Well, the attempts to meet the Tango challenge — which, you might recall, meant coming up with a consistent framework that shows Jack Morris to be a better pitcher than Rick Reuschel (or, if not better, than at least more Hall of Fame worthy) — has taken us in some pretty fascinating directions.
I want to discuss one in particular — the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor — but before that, one point worth discussing is raised by brilliant reader W. Blake Gray and, also, by many, many others through the years. The point is that, you will notice, the word “Fame” is rather prominent in the title in “Hall of Fame.”* Well, fame, as we all know, means “fame” — you know, widespread reputation, renown, the condition of being known, that whole bit.
*Fame is 33 percent of the words and is hitting .400 when it comes to the available letters.
And it’s worth discussing: What part does fame play in the Hall of Fame? What part should it play? There’s no question that Jack Morris was and is more FAMOUS than Rick Reuschel. The reasons are obvious: the Game 7 performance, the All-Star appearances, the Opening Day starts, the overwhelming press and, yes, the mustache.
Should fame be a big factor in a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy? A deciding factor?
The Hall of Fame Monitor actually addresses this subject … but first, who would have to be immediately added to the Hall of Fame if indeed fame (and its brother, infamy) was the compelling factor in election?
Twenty-two players came to me as I scribbled them down on a piece of paper. Some, I will admit, are famous for NOT being in the Hall of Fame, which is a whole meta thing that twists the brain. Still, I think the most famous players who are not in the Hall of Fame should not be hard to come up with (if they were, they wouldn’t be very famous) so I’ll just pass along the list as I scribbled it down:
• Jose Canseco
• Dwight Gooden
• Roger Maris
• Fernando Valenzuela
• Steve Garvey
• Joe Carter
• Minnie Minoso
• Denny McLain
• Tony Oliva
• Dick Allen
• Frank Howard
• Dale Murphy
• Darryl Strawberry
• Mark McGwire
• Pete Rose
• Joe Jackson
• Billy Martin
• Dave Parker
• Don Mattingly
• Bo Jackson
• Don Larsen
• Monty Stratton
Now, obviously we could go deeper into this fame thing. Eddie Gaedel is famous — he was the 3-foot-7 player the St. Louis Browns sent to the plate to draw a walk in 1951. Mark Fidrych was famous. Super Joe Charboneau was famous. Of course, there were some players, like Brien Taylor, who became famous for not making it. And there were some players, in and out of the big leagues, who became famous for other things they did (Fidel Castro, Chuck Connors, Billy Sunday, Bob Uecker).
Now, I cannot honestly tell you the Hall of Fame would be less interesting and provocative with all these players in. I’m pretty sure it would make the place quite a bit more lively.
But is that what the Hall of Fame is about? Or is it about honoring the best players, whether or not they were as famous as they should have been? The thing is, fame is a wormhole, and it is volatile and unsteady and you could argue pretty convincingly that its quest tends to bring out the worst in people.
Still … we do know that fame — or, anyway, people’s perceptions — does play a big role in the Hall of Fame voting. And this is why Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor has its own kind of understated genius. The monitor was Bill’s effort to determine a player’s Hall of Fame chances by giving him points for achieving well-publicized recognition.
What makes the concept work, I think, is that the Monitor works just like fame. If you achieve something, you get a certain number of points. But if you DO NOT achieve it, you get ZERO. It’s like running a marathon: If you finish it, you’ve run ONE full marathon. But if you run 20 miles, an extraordinary achievement that is far beyond most of our dreams, you have finished ZERO marathons.
That’s fame, really. Nobody’s half famous. What’s the difference between a .300 and .299 hitter. One point, right? That point is almost nothing. Yes, it might be one hit over a whole season — “one extra flair … a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail,” as Crash Davis called it — but really it’s even less. It might be one pitch three inches outside that the umpire called strike three instead of ball four. It might be one infield ground ball that you beat out but the official scorer called an error. It might be one reasonably long fly where the guy on third decided for some reason to hold up.
One point … but in the fame department that one point is everything. A .300 season will make you famous. A .299 season will not.
So, the Monitor gives a hitter 2.5 points for ever .300 season (and more for a .350 season or a .400 season). It gives you no points at all for any season below .300. The Monitor is stark and unforgiving and leaves people wanting. Like fame.
Jack Morris scores much, much higher on the Hall of Fame Monitor than Rick Reuschel. It’s not even close 122-48. That’s a Team USA basketball blowout. And, I would guess, that this is how most baseball fans probably view those two careers, that Morris was more than twice as good as Reuschel.*
*Although, the strong majority of people voting on this blog rank Reuschel as the better pitcher over the course of his career.
How is the Monitor figured? Here we go:
* * *
Morris, 3 (18 points)
Reuschel, 1 (6 points)
Morris 3 (12 points)
Reuschel 2 (8 points)
Morris 6 (12 points)
Reuschel 1 (2 points)
Running total: Morris 42, Reuschel 16.
Note: Reuschel had four 14-win seasons and two more 13-win seasons, which get him zero points.
* * *
Number of seasons with 14-plus wins and .700 winning percentage:
Morris: 3 (6 points)
Reuschel: 0 (0 points)
Running total: Morris 48, Reuschel 16.
* * *
Morris 3 (6 points)
Reuschel 0 (0 points)
Running total: Morris 54, Reuschel 16
* * *
Seasons with ERA under 3.00:
Morris 0 (0 points)
Reuschel 3 (3 points)
Running total: Morris 54, Reuschel 19
* * *
Morris 5 (15 points)
Reuschel 3 (9 points)
Morris 0 (0 points)
Reuschel 2 (2 points)
Running total: Morris 69, Reuschel 30
Note: Gold Gloves get one point for pitchers — not much of a boost in the fame department and rightfully so since pitchers’ Gold Gloves carry almost no cache in the world of fame. In the everyday player Hall of Fame Monitor, catchers, shortstops and second basemen get TWO points for each Gold Glove, which also sounds right. I might include center fielders in that too, but for way too long the Gold Glove rules gave three all-encompassing “outfield” Gold Gloves in each league every year rather than giving them to individual types of outfielder.
* * *
Times led the league in a key category:
Morris: 6 (5.5 points)
Led in wins twice, innings once, strikeouts once, shutouts once and complete games once. Gets a half point for leading league in complete games.
Reuschel: 1 (1 point)
Led in shutouts once.
Running total: Morris 74.5, Reuschel 31
* * *
Morris more than 250 (20 points)
Reuschel more than 200 (10 points)
Career winning percentage:
Morris higher than .575 (3 points)
Reuschel’s .528 does not qualify for points (0 points)
Running total: Morris 97.5, Reuschel 41.
* * *
Morris: 7 starts, 4 wins (15 points)
Reuschel: 2 starts, 0 wins (2 points)
League Championship Series:
Morris: 6 starts, 3 wins (9 points)
Reuschel: 4 starts, 1 win (5 points)
Final tally: Morris 121.5, Reuschel 48.
* * *
What’s interesting about the Monitor is when you look at the two careers through this prism — and this is PRECISELY the prism so many baseball fans have looked at the game going back a hundred years — it’s very, very obvious that Morris was better than Reuschel. Look at the difference in wins! Look at the postseason performance! I don’t think you can go through this list and not think, at least for an instant, “Hey, what’s this argument even about?”
But then you remember that the Monitor is not trying to determine who was BETTER but who achieves those shiny object bits of glory that capture attention of praise. Take the wins: Morris played for much, much better teams than Reuschel, so of course he has more wins with a higher winning percentage.
In 1973, pitching for a lousy Cubs team in a big hitters park, Rick Reuschel made 36 starts — 25 of which were quality starts. He was in the top 10 in strikeouts, shutouts, starts, strikeout-to-walk ratio, fewest home runs allowed per nine innings and ERA adjusted to ballpark. He was one of the best fielding pitchers in the game. It wasn’t a Cy Young kind of year — it wasn’t Reuschel’s best or second best or perhaps even third or fourth best — but it was pretty darned good. His 3.00 ERA was lower than Jack Morris ever compiled in a season, and his 131 ERA+ was higher than all but one of Morris’ seasons.
He got exactly zero points for this season. He won only 14 games, so that got zero points. His 3.00 ERA got him zero points. He didn’t make the All-Star team, had a losing record, didn’t win any awards. So it’s zero points. That’s how the Monitor works.
Of course, the Monitor was never said to work any other way. The Monitor just tries to measure which player has been more honored and treasured, and in this it works well. Reuschel’s 48 points suggested that he wouldn’t get a second look for the Hall of Fame. And he didn’t. Morris’ 122 pointed predicted that Morris would get a lot of Hall of Fame consideration, and he certainly has and will this year. The challenge was to come up with consistent framework, one that makes sense, that puts Morris ahead of Reuschel, and this one does that. Tango himself says on his blog that while, yes, the Monitor is fraught with problems: “The Hall of Fame Monitor is a good example of a framework that meets the challenge.”
So, we have a winner! Only … wait, there’s one more thing. There was a second part to the challenge. The second part was simply this: You have to live with the results.
The Hall of Fame Monitor puts Jack Morris above Rick Reuschel. But, it should be said that it also puts Vida Blue above Dizzy Dean, Jose Mesa above Jim Bunning, Curt Schilling above Three Finger Brown and Juan Marichal. The Monitor says that 100 points suggests a “likely Hall of Famer” but if you want to make Morris’ 122 the qualifying line, then before we put Morris in, we might want to consider: Tommy John, John Franco, Billy Wagner, Jim Kaat, Lee Smith and a whole bunch of 19th Century Hall of Famers.
And on the hitters side, we would first add: Steve Garvey, Juan Gonzalez, Dave Parker, Edgar Martinez, Bernie Williams, Don Mattingly, Albert Belle, Larry Walker, Jeff Bagwell, among others.
Everybody knows that baseball wouldn’t be much fun if there was only one way to look at it, one overriding statistics or framework or opinion that trumps everything else. One of my favorite little baseball scenes in movies is when Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby are arguing about who was the better player: Roberto Clemente or Hank Aaron. I don’t like it so much because of the contents of the argument* but because of how the argument ends.
*Kirby asks: “Could Aaron run like Clemente? Could he throw like Clemente?” It’s fun talk, but I don’t find it convincing. For one thing, Aaron absolutely could run with Clemente — he stole three times as many bases as Clemente, for example. For another, while Clemente’s arm is a thing of beauty perhaps unmatched in baseball history, Aaron’s arm was not a weakness. He could throw. Aaron couldn’t throw with Ellis Valentine, Cory Snyder or Jesse Barfield either, but that hardly makes much of a case.
The argument ends when Stern says: “Look I’m going to say one thing to you: 755 home runs. Good bye.” I love that kind of finality … as if Aaron’s 755 home runs ends all arguments about all things. I’ve always thought it would be wonderful if all arguments no matter how complicated — what to do about education, guns, abortion, the environment, what to do about the Middle East, Medicare, the deficit, when to sacrifice bunt, Wilt or Russell, Lincoln or Roosevelt, public or private, Mays or Mantle, Montana or Unitas, Ginger or Mary Ann — could just be solved with: “755 home runs. Good bye.”
But, they can’t.