tim Raines
4. Kenny Lofton
5. Roberto Alomar
6. Paul Molitor
7. Frankie Frisch
8. Craig Biggio
That’s a pretty solid quick list, I think. Morgan actually did not spend a lot of time in the leadoff spot in his career — 469 games compared to 1,136 games in the No. 2 spot, and 817 games int he No. 3 — but I do think that he was just about the perfect leadoff hitter and worthy of the No. 2 spot on this list.
And so is Raines. It makes me sad that people could see and appreciate Rickey Henderson’s greatness but simply overlook Tim Raines greatness. When you combine career 808 stolen bases (and a staggering 84.7% success rate) with a .385 on-base percentage with more times-on-base than Tony Gwynn with a great four-year peak in Montreal when he hit .323/.409/.477 and averaged more than 100 runs and 66 stolen bases … that spells surefire Hall of Famer for me.
The other thing about that “great leadoff hitters” list? Yeah, Kenny Lofton was probably a better player than you remembered.
— Alan Trammell: It really was a lot easier to decide what a Hall of Fame shortstop looked like back when shortstops couldn’t hit. Of the 14 shortstops who were inducted into the Hall of Fame when Alan Trammell played (15 if you count Ernie Banks*), six of them were below average hitters by OPS+. Another couple were barely above average. I’d say the only two great-hitting shortstops in the Hall of Fame then (again, not counting Banks) were Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughan, and the first played in the Deadball Era, the second was so wildly under-appreciated that the writers never even gave him one third of their vote.
*Banks played fewer than half his games at shortstop, though I got a thoughtful and pointed email on Wednesday from Tom Tango pointing out that I was inaccurate in calling Andre Dawson “a corner outfielder.” Tom’s point, a strong one, is that even though Dawson might have played more games at the corner, he was in fact a centerfielder. There was where he provided the most value. That’s where he was at his best. It’s a fair point, and in that same way, Ernie Banks is a shortstop.
So it seems great shortstop was expected to field the hell out of the ball, take some kind of leadership role and offer some value offensively, perhaps by stealing bases. But around the time when Alan Trammell was ending his classic great shortstop career, the rules had begun to change. Cal Ripken finished a career where he slugged 431home runs (no shortstop in the Hall had more than 170 homers) and he became the first shortstop to get to 3,000 hits, and of course he set the iron man record. Who could ever have imagined a SHORTSTOP breaking Gehrig’s record? And right around when Trammell retired, a new kind of shortstop emerged. That very year, Barry Larkin became the first shortstop to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in a season. Alex Rodriguez could do ANYTHING with the bat and the glove. Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra crushed the ball — really, hit the ball ridiculously hard. Soon enough, Hanley Ramirez would come along.
Standards change in baseball … and maybe the classic nature of Alan Trammell’s career loses some of its power as bionic shortstops emerge. But Trammell really was a great player. He was very good offensively. He posted a 124 OPS+ during his eight-year prime, and probably should have been the MVP in 1987. That’s very Cal Ripken like.
Trammell was also a very good defensive player, a good base runner, and a solid leader for some very good Detroit Tigers teams. I realize that people generally did not view Trammell as an all-time great player when he played. But I think that should be one of the missions of the Hall of Fame: To point out that sometimes we all miss greatness.
OK, so this is the second round of Hall of Fame week — these are players who, for me, are good enough to merit some extra consideration for the Hall of Fame but players who didn’t quite make it to the final cut.
— Harold Baines: He played 22 seasons. In 19 of them, he posted an OPS+ between 108 and and 144. I’m not saying OPS+ is the end all statistic, but in Baines case I think it gives a very clear picture of his career. I have never been entirely sure what the phrase “professional hitter” means, but nobody in baseball history had a career quite that concentrated. Here is the list of players who had the most seasons with an OPS+ greater than 100 (average) but less than 150 (where MVP consideration often begins):
1. Harold Baines (19 seasons)
2 (tie). Tony Gwynn (17 seasons)
2 (tie). Lou Whitaker (17 seasons)
2 (tie). Dwight Evans (17 seasons)
2 (tie). Carl Yastrzemski (17 seasons)
2 (tie). Sam Rice (17 seasons)
Kind of an interesting six, isn’t it? Of those six players, Gwynn, Yaz and Rice are in the Hall of Fame. But Gwynn and Yaz don’t quite fit into this category because they each had multiple great seasons in addition to their many, many professional hitter years. Gwynn had three seasons with OPS+ greater than 150, and Yaz had four seasons greater than 150 including his legendary ’67 season. So they don’t quite fit into the Baines Professional Hitter category.
Sam Rice, however, might fit into the category. He made it to the Hall of Fame (via veteran’s committee) without ever having a great OPS+ season. Sam Rice’s best season was a 139 OPS+. There is nobody in the Hall of Fame quite like Sam Rice — he did not play his first full season until he was 27, then he missed almost of his entire 28 year while the Great War was going on. He was not at all like Baines — he was a high average hitter (he hit .330 or better six times) who rather famously never swung at the first pitcher. He rarely struck out, and he could run (he led the league in 1920 with 63 stolen bases) and he had almost no home run power, though he did hit at least 10 triples every year from 1921 to 1930. He also retired with 2,987 hits because 3,000 hits wasn’t considered a milestone then.
So, yeah, Rice was a bit different. Baines was a consistency marvel. He hit between .295 and .313 11 times, hit between 20 and 29 homers 11 times, hit 29 doubles five times. Rice wasn’t quite like that. But Rice IS one of the few who got into the Hall of Fame with many, many good seasons and no great ones. That is usually the Hall of Fame kiss of death. Whitaker’s great consistency got him booted off the ballot after one year (one of the great Hall of Fame injustices). Evans’ great consistency (he also had two seasons with OPS+ better than 150) kept him on the ballot for only three unsatisfying years. And Baines has been teetering on the ballot for four years — he has gotten between 5 and 6% each of those four years. He could fall off the ballot this year. In many ways, that’s a perfect reflection of his solid and under-appreciated career.
— John Franco: Here’s an interesting little bit of baseball trivia … you probably know that the 1990 Cincinnati Reds had one of the greatest and most celebrated bullpens in baseball history. That year Randy Myers (2.08 ERA, 31 saves, 98 Ks in 86 2/3 innings), Rob Dibble (8 wins, 1.74 ERA, 136 Ks in 98 innings, .980 WHIP) and Norm Charlton (who was both a starter and reliever in 1990) formed what became known as the Nasty Boys, a trio of hard-throwing relievers who helped lift up what seemed an only mediocre rotation and lineup and played a huge role in the Reds’ World Series championship.
But what people don’t remember is that the Reds traded perhaps their BEST TWO relievers before that season. In 1988, they traded Jeff Montgomery to Kansas City for Van Snider (who probably hit the longest home run I’ve ever seen in person — or anyway it seemed that way). Montgomery saved 159 games with a 2.22 ERA and a 400-to-137 strikeout to walk from 1989 to 1993.
And just before the season they traded Franco to the Mets. In return, they got Randy Myers … who knew that would be a trade of two of the greatest lefty closers ever. It turns out that Franco and Myers are 1st and 3rd on the all-time save list for lefties
Franco saved 424 games, just two more than Billy Wagner, who seems like he will stay retired. There have not been many longtime lefty closers in baseball. There are 18 righties who have saved 300 or more games. There are only three lefties — Franco, Wagner and Myers. And there is no lefty closer on the horizon. Brian Fuentes has saved 187 games in his career and might go on for a while longer. After him, the active lefty with the most saves is George Sherrill with 56.
Nobody seems to knows what to do with relievers on the Hall of Fame ballot. Franco was very good, and his career is comparable with fellow ballot member Lee Smith (in fact, Smith is Franco’s No. 1 Baseball Reference comp, and Franco is Smith’s No. 3 comp). But while Smith has been gaining at least some Hall momentum, I suspect Franco will be one and done on the ballot. These are the quirks of Hall of Fame balloting (see entry on Smith, Lee).
— Juan Gonzalez: I got a very nice and glossy brochure in the mail a couple of weeks ago that made the Hall of Fame case for Juan Gonzalez. Well, it was in my mailbox … but it went on the DL before I could get it into the house.
The Juan Gone hall of Fame case is not too hard to make. He won two MVPs, and he led the league in home runs two OTHER years. He hit 40-plus home runs five times. He hit 434 career homers in just 7,155 plate appearances. Among the members of the 47-member 400-club, only Albert Pujols has had fewer plate appearances than Gonzalez. That suggests pretty high impact in a short career.
He did have impact in the early part of his career, though it seems impossible to talk about Juan Gone without pointing out that few have finished their career with less dignity. I remember Juan Gonzalez absolutely quitting on the Kansas City Royals in 2004 based on a day-to-day injury that somehow ended his season. And then, bizarrely, he came back for one at-bat with Cleveland in 2005.
Here’s a question: Did Gonzalez actually deserve either one of his MVP awards? It’s pretty clear in 1996 he did not. That’s one of the real low moments in BBWAA voting, I think. I’ll show you two rows of basic numbers, you tell me who is the MVP.
Player 1: .314/.368/.643, 33 doubles, 2 triples, 47 homers, 89 runs, 144 RBIs, 145 OPS+.
Player 2: .311/.410/.623, 38 doubles, 3 triples, 48 homers, 124 runs, 148 RBis, 158 OPS+.
Is this really hard to figure? Player 2 had about 40 points of on-base percentage, more doubles, more triples, more homers, scored 35 more runs and had more RBIs. Even if your MVP voting is based on the most dubious of considerations — homers and RBIs — there is simply no way you could vote Player 1 over Player 2, is there? Especially when both teams made the playoffs, and Player 2’s team was actually BETTER.
Player 1 is Juan Gonzalez, of course. Player 2 is Albert Belle.
Here’s the thing: Belle didn’t deserve the MVP in 1996. Ken Griffey had significantly better year than either of them and he played centerfield. Alex Rodriguez hit .358/.414/.631 and played shortstop. Chuck Knoblauch had a sensational year playing second base. Jim Thome had a crazy year with a .450 on-base percentage and 38 homers. Mark McGwire had an even better on-base percentage (.467) and he hit 52 homers. Brady Anderson hit 50 homers and stole 21 bases. All of them had more wins above replacement than Belle.
But I’m saying, straight up, plain as day, Juan Gone very clearly did not have as good as year as Albert Belle. Put it this way: There were 20 players who received American League MVP votes in 1996. Juan Gonzalez had the lowest WAR of the 20 (2.8). An awful choice.
Gonzalez had a better case when he won the MVP in 1998. His 5.1 WAR at least puts him in the discussion. He hit .318 with 45 home runs and a league leading 157 RBIs. He also led the league with 50 doubles.
But I still he was still the wrong choice. Gonzalez offered almost nothing as a defender or as a base runner. He almost never walked, so while hit .318 batting average looks good, his .366 on-base percentage is nothing special. Again, Albert Belle had what pretty clearly looks like the better year … his on-base percentage was 33 points higher, he hit more home runs, he scored more runs, he was just behind in RBIs (152) and doubles (48), and he led the league in slugging.
And again, probably Belle wasn’t the right choice either. Alex Rodriguez (7.9 WAR) or Derek Jeter (7.8 WAR) would almost certainly have been the best MVP choices. Really, it’s kind of stunning — Derek Jeter was still underrated in1998. How the writers could have picked anyone except a Yankee that year — considering the Yankees won 114 games and dominated baseball all year — is kind of baffling. People talk all the time about East Coast Bias. Show them 1998.
— Don Mattingly: Every year, I have bring up the Bill James definition of Mattingly: 100% ballplayer. 0% bullshit.
The Mattingly Hall of Fame lobbyists almost always bring up Kirby Puckett when making their case. You can see their point. Their career numbers look similar.
Puckett: 7,831 PAs, 2,304 hits, 414 doubles, 57 triples, 207 homers, 1,071 runs, 1085 RBIs, 124 OPS+.
Mattingly: 7,721 PAs, 2,153 hits, 442 doubles, 20 triples, 222 homers, 1007 runs, 1,099 RBIs, 127 OPS+.
Quite similar. But, I actually think Puckett is a bad example for those who want to make Mattingly’s case. Puckett was a center fielder and was widely viewed as a great one. Great defensive centerfielders who hit .318 with a 124 OPS+ for a career are pretty rare. Kirby Puckett was somewhat like Earl Averill and Edd Roush and Richie Ashburn, all of whom are in the Hall of fame.
On the other hand, Mattingly was a first baseman. And even though he was excellent defensively as well, that’s simply not the same thing. I’ve written before how similar Mattingly’s case is to Keith Hernandez, who got stunningly little Hall of Fame support (though he is widely viewed as the greatest defensive first baseman ever). See, centerfield is a demanding enough defensive position that most center fielders tend to be about league average hitters, maybe slightly above. Last year, 18 of the 23 centerfielders had a 109 OPS+ or less — and the highest OPS+ was 130. First basemen on the other hand BETTER hit. Last year Last year, SEVEN first baseman had OPS+ of greater than 150 (Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Paul Konerko, Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez).
In baseball history, 28 different first baseman with 5,000 or more plate appearances have a higher OPS+ than Don Mattingly, and these include John Olerud, Bob Watson, Boog Powell, Will Clark ….
Mattingly was a terrific ballplayer. His main offensive skill — hitting baseballs really hard — made him one of the most fun players of his generation to watch. For four years, he was otherworldly — from 1984-87, he hit .337 with a .560 slugging percentage and a 155 OPS+. Few have been that good. But he hit .292/.342/.424 the last eight years of his career. The real Hall of Fame argument to make is that four spectacularly great years is enough to make someone a Hall of Famer. I loved Mattingly and would love to make that case. But I just don’t think four years is enough.
— Jack Morris: OK, here we go.
I have spent way too much of my life explaining why I don’t think think Jack Morris is quite a Hall of Famer. I have made the point that his 3.90 ERA would be the highest in the Hall of Fame, and I simply don’t see what Morris did that would make his Hall of Fame case especially compelling beyond that. He did not win 300 (254), he did not strike out 3,000 (2,478), he did not have any historically great years (he never even finished a season with a sub-3.00 ERA). His WHIP (1.206) and strikeout to walk ratio (1.78-to-1) are nothing special.
And I’ve made this comparison before:
Jack Morris: 527 starts, 3.90 ERA, 105 ERA+.
Rick Reuschel: 529 starts, 3.37 ERA, 114 ERA+.
The cases made for Morris have been, in my opinion, not particularly convincing or even intellectually honest. That Morris won more games than any pitcher in the 1980s is a nice piece of trivia, but even if you stay in the fairly uninteresting realm of pitcher wins it’s worth pointing out that Morris did not solely lead baseball in wins EVEN ONCE in the 1980s. Not a single time. In the strike year of 1981, if you want to count that year, his 14 wins tied him with Dennis Martinez, Tom Seaver, Pete Vuckovich and Steve McCatty for most wins. You would think even the most passionate Morris fan would not trumpet that. But there is no other year to trumpet. Other than than that year, he did not tie for the lead even a single time in the 1980s.
This would make Morris, in that pointed phrase that Morris fans seem to despise, a “compiler of stats.”
The other argument, that he was a big-game pitcher, is mostly built around his gutsy Game 7 performance in the 1991 World Series. He was very good that whole series, winning Game 1 and pitching six strong innings in Game 4, but it was his 10 shutout innings in Game 7 that secured his legend. The thing is that Morris already had a reputation as a big game pitcher — baseball people always wanted to believe in Jack Morris as force of nature. Game 7 against Atlanta in 1991 clinched that reputation forever.
Was Morris a big game pitcher? This has been argued endlessly already, and there is both supporting and opposing evidence. I think the opposing evidence tends to be a bit more convincing. Bill James last year did an interesting study about how teams did against good and bad teams. It suggests no pitcher in baseball history got more wins out of beating up bad teams than Jack Morris. He was 92-114 against the teams Bill calls Class A and Class B teams — those are the average to better than average teams. Considering that he spent most of his career playing on a very good Detroit Tigers team, that’s not too impressive.
I’ve written all this before, as mentioned. I guess my point here is to ask those people who think Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame to PLEASE make more appealing arguments. I’ll have quite a bit more to say to those who irrationally put Jack Morris on their Hall of Fame ballot but not Bert Blyleven, but for now let me just say that if I were pushing Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame case I would build my case as follows:
1. Morris was a remarkably durable pitcher. He completed 175 of his 529 starts — that’s almost exactly one-third of his starts. He was, in many ways, the last of the great war-horse pitchers.
2. Morris absolutely DID have a big impact on two different postseasons — 1984 and 1991 — and that’s a pretty rare achievement. He and Sandy Koufax are the only two pitchers to twice be named World Series MVPs, and any time you can get your name up there with Koufax you should use that for all its worth.
3. Morris won 15 or more 12 times. Only nine pitchers in baseball history have done it more. I know that’s not the sort of statistic that seems to appeal to most Morris fans. I know they would prefer to mention that Morris won 20 three times to point out that he was more than just a very good pitcher for a long time, but: (1) having three 20-win seasons is not historically riveting (53 pitchers have done it at least four); (2) Morris’ last 20-win season with Toronto was almost entirely built around historic run support*; (3) He WAS a very good pitcher for a long time, that really is his Hall of Fame case.
*The Blue Jays scored 5.56 runs per game for Morris — this in a time when the league average 4.45 runs per game. Morris won five times despite allowing six runs or more.
— John Olerud: You know, in some ways Olerud’s case is similar to Mattingly’s. They were both good fielding first basemen who played hard, couldn’t run and, when right, hit scorching line drives all over the field. Olerud, like Mattingly, had a handful of spectacular seasons. Olerud’s 1993 was actually a better year than anything Mattingly had — he hit .363/.467/.599 with 54 doubles. I saw him play three games early that season in Cleveland, and he went seven for 12 with two home runs.
“Man,” I said to my buddy Chardon Jimmy, “this guy’s going to hit .400.”
He was hitting .400 as late as August 2nd.
And in 1998, with the Mets, Olerud hit .354/.447/.551.
But other than those two seasons, unlike Mattingly, Olerud did not hit for high averages. He only hit .300 twice more, and just barely those years (.302 and .300). Then again, unlike Mattingly, Olerud walked a lot. Though Mattingly outhit Olerud (.307 to .295), Olerud’s career on-base percentage is much higher (.398 to .358). Olerud’s career was about 450 games longer, and so all of Olerud’s numbers are generally greater than Mattingly’s. I’d say Mattingly’s four-year prime was longer and higher — Olerud never really put two sensational years together. But Olerud’s overall career had more value.
— Dave Parker: I have to say that Parker’s Hall of Fame case should take a small step forward with the elections the last two years of Jim Rice and Andre Dawson, two corner outfielders with similar Hall of Fame cases.
Rice and Parker were widely acknowledged to be the best offensive players in the game in the late 1970s.
Rice (1977-79): .320/.376/.596 with 93 doubles, 36 triples, 124 homers, 342 runs, 383 RBIs, 153 OPS+.
Parker (1977-79): .327/.390/.546 with 121 doubles, 27 triples, 76 homers, 318 runs, 299 RBIs, 150 OPS+.
Rice, of course, had the advantage of one of the best-hitting parks of the last last 50 years, the 1970s version of Fenway Park, while Parker played in the good-hitting but more neutral Three Rivers Stadium. And Parker was viewed as a fabulous defensive player (he won three Gold Gloves those three years) while Rice was not. They were quite comparable those three years — Parker was probably better when everything is taken into context. Parker’s WAR was 20.7. Rice’s was 17.
Of course, their careers at that point diverged. Rice slumped somewhat but was still a good player, and he twice re-emerged as a very good player, 1983 and 1986. Parker, meanwhile, slid into a cocaine abyss and from 1981 to 1983 he had injuries and slumps and was a barely even a replacement level player. He then somewhat put his career back together, though he was no longer than lithe and deadly player who had been called “Cobra.” He could not run anymore, and he was mostly a defensive liability, but he did once again hit with some force. In 1985, he banged 42 doubles, 34 homers, drove in 125 runs. He played for five different teams his last six years, a bat for hire, and he did drive in 500 more runs after he turned 35.
Was it enough? Well, for a career, Parker does have more hits than Rice, he scored more runs, he drove in more runs.
One knock on Parker’s career is that he didn’t get on base much … his .339 career on-base percentage is not much above league average. But that’s where Andre Dawson comes in. Dawson was elected into the Hall of Fame with .323 on-base percentage … clearly the voters in total will not let on-base percentage stand in their way when they want to vote someone into the Hall of Fame.
I did not vote for either Rice or Dawson, and so I have never voted for Parker either. My feeling on it is that had Parker not had that three-year lull in his prime, he would have been a certain Hall of Famer. But he did have that lull. In the end, I can see the argument that Rice had a more complete career than Parker, and Dawson offered more dimensions than Parker. The three of them seemed to me to have more or less the same Hall of Fame case, but Parker was the one who lost his prime to injuries and drugs.
— Lee Smith: Charlie Joiner is the Pro Football Hall of Fame because, when he retired in 1986, he held the record for most receptions (750) and most receiving yards (12,146). Now, Joiner was an excellent football player. But the truth is, he built those big career numbers because he happened to play for the Dan Fouts Chargers team that was a few years ahead of its time when it came to passing the football. Joiner only made three Pro Bowls. Joiner was only once named first-team All-Pro. It’s possible — probably even — that Joiner was under-appreciated during his playing days.
But the larger truth seems to be that the game was changing, and Joiner was sort of the canary in the coal mine. He retired less than 25 years ago, but already he ranks 29th on the receptions list and 17th in receiving yards. And he is getting passed by new players every year. Anquan Boldin, a very good receiver but not one I have not yet heard described as an all-time greats, could pass Joiner’s reception total next year and he just turned 30 in October.
Joiner’s place in the Hall of Fame is as much about timing as anything else. The same could probably be said for pitcher Catfish Hunter, who won only 224 games for generally great teams, and who posted a bland 105 ERA+, but he managed to get into the Hall of Fame before the historic run of 300-game winners (Carlton, Seaver, Perry, Niekro, Sutton) blotted out the sun. Luis Tiant, who had every bit the career that Hunter did, retired three years later and he did not beat the rush.
Timing. Lee Smith seemed to have Hall of Fame good timing. Like Joiner, he retired with a famous record — Smith’s 478 saves was the saves record for nine years after he retired. And like Hunter, his time on the ballot seemed fortuitous. He was on the ballot with a couple of closers Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter, but he had many, many more saves than either one.
And his first year on the ballot suggested that he would make the Hall of Fame fairly quickly. He garnered 42.3% of the vote, more than Gossage did his first year (33.3%) and significantly more than Sutter did his first year (23.9%). but then, suddenly, his support stalled. More than that, it went backward. Dennis Eckersley went on the ballot in 2004, and for reasons that have never been entirely clear to me, the voters absolutely loved him. Eck received 83.2% of the vote for his unique career as half starter (151-128, 3.67 ERA, 111 ERA+) and half reliever (2.96 ERA, 387 saves, 0.999 WHIP).
Smith only got 36.6% of the vote that second year. The next year, with Eckersley in the Hall, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage started to gain heavy support while Smith’s numbers continued to stall. Sutter was just one of those pitchers that the voters insisted on loving, and in 2006 they voted him into the Hall of Fame. Gossage was moved to the brink. And Smith, in his fourth year of voting, had barely more support than he had in his first.
Gossage went into the Hall in 2008, and Smith managed 43.3% of the vote — almost exactly what he had gotten in his first year. There was simply no momentum for his Hall of Fame case. His totals have gone up slightly the last two years, but not enough to give any indication that he will someday get 75%. And you wonder if his time has passed. Smith no longer has the saves record, of course. In fact his 478 are dwarfed by Trevor Hoffman’s 601, and nobody knows where Mariano Rivera’s save total will end up. And the ballots are going to be absolutely loaded the next few years. You can’t help but think that Lee Smith’s case can get lost.
Was Smith a Hall of Famer? Well, it is not easy to understand the voters’ standards for relievers, but for 13 straight years — from 1985 to 1996 — Smith had at least 25 saves. The only other person to manage that was Mariano himself. The save stat is not one of my favorites, and I think there are already too many closers in the Hall of Fame. But there’s no question that Lee Smith did his job brutally well, and he did set the saves record, and his case is certainly as good or better than Bruce Sutter’s, just for one.