Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hall of Fame Ballot

2007 Hall of Fame Ballot:
Harold Baines
Albert Belle
Dante Bichette
Bert Blyleven
Bobby Bonilla
Scott Brosius
Jay Buhner
Ken Caminiti
Jose Canseco
Dave Concepcion
Eric Davis
Andre Dawson
Tony Fernandez
Steve Garvey
Goose Gossage
Tony Gwynn
Orel Hershiser
Tommy John
Wally Joyner
Don Mattingly
Mark McGwire
Jack Morris
Dale Murphy
Paul O'Neill
Dave Parker
Jim Rice
Cal Ripken, Jr.
Bret Saberhagen
Lee Smith
Alan Trammell
Devon White
Bobby Witt

This is the ballot that BBWAA members get to vote on for the upcoming Hall elections. Since I took the opportunity to criticize some of the members voting, I thought at least I'd go ahead and indicate who I would vote for if given the opportunity.

My Hall of Fame vote for 2007:
Bert Blyleven, Goose Gossage, Tony Gwynn, Mark McGwire, Cal Ripken, Jr., Alan Trammell

Bert Blyleven
Bert Blyleven isn't in the Hall of Fame because his career Won-Loss record is 287-250. 287 wins is an awful lot (26th all-time, 13th among post-war players) but 250 losses is also an awful lot (10th all-time, 5th among post-war players). I think wins and losses are, by and large, irrelevant, so I'm not going to list that as any evidence for or against Bert.
Bert was rarely the best pitcher in the league; in fact, the only year I think he deserved the Cy Young Award was 1973 with Minnesota, when he won 20 games with a 2.52 ERA and struck out 258 batters in a career-high 325 IP. His ERA+ in 1973 was the best in the league, and he finished 2nd in strikeouts and 4th in innings pitched. But his W-L record was 20-17, whereas Jim Palmer's was 22-9 on a division-winning team. So Palmer won the Cy Young.
What Bert had was amazing durability. And despite the fact that he was only the league's best pitcher once, he was always near the top. He was, in my opinion, the second-best pitcher in the league on three different occasions (1974, 1985, 1989), the third-best pitcher twice more (1978, 1984), and was among the top 5 no less than ten times in his career. Blyleven was an amazingly effective pitcher who just happened to be flying under the radar, missing recognition due to the fact that he never (after '73) had a real breakthrough year.
So we've established that Blyleven reached a level of excellence only attained by very few pitchers. I've charted pitcher performances through the year 1928. The only pitchers I've come across that were among the top 5 in their league at least 10 times are the following: Roger Clemens, Lefty Grove, and Warren Spahn. That's an amazing, amazing record. Blyleven was, of course, not as excellent as the likes of Clemens and Grove. But comparing him to Spahn is actually pretty apt. Spahn was, at his peak, better and pitcher longer. But consider these numbers:
Bert Blyleven: 287-250, 4970 IP, 3.31 ERA, 1322 BB, 3701 K, 118 ERA+
Warren Spahn: 363-245, 5243.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 1434 BB, 2583 K, 118 ERA+
Even I wouldn't have guessed that Blyleven and Spahn had the exact same career ERA, adjusted for era and ballparks. Spahn was more valuable, I'm not letting go of that, but to say that Blyleven is as close as this is amazing.
Once we establish that Blyleven was almost as effective as Warren Spahn, that makes our argument much easier. Combine that effectiveness with 4970 career innings (13th all-time, 7th post-war) and 3701 strikeouts (5th all-time) and it's hard to argue for this man as a true Hall-of-Famer.
But how does Blyleven stack up against other pitchers, especially those that aren't in Cooperstown? Let's take a look:
Career Win Shares:
1. Cy Young (635)
2. Walter Johnson (564)
10. Tony Mullane* (401)
20. Old Hoss Radbourne (346)
21t Bert Blyleven* (339)
21t Robin Roberts (339)
23. Bob Caruthers* (338)
The only non-Hall of Famer with more career Win Shares than Blyleven is Tony Mullane, who pitched from 1881-1894 in what was a much different era. In fact, almost all of the non-Hall of Famers surrounding Blyleven are 19th-century pitchers such as Mullane and Caruthers. Let's look at Career Win Shares post-19th century (pitchers with careers in both eras will be included)
1. Cy Young (635)
2. Walter Johnson (564)
3. Kid Nichols (479)
4. Pete Alexander (477)
5. Roger Clemens* (435)
6. Christy Mathewson (426)
7. Warren Spahn (411)
8t Lefty Grove (391)
8t Tom Seaver (391)
10. Greg Maddux* (380)
11. Phil Niekro (375)
12t Steve Carlton (367)
12t Gaylord Perry (367)
14. Eddie Plank (360)
15t Bert Blyleven* (339)
15t Robin Roberts (339)
17. Nolan Ryan (334)
18. Ferguson Jenkins (323)
* -- not in Hall of Fame
So Bert Blyleven has more Win Shares than any other modern pitcher not in the Hall of Fame, excluding active pitchers like Clemens and Maddux. You have to go all the way down to Tommy John (289 WS) to find the next eligible pitcher not inducted into the Hall.
Let's illustrate this in short-hand, comparing Blyleven to other Hall hopefuls using traditional and non-traditional stats:
Career WS: Blyleven (339), Tommy John (289), Jim Kaat (268), Luis Tiant (256), Billy Pierce (248)
Blyleven has more career WS than Nolan Ryan, Ferguson Jenkins, Red Ruffing, Bob Gibson, Don Sutton, Jim Palmer, Randy Johnson, Early Wynn, Carl Hubbell, Tom Glavine, Dennis Eckersley, Mordecai Brown, Bob Feller, Burleigh Grimes, and many others
Jack Morris, everyone's "favorite" to enter the Hall, has 225 career Win Shares, putting him behind Frank Tanana, Jerry Koosman, Charlie Hough, Dennis Martinez, Kevin Brown, and Eddie Cicotte. He's tied with Urban Shocker, Tommy Bridges, and Larry Jackson, good pitchers all, but none of them Hall material.
(I don't consider career ERA, because the top 100 is almost entirely 19th-century pitchers).
Career ERA+: Bret Saberhagen (126), Jimmy Key (122), Dave Stieb (122), Bert Blyleven (118), Luis Tiant (114), Tommy John (111), Jim Kaat (107), Jack Morris (105)
The career ERA+ leaderboard is mostly full of relief pitchers and guys with short, productive careers.
Career IP: Bert Blyleven (4970), Tommy John (4710.1), Jim Kaat (4530.1), Frank Tanana (4188.1), Dennis Martinez (3999.2), Jerry Koosman (3839.3), Jack Morris (3824)
Would you believe that Frank Tanana, with his reputation for injuries and brittleness, threw more career innings than Jack Morris? Or that our friend Mr. Blyleven has him beat by over 1000 IP?!
Career K: Bert Blyleven (3701), Mickey Lolich (2832), Frank Tanana (2773), David Cone (2668), Chuck Finley (2610), Jerry Koosman (2556), Jack Morris (2478), Mark Langston (2464), Jim Kaat (2461)
Yet another category where Blyleven laps the field and has Morris licked by over 1,000.
Career WARP3: Bert Blyleven (142), Frank Tanana (111.3), Tommy John (108.7), Luis Tiant (98.7), Jim Kaat (96.3), Jack Morris (89.8), Dave Stieb (89)
Again, Blyleven is head and shoulders above the other candidates. He's closer to Warren Spahn (155.9) than he is to any of the other Hall candidates.
In summary, the only reason to keep Bert Blyleven out of the Hall of Fame is a prejudice against a pitcher with 250 losses. And considering these voters, that will be enough. I just hope that Blyleven gets the honor he deserves in his lifetime.
Goose Gossage
To avoid going on too long about all of these candidates, I'll refer you back to my entry on Bruce Sutter (scroll down to 2nd entry), which also contains my argument for the Goose's inclusion.
Tony Gwynn
This is an easy one. Gwynn ranks as one of the best right fielders of all time by any measure. He doesn't rank among the elite right fielders (Ruth, Aaron, Ott, Frank Robinson), but falls right in line with the second-tier, sure-thing HOFers like Sam Crawford, Al Kaline, and Paul Waner. Gwynn is 12th all-time among RFers with 398 career Win Shares and ranks 10th in WARP3. He'll be elected easily, and rightfully so.
Mark McGwire
Well, I've already argued that McGwire's numbers merit inclusion into the Hall of Fame. So it leaves me to explain why I would induct him despite the preponderance of evidence that suggests he used steroids.
I've spoken about this in many entries already, so I won't go into a long-winded repeat of why I refuse to pass moral judgment on players who did what any of the rest of us would have done. Steroids seem so much dirtier than any of the cheating ballplayers used to do, but I'd suggest that that's mainly an issue of perception rather than anything. Gaylord Perry's spitball was considered cute and charming, even though it was quite obviously cheating and also explicity against the rules (unlike steroid use). There's also a great deal more evidence about the benefits of foreign subtances on the ball than there is about steroid use. For all of the voters (and they will be in the majority) who vote against Mark McGwire, I DEFY you to justify Perry's easy induction into the Hall.
This doesn't even mention the many other forms of cheating utilized by ballplayers in the past. Amphetamines weren't against the rules in the 60's and 70's, but then neither were steroids in 1988. And there's much direct evidence of the beneficial effects of amphetamines on baseball performance rather than steroids. Many baseball players have admitted to cheating, either through corked bats, spitballs, shine balls, or scuff balls, and it hasn't had any effect on their Hall of Fame candidacy. It recently came out that the New York Giants utilized an illegal form of sign-stealing during the 1951 baseball season, but no one is rushing to put an asterisk next to their NL pennant.
What it comes down to is the fact that steroids seem much "dirtier" and immoral than other forms of cheating. And yet there is no practical basis for this impression. Steroids have potent side effects, but so do amphetamines. It's very hard to catch steroid users, but then who knows if your bat is corked until it breaks open? For years, Don Sutton was suspected of doctoring the ball but was never caught in the act of doing it, and thus escaped punishment.
The extreme hatred and distrust of steroid users simply doesn't stand up to any logical test. Steroid use should be taken into account as much as any other form of cheating that enhances a ballplayer's performance. But there's no evidence that it deserves its own hall of shame.
In fact, there's very little evidence as to exactly how much steroids do help ballplayers. This is the crucial question when it comes to Hall of Fame voting: How much?
How much did steroids help Mark McGwire? If we can get past the bizarre, priggish temptation to ban him altogether, we simply have to question how much steroids enhanced McGwire's performance. How much power and productivity did steroids give Mark McGwire?
I don't have any damn clue and neither does anyone else.
This is the big problem. There is no -- repeat, NO way to tell how much McGwire benefited from steroid use. We don't know when he started using, what he was using, how much he was using, or even for sure if he was using at all. And so it's impossible to take his numbers and take into account his steroid use. How many home runs would McGwire have hit without steroids? 500? 450? 400? Or maybe he would have hit 550 or 560 instead of 583? Nobody knows. Everyone says that McGwire wouldn't have hit 583 home runs without steroids, but they have absolutely no evidence to back such a claim.
Everyone has this idea that steroids add home runs by the bunches. It's possible, and even probable that this is true. But the nature of steroids or, more broadly, performance enchancing drugs (PEDs) is such that they defy any precise attribution of success. The only thing we know for sure is that steroids can help add muscle mass and reduce muscle fatigue, enabling the user to exercise more often with less resting. But this does not in itself equal better production on a baseball field. An increase in muscle mass can be beneficial but does not automatically add home runs. If that were true, then baseball lineups would be full of bodybuilders socking 80 home runs per year. Muscle mass is an element of baseball production, nothing more.
But even then, we're stymied unless we know when someone started using and what they were using. If McGwire started using hard steroids (anabolics) in the minor leagues, then we could certainly knock some home runs off of his record. But it's entirely possible that he didn't start using until the end of his career, when he was losing production. It's also possible that he was using supplements which were legal (at the time), such as HGH or andro. It's a very fine line between a legal nutritional supplement and an illegal PED.
The amazing thing about McGwire and steroids is how much we don't know. But trust a sportswriter to refuse to admit that he doesn't know everything. Everyone's already made up their minds about McGwire, and he's not going to get in for several years, if at all.
Me? I think that McGwire was very obviously a Hall of Fame-caliber hitter, and I don't think there's enough evidence about the effects of steroids themselves nor about his own usage to keep him out of the Hall. I wouldn't blame a voter for waiting on McGwire for a few years to see if we can find out more. That's what the 5-year waiting period was designed for. Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to get any more details about users from that era. In that case, I would cast my vote for McGwire. I'm disappointed that he would look for that extra edge, but he wouldn't be the first cheater in the Hall, nor will he be the last. Until I see evidence that his "cheating" was enough to outweigh his excellent on-field performance, I will cast my vote for his induction.
Cal Ripken, Jr.
Very little to say here. Ripken's either the second- or third-best shortstop of all time, depending upon who you ask (Honus Wagner is the best, hands-down). The difference between the two is academic; he deserves to get swept into the Hall by a landslide vote, and he will.
Alan Trammell
I discussed Trammell about a year ago when I listed the top ten players I would put in the Hall. The short version of my argument is this:
Alan Trammell is a borderline Hall-of-Famer, but I think that he deserves his spot nonetheless. Trammell ranks 15th all-time among shortstops in career Win Shares, which is right on the Cooperstown cusp. He's right behind Ernie Banks and Ozzie Smith, but right ahead of Pee Wee Reese and Rabbit Maranville. He ranks 8th all-time in WARP3, which makes a better allowance for Trammell's offensive production at a key defensive position.
And that's really the key. Trammell wasn't a great hitter (career 285/352/415), but he was well above-average. He was especially valuable at his position, shortstop. During his career (1977-1996), the average shortstop hit 256/311/354. Trammell was miles ahead of that, and he added on fine defense, earning (and deserving) 4 Gold Gloves.
The problem is that Trammell doesn't have any one number that sticks out at you. HOF voters are notoriously short-sighted, in that they won't vote in any player who doesn't have a flashy number of hits, home runs, or RBI. The only exceptions they make are for defensive gems (Ozzie Smith, Bill Mazeroski), or guys who have an inflated reputation due to things like being "clutch" (Phil Rizzuto). Trammell had a broad number of talents, and the sum of those talents was enough to get him into Cooperstown. Unfortunately, HOF voters only vote for one number; they don't have time to consider the whole player. If they did, then guys like Ron Santo, Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, and Trammell's double-play partner Lou Whitaker would get their due.
Near Misses:
Tony Fernandez, Dave Parker
Tony Fernandez
Fernandez was sort of a poor man's Alan Trammell. He, too, had a broad base of skills and was a good hitter for his position (career 288/347/399), though not nearly as good as Trammell. Fernandez was also very solid defensively, with a versatile glove that was very much underrated.
Fernandez never got his due, mainly because his defense was so underrated, and his offense wasn't recognized for being so good for a shortstop. He made up for this by playing for a long time (19 seasons) and racking up 2,276 career hits. He was also hurt by his nomadic lifestyle; he changed teams 9 times during his career, including three tours of duty with the Blue Jays.
Fernandez was a good, underrateed player who had a long and productive career. But he just wasn't quite good enough.
Dave Parker
A lot of people think that Jim Rice should be in the Hall of Fame. Let's see . . .
Dave Parker: 19 seasons, career 290/339/471 hitter, 2,712 hits, 339 HR, .285 career EQA, 327 career WS
Jim Rice: 16 seasons, career 298/352/502 hitter, 2,452 hits, 382 HR, .287 career EQA, 282 career WS
The reason that Parker and Rice are so close in EQA is that Rice's numbers were heavily inflated by Fenway Park, whereas Parker played most of his games in neutral Three Rivers Stadium. Parker also played longer and was more valuable defensively, playing right field, whereas Rice had the easiest on-field job in baseball in terms of range, playing under the Green Monster. Parker also played much longer and did better in the postseason.
I guess you could make the argument that Rice was better, but the truth of it is that neither man is really good enough for Cooperstown. Rice was underrated during his career, and a grass-roots movement has grown so strong behind him that he is now thoroughly overrated. He may get elected to Cooperstown based simply on the fact that the voters don't understand Fenway Park, even though most of them love the Red Sox.
Parker is tied for 20th all-time among right fielders in Win Shares. That's no so bad, but there's really no other argument to push him ahead of Rice's teammates Reggie Smith and Dwight Evans, both of whom were probably better. Rice is ranked all the way at 31st place among left fielders in Win Shares, behind Sherry Magee, Jose Cruz, Jimmy Sheckard, Luis Gonzalez, Brian Downing, Frank Howard, Joe Jackson, George J. Burns, Bob Johnson, Elmer Smith, and Minnie Minoso. It's a very, VERY tough argument to get Rice past all of these men, most of whom played in much less offense-friendly environments and were significantly more productive on a per-game basis. Rice's 21.86 WS/162 games ranks him 42nd among all 64 right fielders with at least 200 career Win Shares. His lack of overall productivity is not compensated by any per-season greatness. I only have Rice among the top 10 players in the AL 4 times in his career. Only once, in his fine 1978 season, was he in the top 4.
Short takes on the rest of the field:
Harold Baines:
Had an obscenely long career despite the fact that he was never really that good. A career 289/356/465 hitter with no defensive value. Not bad for an All-Star team, but no HOFer.
Albert Belle:
If Albert's career hadn't ended at age 34, I think he would probably have earned his way into Cooperstown. But Albert's attitude and poor relations with his team made him an unlikely pick before the injury. As it is, there's no way he gets in, nor does he really deserve to.
Dante Bichette:
Dante Bichette's career at home: 328/365/573, 177 HR. His career on the road: 269/306/424, 97 HR. Bichette is a couple miles away from Cooperstown, and the fact that he even made the ballot shows how short-sighted the voters are when it comes to taking Coors Field into account. If Bichette hadn't spent the bulk of his career in Colorado, he'd be no more likely to get into Cooperstown than Hal Morris.
Bobby Bonilla:
The perception is that Bonilla was an amazing player in Pittsburgh whose career died after he left. I disagree:
Through his age 28 season (his last with the Pirates), Bonilla was a career 283/357/472 hitter. After that, he hit 275/358/471. That's actually amazingly consistent. Bonilla did suffer a big slump in his first year as a big free agent in New York, and people took that one year to represent his entire career, which in unfair. Granted, his career splits mask the fact that offense in baseball skyrocketed after he left Pittsburgh, so his decline was genuine indeed. It's just been vastly overstated. Bonilla was never as good nor as bad as people thought he was.
Scott Brosius:
A good-fielding third baseman who played eleven seasons and hit 257/323/422. I know that people are biased towards the Yankees, but this is ridiculous. Anyone who ranks Scott Brosius' career as evenly remotely in the same league as Matt Williams or Robin Ventura deserves a vicious, painful wedgie.
Jay Buhner:
A guy who hit really well for several years but not enough to really qualify for Cooperstown. He was a good defensive right fielder, but there's just not enough extenuating circumstances to explain away his 1200 career hits or his 174 career Win Shares (roughly equal to Magglio Ordonez, who's still active). The kind of guy who gets listed on the ballot once as a courtesy and then disappears.
Ken Caminiti:
Well, the steroids would certainly help explain what turned Caminiti from a solid, everyday third baseman into an MVP candidate. Had about 7 good years, but so did about 50 or 60 other third baseman.
Jose Canseco:
Yeah, right. Truthfully, though, Canseco's career hit the skids when he went to Texas. He revived his fortunes with some good years as a DH in the late 90's, but then he was pumped on steroids by his own admission. Didn't deserve a plaque even before the book.
Dave Concepcion:
Dave Concepcion was a truly excellent defensive shortstop. That alone makes people want to put him in Cooperstown. But I'm of the opinion that we should elect the "total player," not just a part of him. So I'm left to point out Concepcion's career 267/322/357 batting line, safely below average. Ozzie Smith, who was a contemporary of Concepcion's, hit 262/337/328 in his career. But he also lasted longer and was more valuable defensively. Ozzie is Dave's best chance of getting into Cooperstown, but I'm not too crazy about Ozzie myself. Dave deserves more credit than he's gotten, but I don't think he deserves to get in ahead of Alan Trammell, or certainly not Barry Larkin, his successor.
Eric Davis:
Davis is a sad story, another one of the guys who would have sailed into Cooperst0wn if he had stayed healthy. He had some amazing seasons in Cincinnati (his best was probably a 293/399/593 performance in 1987 with great defense and 50/56 in steals). But after helping the Reds to the championship in 1990, Davis' career fell of the map. He was able to revive it shortly from 1996-1998, but it's just not enough to get him into Cooperstown. Davis is just the modern Cesar Cedeno, without the violence.
Andre Dawson:
I've been over this before, but in short: no way. Dawson was a good defender, but he was also a right fielder, where good defense isn't quite so important. He's a career 279/323/482 hitter, which doesn't sound much like a Hall-of-Famer. At his peak, Dawson was very good but not great (his 1987 MVP is a joke), and his later years were mostly spent padding out his counting stats at the cost of killing his averages. If people didn't like him and remember him fondly, he'd be on the same bubble as Dave Parker. As it is, he could very well get inducted. But it's hard to compensate for a career .323 OBP, 8 points below the league average for his time.
Steve Garvey:
A guy who got far too famous for his good looks more than his baseball skills and ended up on the fast-track to the Hall. Unfortunately, a paternity suit can be a big setback on the road to immortality. I wouldn't wish it upon anyone, but at least it's given people second thoughts about Garvey's desirability as an inductee.
Garvey illustrates the folly of basing your entire opinion of someone on their batting average. The idea back then (which persists today) is that a high batting average is a divine skill, which makes any other shortcomings unimportant.
But that's silly. Garvey was a career 294/329/446 hitter. Yes, he was playing in Dodger Stadium, but that's still quite dismal for a first baseman. Garvey did have some power, hitting 272 career home runs, but that doesn't disguise his .329 career OBP. Garvey was also a good case study on someone whose high batting average masked an inability to take a walk, resulting in a low OBP. If your batting line looks like Garvey's, you'd better be a Gold Glove shortstop if you want to make it to Cooperstown. Garvey was neither.
As it is, Garvey ranks 31st in career Win Shares. He's actually much worse than that when you consider that he played more games than most people surrounding him. His 19.38 WS/162 games ranks 59th out of the 72 first basemen with at least 200 career Win Shares.
Garvey needs to get in line behind Dick Allen, Will Clark, Fred McGriff, Norm Cash, Keith Hernandez, Mickey Vernon, Dave Foutz, Ed Konetchy, Boog Powell, and perhaps 8 or 10 others.
Orel Hershiser
Hershiser was a Hall-of-Fame pitcher from 1984-1989 and was, in my opinion, the NL's best pitcher in 1987, 1988, and 1989. But 5 years does not a career make, or else Mort Cooper, Sam McDowell, Herb Score, and Fernando Valenzuela would be in the Hall. Hershiser did manage to come back and pitch a couple good years with Cleveland in '95 and '96, but that's hardly enough to make his Hall case.
Hershiser was every bit as good as people remember him to be. Unfortunately, it takes a career to get into Cooperstown, not a year.
Tommy John
John doesn't really get a lot of respect. He was considered to be a low-end pitcher who just happened to hang around for a long time. But if you survive 26 seasons and 4710.1 innings, you're probably not a low-end pitcher. John was, indeed, above-average, as measured by ERA+ and RSAA. But I don't think he was above-average enough to get into Cooperstown. Being a good pitcher for a long time is quite an achievement, but you also have to have a really excellent near now and again.
Wally Joyner
Like many people on this list, Joyner got off to a hot start, cooled off, and then experienced a mild career resurgence at the end of his career. But Joyner was never anything like an MVP, and his career was so short and relatively unproductive that he doesn't really merit more than a passing glance.
Don Mattingly
I hate to break it to Yankee fans, but Mattingly just wasn't quite as good as people think. He was good, certainly; I have him as one of the 10 best players in the AL on 4 different occasions. But he was never really the best (his MVP notwithstanding). Mattingly was actually quite similar to his contemporary Keith Hernandez. Both men were reliable hitters who could provide a high average and great defense. But neither man had a well-rounded offensive game; Mattingly rarely took a walk (career .358 OBP) and Hernandez didn't have much power (career .436 slugger, 162 HR). If they had stuck around long enough to compile 3,000 hits and prove their great durability, then they likely would have earned a place in Cooperstown. But both men suffered a sudden end to their careers that doomed them to being just below the Cooperstown cut. (Mattingly at age 34, after 14 seasons; Hernandez at age 36, after 17 seasons).
Jack Morris
See the above entry on Bert Blyleven, where I put Morris well behind him and probably behind other hopefuls such as Tommy John, Jim Kaat, Frank Tanana, Dave Stieb, Luis Tiant and Jerry Koosman. Morris got a lot of wins and a reputation for being a "gamer." Unfortunately, he wasn't able to translate that into really good pitching and has been consistently overrated.
Dale Murphy
Murphy was well on his way to the Hall of Fame as a slugging center fielder with a well-rounded offensive game before he suddenly and inexplicably became ineffective. At age 31, Murphy was coming off a 1987 that saw him tear through the National League, hitting 295/417/580. Granted, he was hitting in a hitter's park in the Year of the Hitter, but it was still a fine performance. After '87, Murphy had a career 279/362/500 batting line and, as an athletic center fielder with good defense, looked like he was going to remain productive for years to come.
And if he had, he would have slid right into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
Except he didn't. In 1988, Murphy hit 226/313/421 with the Braves for no apparent reason. His career deteriorated from there, and he retired in 1993 after a poor half-season with the Rockies. From his 1988 season on, Murphy hit a wretched 234/307/396.
There's very little precedent for an athletic, well-rounded athlete to experience a sudden, dramatic decline in performance at age 31. A player like Murphy should have aged gracefully, continuing his slugging ways into his late 30's, moving to first base as he chased 500 home runs.
But it was not to be. Unfortunately, the career that Murphy did finish up with falls just short of the standards of the Hall.
Paul O'Neill
O'Neill had a good, long, productive career. He finished it by being a team leader on a Yankee dynasty, which is the easiest way in the world to get on the express train to Cooperstown. The problem is that O'Neill was just never really that good, and I doubt he'll get inducted, even with his Yankee credentials.
O'Neill was a career 288/363/470 hitter, which is certainly good, but is by no means excellent for a right fielder in the 1990s. From 1993-2001, O'Neill hit 303/377/492 with the Yankees. Manny Ramirez, however, hit 312/406/594 with Cleveland and Boston. Hell, Rusty Greer of the Rangers hit 305/388/484 over the same period.
So while we might be tempted to look fondly on O'Neill's numbers, there's just nothing significant to set him apart from 20 other right fielders waiting for induction.
Bret Saberhagen
Bret Saberhagen spent parts of 16 seasons in the major leagues and finished his career with a 3.34 ERA and a .588 career winning percentage. Sounds like a Hall-of-Famer, right?
Wrong. Saberhagen has, according to one source, spent more days on the DL than any other player in baseball history. This means that while those 17 years sound like a long time, it was actually a very spotty record. Sabes topped 200 IP in four of his first six major league seasons, and he certainly looked like a future HOFer at the time. But due (most likely) to this heavy workload, he never threw 200 innings again. In fact, for the next ten seasons, he only qualified for the ERA title (min. 162 IP) three times.
Per appearance, Saberhagen was almost effective enough to get into the Hall of Fame. But that's very hard to do with 2,562.2 IP. (Compare that to Dave Stieb's 2895.1, David Cone's 2898.2, or Orel Hershiser's 3.130.1)
Lee Smith
This is a toughie. Lee Smith isn't really as marginal a pitcher as his reputation has become. He was an above-average hurler over the course of his career, and his 3.03 career ERA is above-average. But his career ERA is worse than that of John Franco, Dan Quisenberry, Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Sparky Lyle, Kent Tekulve, and most every other relief ace of his time. This is partially due to the fact that Smith's career was long enough to stretch into the hitting renaissance of the 90's. But it's mainly just an indication that Smith wasn't significantly more effective than these guys. He actually threw fewer career innings than Tekulve and Franco, and more than 500 innings less than Fingers and Gossage.
So there's little evidence that Smith was significantly better than his contemporaries or that he was significantly more durable. It's possible that he provided a good combination of the two, but I just haven't seen any good evidence to put him in the Hall ahead of Gossage or Quisenberry.
Devon White
Uhh . . . okay. White was an excellent defensive center fielder, yes, but he also hit 263/319/419 in his career, despite spending the bulk of it in the hitting-happy 90's. He ranks 67th among all center fielders in career Win Shares, with 207. He's not significantly better than Willie McGee, and neither man should really get serious consideration for the Hall.
Bobby Witt
Witt's career W-L record is 142-157. His career ERA of 4.83 is about half a run below the league average for his time. He did compile nearly 2,000 strikeouts but also racked up 1,375 walks.
There are literally 75-100 pitchers who deserve to be on this ballot ahead of Bobby Witt. And the crazy thing is that I can't find any number or piece of evidence that suggests why the writers would take leave of their senses and put him there in the first place.
Veteran's Committee
The Veteran's Committee will also be voting on possible candidates for induction. Their ballot is gigantic; they've narrowed it down to 200 players and 60 umpires, executives, etc. to vote on. Can you really call that narrowing anything down? The most likely result will be that no one gets inducted, which isn't surprising at all given the panoply of candidates to choose from. The ineffectiveness of the Veteran's Committee is legendary, but let's at least see what they've got to work with.
In the interests of space, I won't list all 260 candidates, but I'll go through and pick out the highlights:
Most Reasonable Candidates (Players): Dick Allen, Sal Bando, Bobby Bonds, Ken Boyer, Ben Chapman, Bill Dahlen, Willie Davis, Wes Ferrell, Curt Flood, Bill Freehan, Jim Fregosi, Junior Gilliam, Joe Gordon, Stan Hack, Gil Hodges, Frank Howard, Jim Kaat, Jerry Koosman, Mickey Lolich, Sherry Magee, Firpo Marberry, Marty Marion, Sam McDowell, Minnie Minoso, Bobby Murcer, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Vada Pinson, Jack Quinn, Ron Santo, Ken Singleton, Reggie Smith, Vern Stephens, Joe Torre, Virgil Trucks, Lon Warneke, Joe Wood, Jimmy Wynn
Notice I say that these are the most reasonable, not that I would vote for all of them. If I did have a vote, I'd probably vote for Dick Allen, Bill Dahlen, Wes Ferrell, Bill Freehan, Stan Hack, Minnie Minoso, Ron Santo, and Joe Torre. Maybe more or less, I'd have to review my "records."
Most Reasonable Candidates (Umpires/Executives/Etc.): Buzzie Bavasi, Harry Dalton, Charles O. Finley, Whitey Herzog, John Heydler, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Walter O'Malley, Alfred Reach, Paul Richards, Jacob Ruppert
I'm not as familiar with the names on this list, and certainly don't feel qualified enough to judge the merits of umpires like Steve Palermo and John McSherry.
If I had a vote, I'd be tempted to vote for Marvin Miller and no one else, since I feel that he is most deserving of induction by far. I'd also probably vote for Al Reach. Reach was very similar to A.G. Spalding; he started out as a baseball player (helping the Philadelphia Athletics to the first organized baseball pennant in the 1871 National Association) and later became famous for starting his own business of sporting goods. He's also famous for the Reach Guide, a baseball annual that was one of the first of its kind and is now an invaluable source of firsthand information about early baseball. Reach was also an executive, co-founding the Philadelphia Phillies franchise that still exists today.
It's tough, when dealing with front office executives, to balance the success they had in running their team with their effects on the "outside" aspects of the game. Perhaps I'm prejudiced, but after reading the details of "Gussie" Busch's behavior during the early labor disputes, I wouldn't vote for him for anything (he is on the ballot). There's a similar distaste for Paul Richards; Richards was a talented front-office mind who helped build the Baltimore Orioles out of the remains of the St. Louis Browns. He was also one of the most fiercely anti-union forces in the front offices.
Perhaps the one who causes me the most pause is Walter O'Malley. You could argue that no one, outside of possible Babe Ruth, had as much effect on the game of baseball during their lifetime as O'Malley. I don't think he'll ever get inducted, because the Veteran's Committee is composed of old-timers who probably still carry a big grudge for his moving the Dodgers to Los Angeles. As powerful as O'Malley was and as instrumental a force he was in the modernization of the game (much of it for the better), he was also a significant backroom power in the negative sense, as well. So even there, I've got conflicting emotions.
But nowhere is there more conflict than with Billy Martin. Can I, in good conscience, put someone as odious and personally detestable as Martin into the Hall of Fame? Someone who represents all the ugly, macho violence of baseball? But he was also one of the best managers of all time by any standard. Still, it's hard for me to get past the nature of Billy Martin as a whole. And you could certainly argue that while Martin brought about amazing short-term improvements, he was rarely part of a team's long-term success.
If I had a vote, I'd vote for Miller twice (if I could), and I'd also vote for Bavasi, Herzog, O'Malley, Reach and Ruppert. However, I'd have to do a lot more research before casting any real-life vote. Because many of the men listed on the ballot I know only the bare minimum about.
Also on the Veterans' Committee ballot:
George W. Bush
No, I'm not kidding. This reminds me of a story I read about in Lords of the Realm. A reporter asked a Rangers official, "George really think he runs this team, doesn't he?" The Rangers man answered, "Yes, but don't you dare tell him otherwise."
Calvin Griffith
It's hard for me to see the appeal of Griffith. For years, Griffith complained about the growing salaries of players while he virtually ran the Minnesota Twins into the ground. He got a lot of good press for being the last of the "gentlemen owners" in an era where ballclubs were being co-opted by business executives. But what is it about the way Griffith ran the Twins that you could call a positive? Griffith was a cheapskate, and his team suffered for it. (The joke was that swimming was invented the first time Cal Griffith came upon a toll bridge).
And it may be vaguely irrelevant, but I will never forget the story of when Griffith got drunk at a Minnesota party and remarked that the reason he moved the team from Washington to Minneapolis was because there were so few black people in Minnesota. Except he didn't say "black people." I know that if he kick the racists out of the Hall, it will get mighty empty, but I'll always associate that story with Calvin Griffith.
Bowie Kuhn
It was pretty traditional for a former commissioner to be elected to Cooperstown upon retirement. Judge Landis was. Happy Chandler was. And Ford Frick was. But then Gen. Spike Eckert (the "unknown soldier") came along and shot that theory to hell. His successor, Bowie Kuhn, lasted a lot longer, but really wasn't able to get much backing from the players (naturally), or even the owners. Kuhn was a compromise choice for the position and constantly seemed to be seated in his ivory tower ready to pass judgment on the moral state of baseball while the game's business was in crisis and the very nature of the player-owner relationship was turning explosive. Kuhn's actions were largely ineffective and patronizing, meaning that he got nowhere with either Marvin Miller, who knew that Kuhn had no real power, and the owners themselves, who weren't willing to give Kuhn that power.
Kuhn thought he was Judge Landis and was completely unable to see that the role of the commissioner was changing. This would be a constant disease among commissioners, who (with the exception of the ruthlessly practical Peter Ueberroth) thought of themselves as divine guardians of the only real sport in America (Bart Giamatti, the Ivy League president, was especially poetic about the game). Not until Bud Selig did someone finally realize to cut through the bullshit and just act as the owners' agent in their dealings with the players, as the "CEO of Baseball" so to speak. It's for this reason (among others), that I don't see Kuhn or any modern commissioner getting inducted.
Birdie Tebbetts
Tebbetts was a star catcher who later went on to a long, long career in organized baseball as a coach/scout/manager/whatever. Tebbetts is one person who would benefit from a Buck O'Neil Award to recognize someone's lifelong contributions to the game. I don't know a lot about Birdie's career outside the game, but it certainly deserves a closer look.
Don Zimmer
Well, everybody likes him. Except for Fergie Jenkins and Bill Lee.
That's enough for one day. Tomorrow, we move on to the AL Central and look ahead to the White Sox.

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