IF I WERE A VOTE-MAN
The Hall of Fame ballot was released at the end of last week. My votes, if I had one:
Roberto Alomar: The spitting episode weighs heavily on my mind. On the other hand, the Hall of Fame is nothing if not a refuge for scoundrels. Let us concentrate, then, on Alomar’s career, which had a relatively short quality phase — he fizzled at 33. Still, the seasons that he had until that point were quite strong, particularly by the standards of the middle infield, and he was an ace defender during those years as well. He played on seven postseason teams and won two World Series. He’s not a slam dunk to me, but he’s not a bad candidate either. That’s a lukewarm endorsement, but it’s as worked up as I can get about a player who permanently lost my respect years ago, even if Cap Anson and Ty Cobb were worse people.
Kevin Appier: A very good pitcher whose injury problems prevented him from piling up big career stats. He probably should have won the Cy Young award in 1993 (Jack McDowell got it despite not being nearly as good), but even that wouldn’t quite put him over the top.
Harold Baines: Bill Veeck’s last gift to the game is a surprisingly good candidate. Sure, he was a longtime designated hitter, but that position is as valid as any other. Baines had many good seasons without ever having a great one. Normally I object to the dismissive description of a player as a “compiler,” but the description fits Baines. That said, consistency is an underrated skill. Further, Hal’s peak came in a tough park during a relative pitcher’s era, and had his career started ten years later his numbers would look very different (without being any better, of course). He’s not quite a Hall of Famer to me, but the sum of his career is greater than its parts.
Bert Blyleven: One of several controversial candidates, others will rehash his qualifications at great length, so I’ll keep this short except to say that I strongly believe he should be in. He’s got the wins, he’s got the strikeouts, he’s got the ERA, he’s got the longevity. Holding a pitcher up over 13 wins is arbitrary and small-minded.
Ellis Burks: A very good player for almost 20 years, with numbers somewhat goosed by a stay in Colorado. A million injuries cut down on his career and season totals, as well as prevented him from making more than a couple of All-Star teams or winning an MVP award. He’s very good by the general standards of center field, but he wasn’t a great centerfielder and didn’t stay there in any case.
Andre Dawson: As the elevation of Jim Rice has opened the door to pretty much everyone, I expect Dawson will get in at some point. Criminally underrated in his prime, he was criminally overrated after. The Expos centerfielder was a Hall of Famer. The Cubs rightfielder was no better than Jermaine Dye. There was much more of the latter in his career than the former.
Andres Galarraga: An interesting player who fell apart in his late 20s, only to rebound after working with Don Baylor, then overcame cancer at 39 to post a strong comeback season with the Braves. He struck out a lot, walked a little and hit a bunch of home runs for the Rockies. Even if you treat his Colorado stats as being of equal worth to those he compiled elsewhere, there’s just not enough here to justify enshrinement.
Pat Hentgen: A good pitcher for a couple of years, he won a deserved Cy Young award in 1996 for a season that wasn’t particularly special by the standards of award-winning seasons. He paid a high price for pitching a million innings in 1996 and 1997, and his career totals aren’t anything special.
Mike Jackson: An excellent setup man for what seemed like 30 years, Jackson pitched in over 1000 games. He was only a closer for a few scattered seasons. He was an asset to many a bullpen, but his career wasn’t remarkable in any way. His 1998 season with Cleveland (40 saves, 1.55 ERA) was top quality, but you need more than one of those to be a Hall of Famer.
Eric Karros: Even with Dodger Stadium working against his overall numbers, Karros was just a so-so hitter for a first baseman, with career rates of .268/.325/.454, and he stopped being interesting at 31.
Ray Lankford: Lankford was one of those all-around talents who did a lot of things well but got hurt a lot, got platooned a lot, had a couple of work-stoppages in his prime. As such, his seasons mostly don’t look like anything, and his career totals are unimpressive. Had things broken a little differently he might have had a few 30-30 seasons and looked like a completely different player. As it was he was quite good, but he never attained the kind of high profile he deserved. Either way, he’s not a Hall of Fame candidate, but he was plenty good.
Next time, the more interesting guys on the ballot: Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile.
Thank you to everybody who contributed to PinstripedBible.com’s conversation during this week’s Yankees Hot Stove on the YES Network. Here is video from my appearance:
Jan. 29 appearance on Yankees Hot Stove:
Jan. 8 appearance on Yankees Hot Stove:
Dec. 18 appearance on Yankees Hot Stove::
Dec. 4 appearance on Yankees Hot Stove:
What did you think? Leave a comment below.
THAT OL’ HALL OF FAME ANNOUNCEMENT
I’ve stayed away from commenting on the Rise of Jim Rice as a Hall-of-Fame candidate because the whole thing seemed inevitable, a group of self-appointed reactionaries making a comment on the steroids era. The problem is that the logic of it escaped me. “Look! Jim Rice was mediocre without the help of drugs! We’ll show Mark McGwire and the rest of those overinflated bodybuilders what we think of them by putting in this guy! Sure, he didn’t run, didn’t play defense, didn’t hit outside of Fenway Park, was done as a useful player at 33, and was completely uncommunicative, but he was clean!” The vote sure wasn’t about Rice the ballplayer, who peaked from 1977-1979 and had a bunch of seasons around those years that were just decent, and wouldn’t even rate that if he hadn’t been so good at taking advantage of Fenway. Yes, that’s a skill, but given Rice’s other shortcomings, it shouldn’t have been enough.
It’s done, though, and there’s not much to do about it but shrug. History is always a tug of war, and different perspectives gain ascendance at different times, leaving their detritus behind even as they vanish from the scene. Every Hall of Fame is like that, in whatever guise it exists. Fifty statues stand under the U.S. Capitol dome. Each state gets to send likenesses of two native greats, state hall of famers if you will. The resultant collection is a fascinating congeries of legitimate heroes and scumbags who have no business being there (as well as many complete obscurities), but I guarantee you that if we started debating exactly who belonged in each group, no two of us would come up with identical lists. In fact, I can think of reasons to disqualify some of the guys I personally favor.
Really look that list over. There are some “great” Americans represented who you would think twice about leaving alone in a room with your wallet. The Hall of Fame is a lot like that, except that the inductees should in theory be less open to debate, given that we have a statistical record of their accomplishments. The life of a president or general is not so easily reduced to wins and losses, hits and outs, and so there is more room for interpretation. With the Hall, the best you can do is make an argument that the numbers aren’t representative, that there are other factors at work, and that’s usually where Hall voters get themselves into trouble. That’s what we have here, Rice going in because 76 percent of the voters decided to put their faith in unprovable ambiguities like Rice’s fearsomeness, or even just parked their political position on PEDs over his body.
Thus, Rice is merely one more scorched-out battleground. Grass will grown on him, cattle will graze, some people will visit sometimes, perhaps. In the long run, though, just saying someone was great because you have an agenda for them doesn’t make them so. Time renders its own verdict. When some of those statues were erected under the Capitol dome, many more than 100 years ago, there wasn’t sufficient perspective for objections, for a large enough body of people to say, “Hey, wait — this guy was a drunk!” or “This guy was a slaver — why are we putting him here so school children can come through and think he’s some kind of all-time great?” When it comes to the Hall of Fame, there’s a more educated electorate on the rise, but it’s time isn’t yet here. Rice gets his plaque, and it is hoped he enjoys the honor. He certainly wasn’t a bad ballplayer. But in the final analysis, his election is a rearguard action, a reaction, and it’s not about him, it’s about honoring a time when the old men who voted for him could still claim to understand the game.
AND JUST TO KICK THIS HORSE EVEN HARDER
We’ve talked about Rock Raines and his Hall-of-Fame qualifications before; on the YES Hot Stove show, I said that if Rickey Henderson was the No. 1 leadoff hitter of all time, Raines was 1-A. I don’t want to rehearse all the arguments again, but when Andre Dawson gets 361 votes and Tim Raines gets 122, something is amiss.
RICKEY IS THE GREATEST …
… But you knew that. No disrespect to Don Mattingly, but Rickey should have had the 1985 MVP award as well.
SOMETHING TO BREAK…
…And hoping it’s not a leg or a Faberge Egg (Hey, A-Rod, how
far can you hit this priceless work of art?) but a deal. So far it seems that
there has been a little gabbing but not much deal-making out Vegas way. In
fact, even some of the gabbing hasn’t happened, as reports of Team A talking to
Team B about Players X and Y are quickly debunked by one of the general
managers in question. “Haven’t seen him,” he might say. “Not yet.” Or, “Sure,
we talked, but only about some very remote Dominican Summer League guys whom
you’ve never heard of, and frankly, neither have I.”
Thus far, Brian Cashman has had a chat with CC Sabathia, one
that seems to have gone better than Gene Michael’s with Greg Maddux under
similar conditions in 1992. Michael brought theatre tickets. Maddux wanted
Nintendo games. A bond was not established. Meanwhile, we have two Detroit deals going down.
The Tigers picked up a good field/no-hit catcher in Gerald Laird, who isn’t going
to help them all that much — compare and contrast: Laird’s .248 career
EqA to Brandon Inge’s .250 and the two catchers’ virtually equal caught-stealing
percentages. Inge’s reluctance to catch may have forced the move on the Tigers,
but that leaves them the problem of what to do with Inge, a very nice fielder
at the hot corner who doesn’t hit enough (.235/.310/.408 over the last three seasons) to
justify a daily place in the lineup. Inge would be worth something in a platoon
role against lefties with additional time as a defensive sub, though probably
not as much as the $12.9 million still due on his contract.
In return, the Rangers received two pitchers, one of whom is
just 17 and thus so far away as to be a shot in the dark, and another,
Guillermo Moscoso, a likely reliever who has put up some very nice strikeout
numbers in the Minors. We can’t know for sure what will happen, but a good rule
of thumb (one in operation here at the PB) is that all trades where the selling
team receives only pitching prospects should be judged guilty until proven
innocent. In eight of 10 cases, the arms fall off, the pitchers don’t progress
or both, and they come to nothing. Position players are always more projectable
than pitchers, and if you want certainty, you’ve got to get one. Again, that
doesn’t mean that the trade won’t be a real winner for the Rangers, but that
the odds are against it.
The Tigers also have reportedly signed punchless shortstop
Adam Everett, a career .246/.298/.355 hitter. If the Tigers’ infield is really
going to be composed of Miguel Cabrera, Placido Polanco, Inge, and Everett,
plus Laird at catcher, it’s going to be a very long year in Detroit, and that’s without considering the implosion
of the automobile companies. No matter what the outfield produces, there’s just
not enough offense there to start a fire.
IN MORE EXCITING NEWS…
There’s another Yankee in the Hall
of Fame. Joe “Flash” Gordon isn’t around to enjoy his enshrinement, but the
Veterans corrected a major oversight by recognizing the slick-fielding slugger
of the 1940s. If it seems as if I’m eliding his qualifications, it’s only
because I’ve written about them so many times, going back to the very
beginnings of my writing career. Gordon’s Hall of Fame case is one of the first
things I was ever paid to write about. Suffice it to say that he was a terrific
glove and a slugger at his position, and of the 18 second basemen in the Hall
of Fame, the only clearly superior players are (in no particular order) Joe
Morgan, Jackie Robinson, Eddie Collins, and Rogers Hornsby. You can argue with
that assessment, and no doubt some of you will, but you’ll find that even if
you want to slip in a Nap Lajoie or Charlie Gehringer ahead of Gordon, he
doesn’t sink too far.
…As events warrant.
MORE FROM ME
Various and sundry updates at Wholesome
including psychology’s impact on the economy. Warning! Politics!