More thoughts on the Hall of Fame ballot

As you have very likely seen by now, the Yankees have declined to offer arbitration to any of their free agents. They have elected not to get tied into an inflexible negotiating position with any of their veterans. The downside to this decision is that if Johnny Damon leaves the Yankees won’t pick up a free draft pick.

Now, on the positive side, this decision doesn’t mean that Damon and pals are definitely gone. The Yankees can keep talking to as many of their free agents as they’re interested in retaining, even Xavier Nady. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, it ain’t over ’til the fat agent sings (about signing with another team). Meanwhile, a handful of players were offered arbitration, including some players that have been rumored to attract the roving eye of Brian Cashman to one degree or another–Chone Figgins, John Lackey, Mike Gonzalez, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. If the Yankees were to bring in any of these fellows, they would punt away their first-round draft pick for next June. Given that the Yankees actually do things with their draft picks these days, it is to be hoped that the penalty attached to signing these cats would act as a severe disincentive to action. With Curtis Granderson and Roy Halladay out there to be pursued in trade, there’s no reason for the Yankees to feel like they absolutely most sign a free agent.

mattingly_250_120209.jpgIF I WERE A VOTE-MAN CONTINUED
Continuing our review of the Hall of Fame ballot…

Barry Larkin: One of the best offensive shortstops in history, with Jeter-like batting results in most seasons. He was an excellent glove in his prime, and his Reds won a World Series, something that seems impossible now. An MVP award attests to the high regard in which he was held during his career, as do 12 All-Star game selections. His main weakness was that he had trouble staying on the field, but his career totals are just fine in spite of that. He could hit .300, steal 40 bases at an excellent percentage, was willing to take a walk and hit almost 200 home runs. He’s a no-brainer Hall of Famer.

Edgar Martinez: Let’s get one thing out of the way: if designated hitter is a legal position, then there should be no penalty for playing there. Martinez was not a good glove at third, where he started, and he might or might not have been a decent first baseman but he was fragile and the Mariners had other options. Thus, the DH position allowed Martinez to reduce his injury risk and made him a pure asset instead of a compromised defender. Those seem like good things. Martinez was one of the best right-handed hitters of recent years–you might recall him personally dismantling Buck Showalter’s career in the 1995 ALDS. He won two batting titles, led the league in on-base percentage three times. A career .312/.418/.515 hitter, depending on how you adjust for era, Martinez figures as one of the 30- to 50-best hitters of all time. His career totals are a bit short of the big round numbers the voters typically like to see mainly because the Mariners weren’t smart enough to start playing him regularly until he was 27–he had to prove he could hit a Triple-A three times over before they gave him a real chance. This is one of the reasons the Mariners were a complete loss from expansion until the mid-90s. That’s not Martinez’s fault and he shouldn’t be penalized for it. He’s in my Hall.

Don Mattingly: Back in the early days of the Pinstriped Bible the readers and I spent thousands of words arguing Mattingly’s Hall of Fame case. I should re-run those one of these days. Suffice it to say that, in the days when feelings about Mattingly were still fresh, emotions ran high when I suggested that Mattingly’s short peak period didn’t quite qualify him for entry. This was a painful thing for me, because Mattingly was the player who really changed me from a very casual baseball fan to someone who would eventually end up writing about baseball for a living. Donnie Baseball had four Hall of Fame-level seasons, perhaps three more that were very good but not of that quality, and six seasons that really didn’t help. These were the post-back injury years–I still mourn that injury. As good as Mattingly was from 1984-1987–and despite the greatness of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, A-Rod, and the rest, I still haven’t seen anyone better–his peak just wasn’t long enough.

Fred McGriff: The Crime Dog confuses me. I wouldn’t hold up a true Hall of Famer over seven missing home runs. That would be pathetically small-minded and arbitrary. His offensive abilities were clearly worthy of enshrinement. He wasn’t just a one-dimensional slugger, but also walked and hit for solid averages. He played on five postseason teams and picked up a winning ring. At the same time, he wasn’t much of a fielder (though he was good enough at first to get over 2000 games there), not at all a baserunner. He never came close to winning an MVP award. He was just quietly good for about 18 years. I really have no idea what to do with him. The back of his baseball card says yes, but I just don’t have that feeling about him.

Jack Morris: The quintessential “league-average innings eater,” people mistake him for an ace because of one of the great World Series performances. You have to make crazy excuses and explanations to force him into the Hall. Walter Johnson was reputed to pitch to the score too, but still managed to post dominant numbers. Pass.

Dale Murphy: An excellent player on a mostly miserable team, in the late ’80s you could turn on TBS and the games were so sparsely attended that the crowd mic would clearly pick up the players talking to each other on the field. I tend to discount him on two levels: first, his peak was relatively brief. Second, he was a product of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, hitting .285/.374/.513 at what was called the Launching Pad, but only .251/.329/.445. He was a good player, and a much-admired one, but given that park advantage, even his best seasons aren’t quite as big as they should be to put him in the Hall given the brevity of his career.

Dave Parker: In the first Hall of Fame entry, I said of Andre Dawson that as a center fielder he was a Hall of Famer, while as a right fielder he was Jermaine Dye. A similar bifurcation can be observed in Parker’s career. For about five years in the 1970s, Parker was a .300 hitter with power, speed, and a killer throwing arm (26 assists in 1977!). After that, but for the 1985 season he was just a guy, and often not a very good one, overweight and impatient at the plate. From 1980 on, a span of nearly 1,600 games, his hit only .275/.322/.444. The overall career is still impressive due to his longevity and the height of his peak years, but his case for Cooperstown comes down to about six seasons, and as with Mattingly, that’s not quite enough for me.

…In our next installment.


  1. ukao

    “That’s not Martinez’s fault and he shouldn’t be penalized for it. He’s in my Hall. ”

    Sorry, that just doesn’t jive. There are lots of reasons that players miss time that are in no way their fault, injury being the most obvious. If you’re going to give Martinez credit for being in the minors, you have to give Mattingly credit for his shoulda-been career. That’s just not the way it works, or we’ll end up with an alternate-universe Hall.


    Let’s get one thing out of the way: if designated hitter is a legal position, then there should be no penalty for playing there.

    The reasoning here is, I think, faulty. When it comes to HOF voting, players are “penalized” all the time (or at least should be) based on their position. That is, Fred McGriff was a much more productive offensive player than Barry Larkin. Yet in your rankings, McGriff is out and Larkin is in. Why? Because Larkin played SS and McGriff played 1B. In effect, the Crime Dog is “penalized” for playing a legal position with a low defensive value.

    Well, DH is the position with the lowest defensive value. As such, lifetime DHs ought to be “penalized” inasmuch as their complete lack of defensive contribution must be factored in. I don’t know if Edgar Martinez deserves to be in the HOF…I don’t how much better a DH must be than a contemporary 1B or RF to warrant selection to the HOF. But his position…or rather, his lack of a defensive position…cannot simply be ignored.

  3. senatorbobdole

    “The back of his baseball card says yes, but I just don’t have that feeling about him.”

    Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t this essentially the argument that most anti-Blyleven people argue with? The more specific Blyleven ones sound something like “He was a great compiler but I just don’t feel that he was a dominant pitcher in his era.” And these guys also cite a lack of Cy Young hardware for Bert, sort of like how you cite a lack of MVP awards for McGriff.

    But shouldn’t the HOF be about performance rather than perception? The reason Bert didn’t get the Cy Young respect is because the writers had the wrong perception of him when he played, just as many of them have the wrong perception of him now. There were many many seasons where he was among the best pitchers in the league. Similarly, is it possible that McGriff was undeservedly overlooked by the writers in the MVP polls? Some guys like Bernie Williams or Chase Utley just don’t ever seem to get respect from the writers in these things, but that shouldn’t be an automatic knock against the players for HOF voting, since it could easily be a reflection of the writer’s inability to properly evaluate the most valuable players.

    I don’t know if McGriff wasn’t appreciated enough by the MVP voters or not. But if you decided that the numbers say McGriff should be in, then he should be in. Your gut instinct is not as accurate as the numbers, not even close. We barely retain a small fraction of what crosses our eyes. So it isn’t fair to leave a player out just because we don’t remember him being dominant. The numbers retain a heck of a lot more information about a player’s performance than our eyes do.

  4. gdragon

    “Sorry, that just doesn’t jive”

    I believe that “jibe” is the word you’re looking for. Not to call you out on something trivial, just a pet peeve

  5. dayanks24

    I’m probably incrediably biased, Mattingly is one of my favorite players. He’s the guy who got me into baseball as a kid, 23 was the number I needed to have in Little league (despite my screen name), he was the guy I would pretend to be when playing home run derby. So ok, I’m very biased. But, I still think he belongs in the hall. His defense can not be beat, he was the Yankees throughout the dismal 80’s, his numbers are on par with Kirby Pucket. I hope he gets in one day, even if its by the veterans committee.

  6. yankee7777

    Mattingly had more great years then say Joe Morgan.And Mattingly?s years were quite a bit better than Morgan?s. Now Morgan was a good fielder (not quite in Joe Gordon?s class) but he did not strike fear in opposing teams when he came to bat.
    I also laugh when people mention McGwire as a top first baseman. There was no one at the time they played (McGwire and Mattingly) who though McGwire was the better player.
    I just see so many players in the hall who really don?t deserve to be in there.Mattingly compares to many there now. He was the best player in the game at the time.

  7. sadaharuo

    Oh, Mattingly lovers…please come down off the ledge. Number 23 was my favorite player too, but he just wasn’t good enough. He wasn’t good enough and he wasn’t good for long enough. 222 career homeruns for a first baseman is not enough. Using the excuse “he was my favorite player when I was a kid” is just about the worst justification for Hall of Fame enshrinement I can think of. This is the same argument that Jim Rice fans used as well; and it didn’t hold any water then, either.
    Comparisons with the late Kirby Puckett are superficial and not productive. Kirby was a center fielder, and any time you get above-average offense from a center fielder it’s a huge plus. There was also the perception that Puckett was struck down by vision problems while in the prime of his career; whereas Mattingly’s decline was slow, steady, and depressing. Even with all of that said, Puckett was something of a sentimental pick. He sailed into the Hall because he was good and lovable.

  8. dayanks24

    umm saying Pucket sailed into the HOF because he was good and lovable is no different then saying he was your fav. player as kid. At least I’m admitting my logic is skewed. If you look at the first baseman in the HOF Mattingly has more homers than 9 of them and a higher avg than 7 of them- i know he didn’t play as long as some of them. But if you’re arguing that Pucket’s career was cut short from injury and affected his production, well so was Mattingly’s. Throw in the fact he’s MVP and 9 time gold glove winner.

  9. sadaharuo

    Don’t “umm” me. I was pointing out those things to illustrate that they were negatives. Getting into the Hall of Fame because you had a nice smile, or that you were someone’s favorite player – these are bad reasons. Using a bad example to further your own cause is just making the same mistake twice.
    I’m happy that you can admit your own bias- most writers could use this level of awareness – but that doesn’t make it right.


    I assume this argument was brought up years ago, re: Don Mattingly:

    Didn’t Sandy Koufax get into the hall based only on 6 strong seasons? Granted, they came in the second half of his career, and he was unbelievable. Still.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.


  11. sadaharuo

    Sandy Koufax was definitely credited with those 6 great years, but the difference between his peak and Mattingly’s peak is gigantic. Don Mattingly had maybe a 4-5 year period where he could be considered “great” followed by another 8 years where he was merely serviceable. He had only 4 seasons of .500+ SLG and a lifetime OPS of .830. These are just not outstanding numbers for a first baseman. Even at his peak, he was never the best player in baseball. Let’s not overstate Mattingly’s case here. He was probably in the top 5, which is still good. Again, not good enough and definitely not long enough. Koufax’ period of dominance was one of the great feats in baseball history. For those 6 years he pitched as well as anyone ever has. Mattingly’s dominant stretch was certainly good, but hardly legendary.
    Moreover, Koufax’ great stretch came at the end of his career; he retired due to injury, not ineffectiveness. Mattingly did it in reverse; he was great at the beginning then staggered towards the finish line.
    Listen, I wish it hadn’t happened like that. I wish #23 had hit 500 homeruns and won another couple of MVPs. I wish he’d been good for a few more years, long enough to win a WS ring. But he didn’t. He was good, briefly, in the 1980s, then limped along for the better part of a decade. He gets a permanent free ride from us because he was Donnie Baseball, but he doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Would that it were otherwise.


    “Mattingly had more great years then say Joe Morgan.And Mattingly?s years were quite a bit better than Morgan?s. Now Morgan was a good fielder (not quite in Joe Gordon?s class) but he did not strike fear in opposing teams when he came to bat.”

    do you have ANY idea how good a player Joe Morgan was?

    best 5 years, OPS+, in descending order:
    Morgan: 187/169/159/154/149
    Mattingly: 161/156/156/146/133

    So Morgan had three offensive years better than ANY of Mattingly’s, PLUS he was a great basestealer, which OPS+ doesn’t even count, PLUS he played a more important defensive position….

    the ignorance and provincialism of my fellow Yankee fans sometimes is just appalling………


    So you’re basically saying that Morgan had offensive years than Mattingly because he walked more. OBS+ is the most misleading stat when measuring a players worth. Talk about igorance. Here’s some other stats…..

    162 game AVG BA 2b HR RBI H SO SLG

    Mattingly .307 40 20 100 195 40 .471

    Morgan .271 27 16 69 154 62 .427

    Gold Gloves

    Mattingly 9

    Morgan 5

    If you take the names away and look at the numbers who would you think is the HOF’er?

  14. sadaharuo

    Joe Morgan is one of the best players in the history of the sport (one of the worst broadcasters, but that’s not relevant). Don Mattingly is not one of the game’s all-time greats. There is no comparison. You can’t compare the offense of a second baseman with that of a first baseman. I notice you left that essential bit of context out of your comparison. Second basemen rarely hit at all, and to hit like Joe Morgan is rarer still. First basemen, on the other hand, are required to hit. They have to hit homers and drive in runs. Yes, Mattingly’s defense was outstanding, and it should be counted, but first base defense is just not that important. Jason Giambi is an awful first baseman, but his career has more value than Mattingly’s. Hate to say it, but it’s true.
    Joe Morgan and Don Mattingly were not in the same league.


    “First base is just not that importent.”

    Are you serious? Do you have any idea how many errors a great defensive first baseman saves a team through out a season.

    “Second basemen rarely hit at all, and to hit like Joe Morgan is rarer still.”

    Well first basemen aren’t expect to be great defensivly so wouldn’t that make Mattingly rare?

    “First basemen, on the other hand, are required to hit. They have to hit homers and drive in runs.”

    You do remember the nickname “the hitman” right? In the 6 years that he was considerd the best in the game these were his averages.

    Avg .326 H 203 HR 26 RBI 114

    “Jason Giambi is an awful first baseman”

    I coudn’t agree more.

    “Joe Morgan and Don Mattingly were not in the same league.”

    Joe Morgan would disagree with you.

  16. sadaharuo

    Sigh. Do we have to continue this? Isn’t it possible to say that we all loved Mattingly without thinking he was a Hall of Famer? Again, he just wasn’t good enough for long enough. Even your own line of reasoning hammers this home. His fabled “6 years of dominance” don’t add up to enough to put him over the line. For one thing, it was more like 4-5 years, for another thing, it wasn’t that dominant. He was good -very good- for 5 years, then pretty mediocre for the rest of his career. It’s not a slight on his character. It doesn’t mean we love him any less. Donnie the hitman simply didn’t have the longevity. His peak was good, but it wasn’t legendary like Koufax’ was. To hear some of you speak, you’d think Mattingly’s peak years were like Barry Bonds in 2001. Who considered him “the best in the game?” You? Was he better than Rickey Henderson, Mike Schmidt, Bonds, Griffey Jr., or Darryl Strawberry?
    Mattingly played great defense, but not enough to make up for only hitting 222 homers. Yes, you would rather have a good defender than a bad one. That’s obvious. Nobody wants Giambi playing first, but his bat makes up for his defensive shortcomings. Hitting is more important than defense, which is why nobody is making a case for Doug Mientkiewicz to make the Hall of Fame. Being a great defensive 1B is nice, but you HAVE to hit. For more than 5 years of your career. God, it’s not that complicated. If Mattingly hit as well for his career as he did during his peak we wouldn’t be having this argument. He didn’t. He fell off the map. It’s not his fault his back betrayed him, but we can’t give him credit for imaginary homeruns and RBIs. Do Mo Vaughn and Albert Belle deserve credit? They were both Hall-bound until injuries sidelined them.


    First of all I didn’t say a thing about Mattingly in the HOF so I don’t know why you’re bringing that up. I know it was mentioned in other posts but not mine. Are debate was about Morgan vs. Mattingly and you being under the immpression the Donnie couldn’t hit. As for who considered him “the best in the game?” not only be but in 87′ or 88′ in a major media poll Mattingly was voted the best in the game by the writers, players and the fan’s. Not to bad for someone who “wasn’t that dominant”.

    “Hitting is more important than defense.” Wow I guess you just made a case against Joe Morgan.

    22 Seasons


    2517 449 268 1133 .271

    I will say Morgan had OUTSTANDING career SB and BB totals.

    Mattingly. 14 seasons

    H 2B HR RBI
    2153 442 222 1099

    BTW did you see Mattingly play before the back problems?

  18. sadaharuo

    I didn’t say that Donnie couldn’t hit. I don’t believe I ever even implied this. He hit very well, just not like a Hall of Fame (or “dominant”) first baseman. Instead of picking and choosing snippets and refuting those, please try to understand this: a heavy-hitting second baseman is much more valuable than a an average-hitting first baseman. You have to evaluate these two players as they compare to their positions. Over the course of his career (not just the dominant period) Mattingly doesn’t measure up to other first baseman. If Mattingly was a second baseman with those numbers, he’d already be in the Hall. Different positions are asked to contribute different levels of offense, which is why Derek Jeter is more valuable than Russell Branyan. Shortstops, 2b, and catcher are traditionally non-hitting spots in the lineup. When you get a guy who plays that position well AND he can hit, you’ve got a rare commodity. Then you have other positions like 1B and RF, which place a much higher premium on offense. Hitting is more important than defense at these positions.
    Mattingly couldn’t keep up with the offensive output of his position, whereas Joe Morgan greatly outhit other second basemen. And are you really trying to tell me that Mattingly was a better offensive player than Joe Morgan based on batting average? Morgan’s BA was only .271, but his on-base percentage was .392. OBP is way, way more important than batting average. Mattingly’s BA was .307, but his OBP was only .352. You do understand that a 2B with a .392 OBP is more valuable than a 1B with a .352, right?
    And yes, of course I saw Mattingly play before his back was hurt. Don’t be insulting. You know I’m talking about the entirety of his career. The last two-thirds of his career were not very good.

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