The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Babe Ruth”

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Joe Jackson

This is part 3 of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  The object of this series is to revisit players most of us already know something about, then to uncover one fact or statistic about that player that isn’t widely known.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the career of Shoeless Joe Jackson.  Specifically, we are going to research one particular question that I discovered I did not know the answer to when I started brainstorming ideas for this series.

The particular question that I discovered I didn’t know the answer to was, “How many batting titles did Shoeless Joe Jackson win during his career?”

Shoeless Joe Jackson is third on the all-time ...

Shoeless Joe Jackson is third on the all-time list. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Joe Jackson was banned from baseball at the end of the 1920 baseball season, he finished his career with a lifetime batting average of .356, the third highest career batting average of all-time.

Jackson’ s career high batting average was .408 in 1911.   Unfortunately for Joe, Ty Cobb of Detroit, just 24-years old, won his 4th batting title that year with a .420 mark.

Jackson batted .395 the following season, only to finish second once again to Ty Cobb’s league-leading .409 average.

In 1913, Cobb dropped below .400, hitting a mere .390, but Joe Jackson finished 17 points behind Cobb with a .373 mark.  Thus, three consecutive second place finishes for Jackson in the race for the A.L. batting title.

In 1914, Jackson dropped down to .338, good for 4th best in the league.  1915 was even worse.  His .308 batting average was the second lowest of his career.

JacksonCleveland

JacksonCleveland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1916 saw Jackson rebound to .341, but that was just 3rd best in the league behind Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb.  In 1917, Jackson hit a career low .301, which would have to be considered his own personal Mendoza Line.

Jackson was injured for most of the 1918 season; he played in only 17 games.  In fact, Jackson topped 100 games played just nine times.

Jackson returned to prominence in 1919 and 1920.  During those two years, he hit .351 and .382, respectively.  Neither mark, however, was good enough to win a batting title.  Jackson finished 4th in 1919 (Cobb won yet another title), and he finished 3rd in 1920, behind George Sisler (.407) and Tris Speaker.

After the 1920 season in which Babe Ruth slugged a record 54 home runs (no one before had ever reached even 30 homers), it was clear that the advent of the live-ball era had begun.

Probably, Joe Jackson expected at that point that he would still be playing Major League baseball for several more years.  He also might have expected that his first batting title was not too far off.  After all, his .382 batting average in his final season was the third highest mark in his career.

But due to the repercussions of the Black Sox Scandal, Joe Jackson was not to play another inning of Major League baseball.

The question that I posed at the beginning of this article was, “How many batting titles did Joe Jackson win his career?”

The answer, which I have to admit came as a bit of a surprise to me, is that despite finishing his career with the 3rd highest career batting average of all-time, Joe Jackson never won a batting title.

Jackson is probably the greatest hitter of all-time never to have won a batting title.  But, of course, batting titles are just one measure of greatness.  By any other measure on the field, Joe Jackson remains one of the greatest, if one of the most controversial, baseball players of all time.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Babe Ruth

I’m launching a new series today called, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  The object of this series is to revisit players most of us already know something about, then to uncover one fact or statistic about that player that isn’t widely known.

I got the idea for this series when it occurred to me that although I knew that Babe Ruth was an excellent pitcher for the Boston Red Sox before he became the slugging star outfielder of the New York Yankees, I had no idea how many game Ruth won in his career as a pitcher.

Once I did the research, I was intrigued by what I found.

That leads us to Part 1 of this series.  I hope you find it useful and enjoyable.

Babe Ruth threw his first pitch in a Red Sox uniform at age 19 in 1914, just as the First World War was getting under way across the pond in Europe.

American baseball player Babe Ruth, publicity ...

American baseball player Babe Ruth, publicity photo, 1918, Boston Red Sox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ruth pitched for the Red Sox from 1914 through 1919, starting 143 games over those six seasons.  Twice he won over 20 games for the Sox, including a career high 24 wins in 1917.  That same season, he led the A.L. with 35 complete games, and posted a 2.01 ERA.

The previous season, Ruth had led the A.L. with 40 starts, a 1.75 ERA  in 323 innings, and nine shutouts.  He won 23 games that season.

In 1916, also compiled a WAR of 8.3, second best in the league among pitchers.

By 1918, though, Ruth was spending substantially more time in the outfield, and, therefore, less time on the pitcher’s mound.  He declined to 13 wins in 1918, then just 9 more wins in 1919, his final year in Boston.

Babe Ruth pitching with Boston Red Sox, Comins...

Babe Ruth pitching with Boston Red Sox, Cominsky Park, 1914 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, Ruth led the A.L. in home runs in 1918 when he swatted eleven.  The following year, his last with the Red Sox, he set a new home run record with 29.

In January, 1920, Ruth was purchased from the Red Sox by the Yankees for the unheard of sum of $100,000.

I was unaware that Ruth started four games for the Yankees in his career, winning each of them, and adding another win as a relief pitcher in 1921.

I should also note that while pitching for Boston, he made three starts across two World Series, winning all three starts while posting an incredible 0.87 ERA.

The most stunning stat I found was that in 1916, in 40 starts and 323 innings pitched, Ruth did not give up a single home run all season!  Now, I know this was the dead ball era, but that is still one unbelievable statistic.

My initial question regarding Babe Ruth was, how many games did he win as a pitcher?  The answer is, he won 94 games in his career while losing just 46.  His career win-loss percentage was .671, the 12th best in Major League history, higher than Christy Mathewson, Roger Clemens, and Sandy Koufax.

Clearly, Ruth was a great pitcher before he was a great position player, and that’s why he’s often considered the greatest player who ever lived.

A Baseball Post for Super Bowl Sunday

Here’s a little baseball video for Super Bowl Sunday.

Just think, as of tomorrow, the orgy of mindless marketing, sex and violence that is the NFL season is finally finished, and baseball will once again rule the known universe.

The clip is from the movie, “The Sandlot.”

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 1

Many times over the past couple of weeks I’ve read the following comment regarding a player that someone doesn’t think should be inducted into the Hall of Fame:

 “If he is elected, it will lower the standards of the Hall of Fame.”

 Or, alternatively, “The Hall used to have very high standards, but they’ve been watered down over the years.”

 I know you’ve heard or read these comments as well.  Perhaps you’ve even uttered them.

I decided to take a look back at HOF elections going all the way back to the first one in 1936 to see if there really was a Golden Age when only the best of the best were inducted, and where the proverbial train went off the rails.  

I didn’t have to search very far.

What follows is Part 1 of a multi-part series analyzing the year-by-year inductees (MLB players only) to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, gratuitous commentary included.  (BBWAA: Elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America; VC: Elected by the Veterans Committee):

1936 — BBWAA: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner.

So far, so good.  Eleven writers left Ruth off their ballots, perhaps out of concern that his induction would “water down The Hall.”

1937 — BBWAA: Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Cy Young

Nice to see Cy Young just barely squeak in with 76% of the vote in his second year on the ballot.

1938 — BBWAA: Grover Cleveland Alexander

Career WAR of 104.9 is fifth best all-time for pitchers.  Poor bastard suffered from epilepsy, shell-shock from WWI, and alcoholism.  But boy, could he pitch.  His 90 career shutouts are still the N.L. record.

1939 — BBWAA: Eddie Collins, Lou Gehrig, Willie Keeler, George Sisler. VC: Cap Anson, Candy Cummings, Buck Ewing, Hoss Radbourn

Keeler was a career .341 hitter, but a career WAR of 60.8 ties him with Buddy Bell for 103rd place among position players.  Not a slam dunk.

Sisler hit over .400 twice, and set single-season hit record (257) later broken by Ichiro.  A.L. MVP 1922.  Yet career OPS+ 124 is the same as Sixto Lezcano and Bobby Bonilla.  Career WAR of 50.4 is just 168th all-time.

Old Hoss Radbourne tossed 678 innings in 1884.  Ouch.

Cummings pitched six years in the 1870’s, and allegedly invented the curveball.  So is 1939 the year the HOF begins to lose its way?  Much worse is on the way.

1942 — BBWAA: Rogers Hornsby.

The only player elected during the five years of the WWII era.  The nation must have been rationing HOF votes along with everything else.

1945 — VC: Roger Bresnahan, Dan Brouthers, Fred Clarke, Jimmy Collins, Ed Delahanty, Hugh Jennings, King Kelly, Jim O’Rourke

Just nine years after The Hall’s initial Mount Rushmore election, the Veteran’s Committee apparently

Hall of Famer and first baseman Hughie Jenning...

Image via Wikipedia

got drunk and elected every 19th century Irish ball player they could think of.  Maybe they were celebrating the end of WWII.

Bresnahan invented shin-guards, which is nice, but career WAR of 41.6 is pretty low.  Brouthers and Delahanty definitely belong in The Hall.

Clarke is borderline, as is Jimmy Collins (a great defensive third-sacker.)  Collins accumulated 1,999 hits.  You would think he would have found a way to get just one more hit.

King Kelly was a legend in his own time.  How do you objectively assess a legend?  You don’t.  We simply don’t abide his kind these days.

Hughie Jennings is interesting.  He led his league in WAR four straight seasons (1895-98), which is pretty damned impressive.  He accumulated 35.3 WAR in just those four years.  But that represents fully 76% of his entire career value (46.4).  So, do you prefer a player with a high peak, or a player who plays reasonably well over a long period of time?

Jim O’Rourke is one of my favorite players in The Hall because he hails from my hometown of Bridgeport, CT, and because he was known as Orator Jim.  It was said of him, “Words of great length and thunderous sound simply flowed out of his mouth.”  That is my all-time favorite quote about a ball player.  If there is an orator’s HOF somewhere, he should be in it.  As for the baseball HOF, well, perhaps not.

So by my count, the class of 1945 includes two definite HOF’ers, four borderline inductees, one poor choice, and King Kelly.

1946 — VC: Jesse Burkett, Frank Chance, Jack Chesbro, Johnny Evers, Tommy McCarthy, Joe McGinnity, Eddie Plank, Joe Tinker, Rube Waddell, Ed Walsh.

Tinkers to Evers to Chance wasn’t great poetry, and it wasn’t a great day for The Hall.  Tinker was an excellent defensive shortstop but a poor hitter who doesn’t belong in The Hall.  Evers won the 1914 MVP award, but also doesn’t belong.  Chance was the best hitter of the three, had a short peak, and finished with less than 50 career WAR.

At age 30, in 1904, Jack Chesbro started 51 games for the N.Y. Highlanders, won a Major League record 41 of them, pitched 454 innings, and posted a WAR of 8.8.  Also reached 20 wins four other times.  But he won fewer than 200 games in his career, and his career WAR is less than 40.  If he is in on the strength of one huge season and a few good ones, then a case can be made that Roger Maris also belongs in The Hall.

Jesse Burkett, one of the great hitters of the late 19th-early 20th centuries, belongs in The Hall, as does Gettysburg Eddie (326 wins) Plank.

Though he pitched just seven full seasons, Fordham University’s Ed Walsh won 40 games for the ’08 White Sox, and his career ERA of 1.82 is the lowest in MLB history.  So you gotta give him a nudge into The Hall as well.  Rube Waddell was one of the strangest, and one of the greatest, pitchers of all-time.  He led the A.L. in strikeouts six consecutive years, but would go chase a passing fire truck in the middle of a game.

Iron Joe McGinnity completed 314 of his 381 starts, topping 300 innings pitched in the first nine of his ten Major League seasons.  Led N.L. in wins five times.  Topped 400 innings pitched twice.  Back-to-back seasons of over 10.0 WAR.  He’s O.K. by me.
Outfielder Tommy McCarthy must have slipped into the Hall of Fame when no one was looking.  There is no other way to account for his inclusion.
By my count, that makes five solid HOF’ers inducted in ’46 out of a group of ten players.

1947 — BBWAA: Mickey Cochrane, Frankie Frisch, Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell.

With the Old-Timers Gang out of town, the BBWAA reasserts itself with some classy picks.

1948 — BBWAA: Herb Pennock, Pie Traynor.

Pennock was a very poor choice; a case can be made that Pie Traynor belongs in the HOF, but not a very strong one.

1949 — BBWAA: Charlie Gehringer. VC: Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, Kid Nichols.

Each of these three are fine choices.  Gehringer was one of the all-time great second basemen.  Brown and Nichols were among the very best pitchers in their respective eras.

Of the first 45 players elected to the Hall of Fame up to this point, approximately 28 were excellent choices, six were poor choices, and the other 11 were borderline or questionable picks.  That means fully 38% if the picks were not of the highest quality.

That brings us up to the 1950’s, which I will tackle in Part 2 of this series.  As you shall see, the questionable inductees continue unabated.

Dan Brouthers

Image via Wikipedia

Did Babe Ruth Really Call His Shot?

Writing about Babe Ruth is like writing about God.  No matter what you say about either of them, you are bound to offend someone. Still, there is one major difference between the two of them. God never hit 714 home runs. Oh, sure, God COULD have hit that many if he had wanted to, you say, but we’ve heard that before about countless prospects over the decades. Yet only a heroic Henry Aaron and an inflatable Barry Bonds have surpassed Ruth. Gods, of course, have the power to know what truths the future holds, a power that mere mortals are not privy to.  So how, then, was Babe Ruth able to predict that he would hit a home run off of Cubs pitcher Charlie Root in that legendary at-bat in the 1932 World Series? Actually, the essential question here is, DID Babe Ruth truly call his shot on that early October afternoon in Chicago? It all began with sportswriter Joe Williams.  In the late edition of the same day as the game, he wrote, “Ruth Calls Shot As He Puts Home Run No. 2 In Side Pocket.” (Ruth had already hit another home run earlier in the game.) At first, even Ruth dismissed the story, saying that he was just pointing towards the Cubs bench telling them he still had one more strike to go. As time went on, however, Ruth began to warm up to the story, embellishing it as time went by. Yet no other player on the field that day was able to positively confirm that Ruth actually did call his shot, a monster 440-foot home run towards the flagpole beyond the outfield wall. Still, the famous photo exists that shows Ruth gesturing, arm outstretched, pointing at someone or something during this very at-bat. Isn’t it at least plausible that this enormously talented hitter and consummate showman really could have called his shot that day? Ruth later claimed that he announced, “I’m gonna hit the next pitched ball past the flagpole. Well, the Good Lord must have been with me that day.” God, apparently, is a Yankees fan (which would explain a lot of things.) Yet Yankees pitcher Charlie Deven, in an interview given seven decades later, said that while at first he thought Ruth’s foreshadowing gesture was indeed a portent of the subsequent home run, he was corrected by Yankees shortstop Frank Crosetti who told Deven that Ruth simply put up one finger to indicate he still had another strike coming. Cub’s pitcher Charlie Root denied to his dying day that Ruth called his shot.  In one interview, he said that if Ruth had tried a stunt like that, his next pitch would have knocked Ruth on his ass. The player who was physically closest to Ruth in that moment was Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett.  Hartnett later stated that Ruth did not in fact call his home run.  Instead, he said that Ruth bellowed, “That’s only two strikes,” while pointing at the Cubs dugout. One might argue that Crosetti simply wasn’t physically close enough to Ruth to hear what he actually said.  And it can also be argued that Gabby Hartnett, being the catcher for the opposing team during a bitterly contested World Series (which the Yankees swept in four games), would have every reason to try to deny additional glory to the Yankee legend. It must also be remembered that Ruth was not a brash, 25-year old kid just trying to make a name for himself.  In that case, it is conceivable that players on both teams would have tried to cut Ruth down to size for his lack of humility. But Ruth was an aging, 37-year old legend playing in his last World Series.  He was not just another star; he was THE star that all of baseball was indebted to for leading the way out of the woods of the scandalous 1919 season which could have ruined baseball indefinitely.  It was his exploits that changed the game forever, filling stadiums all over America, putting a little more money in every player’s pocket. In other words, his reputation already cast in stone, it’s hard to see why, if Ruth really had called his shot that day, not a single player on the field that day would grant him this one last diamond in his crown. Unless, of course, it never happened. But why, then, would Ruth feel compelled to embrace this apocryphal tale? To answer this question, we have to take a closer look at Ruth the Man, as opposed to Ruth the demigod. Despite enjoying a very productive season in 1932, Ruth was clearly no longer the dominant slugger in the American League.  For the first time since 1925, Ruth failed to lead the league in any of the following three categories:  Home Runs, RBI’s, or Slugging Percentage.  His teammate, Lou Gehrig, with whom a tense rivalry existed, had driven in 151 runs to Ruth’s still fine 137.  Worse, Jimmie Foxx of the Athletics had out-homered Ruth 58 to 41, falling just two homers short of Ruth’s own single-season home run record. While Foxx and Gehrig had finished 1-2 in MVP voting in ’32, Ruth finished tied with Joe Cronin for a distant 6th in the balloting. Ruth, age rapidly creeping up on him, must have sensed his days as baseball’s most awesome slugger were numbered.  He also must have known that despite how much he was loved by his countless admirers, in the end, his on-field production would dictate the intensity and degree of their future admiration. He must also have realized that the world itself had changed drastically since the Yankees glory days of the late 1920’s. Charles Lindbergh had flown across the Atlantic back in ‘27.  Now, Europe was faced with the specter of Fascism in Spain, Italy, and Germany. A world-wide Depression had taken hold, and America itself was threatened by malignant forces both from within and without. In short, the world was clearly not headed into a new Age of Reason.  Dark forces could only be effectively met by new heroes.  Franklin Roosevelt and his inspirational Fireside Chats were still months away.  Ruth, then, already a hero back in the heady days of the ‘20’s, tapped into the American Zeitgeist once again, and delivered the miracle this emotionally impoverished nation needed, i.e., that a man could still control his destiny. Babe Ruth’s Called Shot resonated with the American public because it proved that even in the face of extreme darkness, heroic moments were still possible. Yet, for our purposes here today, during a time of renewed social and economic turmoil, our rationalist selves have to accept that there just doesn’t seem to be any objective evidence that Babe Ruth really did call his shot.

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Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 13 – The Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles, at their best, have always been a franchise of blue-collar guys who earn their money.  Never a town of glitz and glamor, it is also a town, though, that has produced its share of characters.

John Waters, perhaps the strangest American film-maker of all time, hails from Baltimore.  Edgar Allen Poe also called Baltimore home while penning some of the most memorable horror tales ever told.

Babe Ruth, of course, was also born and raised in Baltimore, where he got his socio-economic start working in his father’s saloon.

It is hard to imagine Ruth ever having become a star playing in Baltimore.  Boston was a better place for him to ply his trade while his personality and huge appetite for life evolved into gargantuan proportions until only New York could (barely) contain him.

Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, though, the Orioles were the American League’s version of Baseball Team as Foundry, producing from a rock-solid work ethic amidst the rough, industrial backdrop that was Baltimore, a series of competitive teams that seemingly always challenged for a title.

In most regards, 1976 was a typical Baltimore Orioles season.  They finished in second place in the competitive A.L. East to the New York Yankees with a solid 88-74 record.  Their defense was, as always, outstanding.  Jim Palmer was their ace.  Brooks Robinson, though clearly near the end of his career, was mentoring a young Doug DeCinces at third base.

Meanwhile, their assembly line lineup included no-nonsense types such as Lee May, Ken Singleton, Paul Blair, Bobby Grich, and… Reggie Jackson.

Did he say Reggie Jackson?

Yes, that Reggie Jackson.

Virtually all of you will remember Reggie as Mr. October while playing for the Yankees in the late ’70’s, or, if you go back a little further, as the cocky young black man on a team composed primarily of strange, mustachioed white guys.  In his last years, he was still piling up Hall of Fame numbers, mostly as a DH for the Angels.

But for one season, 1976, Reggie Jackson was a working-class stiff plying his trade in Mr. Weaver’s factory better known as Memorial Stadium.

1976 was Reggie Jackson’s, of the Orioles, Best Forgotten Season.

At first glance, his statistics that season do not look necessarily all that impressive.  Certainly, he had a couple of better seasons in Oakland, and would surpass all expectations in his Yankee years.  But Reggie Jackson was a key cog in the ’76 Orioles swing-shift.

Reggie hit 27 home runs, which, although not an eye-popping number these days, was good for second place in the A.L. in 1976.  He also drove in 91 runs, despite missing about 25 games with injuries.

His .277 batting average was fairly typical for him, but he led the league in slugging percentage at .502.  His .853 OPS ranked third in the league, and his OPS+ of 155 was the best in the A.L.

Atypically for Reggie, he was also a heady, successful base-stealer that year, swiping 28 bases in just 35 attempts.  His Power-Speed Rating, as defined by Baseball-Reference.com, was 27.5, again the best in the league.

Reggie also finished in the top ten in WAR, RBI’s and Extra Base Hits, again, despite missing nearly a month due to injury.

Interestingly, although he played in 15 All Star Games in his career, he did not make the A.L. All Star Team in ’76, quite possibly one reason why he was anxious to leave Baltimore for New York City’s Broadway atmosphere.

Finally, Reggie even led A.L. right fielders in Range Factor at 2.29.

Still, despite all that productivity, he only finished 16th in A.L. MVP voting in ’76.

Worst of all, there was no Reggie Bar, no loudly cheering fans for whom to doff a cap, and no glamorous night-life to speak of.  Reggie paid his union dues, punched his time card, cleaned out his locker, and said his goodbyes to a city that, like Babe Ruth before him, just could not contain his personality indefinitely.

After the previous season, pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, who had played for one season without having signed a contract with their respective teams,  filed suit before a three-man committee protesting Baseball’s infamous Reserve Clause, a rule which bound a player to his team for as long as that team demanded his services.

In a historic decision, the panel, voted, 2-1 to overturn the Reserve Clause, thereby creating the forerunner of baseball’s current free-agent system.

The Yankees signed free agent Reggie Jackson for a salary in excess of three million dollars.

In 1977, minus Reggie Jackson, the Orioles would improve their record to 97-64, but would again finish in second place to the New York Yankees, Reggie Jackson’s New York Yankees.

Reggie Jackson would become a very wealthy, famous man due to his success in New York City.

But in 1976 at least, Reggie Jackson labored in a working class American city called Baltimore.

If Babe Ruth Were Alive Today

If Babe Ruth were alive today…

…he’d appear on billboards advertising the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

… he’d be the wealthiest, most famous athlete in the world.

… his wife would throw him out of his house for having numerous affairs with other women.

… there would be at least two paternity suits pending against him, which would eventually be settled out of court.

…. he would hold a press conference apologizing to “Baseball fans all over the world, especially you kids out there,” for letting them down with his irresponsible behaviors.

… he’d make the All-Star team every season, whether he deserved it or not.

… he would have a cameo in an ABC after-school drama about the importance of staying in school.

… we can’t say for sure that he wouldn’t have used Performance Enhancing Drugs.

… he would be the unanimous, first overall pick in every fantasy baseball draft around the country, ahead of Albert Pujols.

… his name would be attached to a summer camp for at-risk youth.

… he would break both Barry Bonds’ career and single-season home run records.

… both political parties would court him to speak at their party fundraisers around the country, though Ruth himself wouldn’t have any idea who these candidates actually were.

… he would star in his own T.V. reality show in which we would learn that Mrs. Ruth would often get annoyed that The Babe would drink orange juice right out of the carton while standing in his boxer shorts in front of an open refrigerator.

… he would NOT review his at-bats on videotape.

… he would require a rub-down before and after every game with a professional Swiss masseuse as part of his contract.

… his favorite movies would be “Raiders of the Lost Ark,”  “Ghostbusters,” and, of course, “The Natural.”

… he would be available to pitch out of the bullpen.

… he would have greeted President Obama with a slap on the back and a “How ya doin’, kidd0?”  VP Joe Biden couldn’t help but laugh.

… Roger Clemens would buzz him with a high & tight fastball.  Ruth would hit Clemens’ next pitch into the upper deck for a game-winning home run.  After the game, Ruth would tell the press that Clemens fastball “was nothing special.”

… he would still, at some point in his career, play for the Yankees.

… he’d wonder why “all the dames wear pants.”

… he’d fart loudly during manager Joe Girardi’s initial club-house meeting, thereby undermining Girardi’s authority for the rest of the season.

…he’d play regular season baseball games against, and with, African-Americans for the first time.

… he’d go to a Denny’s Restaurant every Saturday morning for the Grand Slam Breakfast.

…he would own a Hummer.

… he would play his first night baseball game.

…he’d max out a dozen credit cards.

… 21st Century America wouldn’t have any more idea how to contain him than did 20th Century America.

… we’d realize how small and inconsequential our modern celebrities have become.

… America would once again realize what it is like to have a Hero.

Creating a Hall of Fame Mythology

On Wednesday of this week, the results of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting by the Baseball Writers of America (BBWA) will be announced.  No matter what the results turn out to be, lots of people will complain loudly about who did or did not make it into baseball’s Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010.

And they will all be right.

The problem, of course, is that there are no objective standards by which any player can be evaluated as to whether or not they are a true HOF’er.  The bigger problem, though, is that there can NEVER BE any objective standards to determine baseball’s most fundamental question.

Here’s why.

You want to argue that a player should have 3,000 hits to be a HOF’er?  Fine, then we need to remove Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx from The Hall.

How about 500 home runs?  Obviously, you can eliminate the majority of hitters in The Hall, especially all those pesky middle infielders.  How about 400 homers? Well, now you have added Dave Kingman to the Hall of Fame, but you have eliminated Rickey Henderson, Yogi Berra, George Brett and Charlie Gehringer.

How about a .3oo career batting average?  Oooh, don’t go there.  Not only will you eliminate many fan favorites (Cal Ripkin, Ernie Banks, Willie McCovey), but don’t you know that batting average is no longer a cool stat?  These days, it’s all about On-Base Percentage.  Batting average is so 1977.

Well, how about the currently most-cool stat, OPS (On-Base plus Slugging Percentage)?  Let’s set the base-line at, say, .875.  Now you’ve eliminated Wade Boggs, Roy Campanella and, uhm, Honus Wagner.  But, hey, you’ve added Tim Salmon, David Justice and Kevin Mitchell.

O.K., let’s forget about hitters for a second and focus on pitchers.  Can’t we agree that 300 wins is the magic number?  Well, yes, if you combine Sandy Koufax with Addie Joss, you get 320 wins.

Uhm, how about 3,000 strike-outs? But if strike-outs are an extremely important counting stat, then Nolan Ryan was twice as good as Christy Mathewson, right? (2,502  K’s to 5, 715  K’s).  Except that, of course, he wasn’t.  Actually, you would have to eliminate all but nine pitchers from The Hall, including Cy Young.

Then, dammit, let’s use a cold, hard stat like Batting Average Against, because if a guy was extremely hard to hit, then he was probably a HOF’er.

Except that now you have just inducted former Mets pitcher Sid Fernandez into The Hall, since El Sid had the 3rd best BA Against in MLB history, behind only Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax.

Sure, if you try hard enough, you might be able to come up with some kind of Gordian Knot of a statistical system, perhaps even a matrix of purely objective data, tabulated by a computer hidden deep in a bunker under Cooperstown, that could identify HOF’ers in under a minute.

The problem is, however, that identifying who is or is not a HOF’er is, at its root, an emotional question that revolves around the subjective memories of people who grew up cheering for, even worshiping, their hometown hero.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

Anyone who has spent time arguing with a Mariners fan about whether or not Edgar Martinez is truly worthy of induction into the HOF will come to understand that these arguments are not primarily based on objective data analysis, although that will appear to be the primary mode of argument.

As I stated in my first blog post, baseball is all about memory.  And baseball’s two essential questions are: 1) Who deserves to be remembered and 2) How do they deserve to be remembered.

The magic of baseball is that this is where history and mythology intertwine, creating memories cherished from one generation to another.

And the Hall of Fame is the one place in baseball where everyone comes together to pay their dutiful respect to America’s greatest game.

The induction of Alan Trammel will not undermine the integrity of this institution.  Nor will The Hall be tarnished if Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Edgar Martinez or Bert Blyleven are called up to the podium to make the speech of a lifetime.

The Hall of Fame has long since evolved into an institution somewhat like the Union Army during the Civil War;  designate enough men to be generals, and some of them are bound to work out.

The Hall of Fame voting process is, then, a kind of archaic caucus system, an irrationally democratic institution uniquely American in its vulgar imperfections, even as it strives to create an air of nobility.

Thus the Hall of Fame itself, and the electoral process currently in use to designate future HOF’ers, is a satisfactory representation of America at this time and place in our history.

So, once the final ballots are announced for the Class of 2010 this Wednesday, let the arguments begin.  Because through baseball, we are adding to the rich tradition of creating our own unique American mythology.

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