Here’s a comparison of a pair of Red Sox players, one who is in the Hall of Fame, another who never came close to induction. The better player in each category is highlighted in bold print:
Player A: On Base Percentage – .360
Player B: On Base Percentage – .352
Player A: Slugging Percentage – .484
Player B: Slugging Percentage – .502
Player A: OPS+ 129
Player B: OPS+ 128
Player A: Doubles – 388
Player B: Doubles – 373
Player A: Home Runs – 306
Player B: Home Runs – 382
Player A: 20+ Home Run Seasons – 10
Player B: 20+ Home Run Seasons – 11
Player A: Total Bases – 3,352
Player B: Total Bases – 4,129
Player A: Grounded Into Double Plays – 149
Player B: Grounded Into Double Plays – 315
Player A: Walks – 857
Player B: Walks – 670
Player A: Times Struck Out – 1,116
Player B: Times Struck Out – 1,423
Player A: WAR – 49.9
Player B: WAR – 47.2
Player A: Gold Gloves – 4
Player B: Gold Gloves – 0
Player A: All Star Games – 9
Player B: All Star Games – 8
Player A: MVP Awards – 1
Player B: MVP Awards – 1
Admittedly, any statistics one chooses to use will be at least somewhat arbitrary. Still, I believe I have included a broad selection of useful statistics (as well as awards and honors), to make a legitimate comparison between these two former teammates possible.
Player A trumps Player B in the following nine categories: On Base Percentage, OPS+, Doubles, GIDP, Walks, Times Struck Out, WAR, Gold Gloves and All Star Games.
Player B trumps Player A in the following four categories: Slugging Percentage, Home Runs, 20+ Home Run Seasons (again close), and Total Bases.
Player B, Jim Rice, played his entire career in a Boston Red Sox uniform, benefiting from the friendly hitting environment of Fenway Park for 16 seasons.
Player A, Fred Lynn, played his first half-dozen seasons in a Red Sox uniform, then went west to play for the Angels (in a less hitter-friendly environment), and spent time in Baltimore and Detroit before finishing up in his final season in San Diego.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if their career histories were reversed, and Lynn got to stay in Boston for the entirety of his career, while Rice was sent packing at age 28 to less hitter-friendly locales, Lynn might be in the Hall of Fame today, while Jim Rice almost certainly would not.
I am not arguing that either Lynn or Rice should be in the HOF. In fact, I wouldn’t select either as a member. But, clearly, the difference between their respective careers is not nearly so great as one might imagine. Basically, one choice would be about as good as the other, though I might give a slight edge to Freddy Lynn.
Finally, it should also be noted that yet another Red Sox outfielder who played alongside Lynn and Rice — Dwight Evans — probably has a better HOF case than either of his outfield mates. Evans hit more home runs, drew more walks, had a higher on-base percentage, scored more runs, and had a higher career WAR than either Lynn or Rice.
Perhaps some future Veteran’s Committee will reexamine the careers of both Lynn and Evans, and present each with a HOF plaque of their own.