The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Don Mattingly”

My Hall of Fame Ballot, and a Cautionary Tale

Are you familiar with the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, located on the campus of Bronx Community College in New York City?  Not many people are.  It was formally dedicated in May, 1901, as place to honor prominent Americans who had a significant impact on U.S. history and culture.  Modeled on the Pantheon in Rome, its 630 foot open-air colonnade was conceived as a place where marble busts of America’s most significant writers, presidents, inventors, and the like would be commemorated for all time.  A very serious blue ribbon panel of 100 men was cobbled together to make initial nominations, and for several decades, the landmark was taken quite seriously.

As you have probably guessed by now, the existence of this Hall of Fame put the seed of an idea into the head of Ford Frick, who passed this idea along to Stephen Clark (of the Cooperstown Clarks), whose very wealthy local family connections paved the way for this unlikely caper to come to fruition.  Stephen saw this as an idea to bring business to Cooperstown, suffering from the ravages of the Great Depression, and nearly overnight, this quaint little village was  dedicated as hallowed ground where the Abner Doubleday legend also conveniently took root.  That there was no easy way to transport people to Cooperstown to visit the proposed new shrine doesn’t seem to have fazed Clark.

Meanwhile, while the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown was just getting off the ground, the more established, high-brow Hall down in the Bronx (on what was then the campus of New York University) was in its heyday.  The New York Bar Association went so far as advocating for certain of its members, and newspapers breathlessly covered the annual inductions.

In a fantastic little article I recently discovered, Baltimore Sun columnist Joe Mathews (August 1, 1997), wrote, in a sentence that could serve as a cautionary tale for the institution up in Cooperstown, “The 97-year old monument is a shrine not only to [them], but to an ideal of fame that, like the hall itself, is dusty and decaying.”

Apropos to nothing, my favorite sentence in the article is, “The first hall of fame was the brainchild of a Presbyterian minister who was influenced by his concern for prostitution, democracy, and the Roman Empire.”  (emphasis added.) Mets brass, take note.  Want to put asses in the seats at Citi Field next season?  Why not go with  “Prostitution, Democracy and the Roman Empire” as next season’s slogan?  It’s certainly much more compelling than “Show up at Shea” (1998), or “Experience It” (2003).

Now, back to our story.

Hardly anyone ever visits The Hall of Fame for Great Americans these days anymore, even though it sits on an easily accessible college campus.  Its committee of electors made its final official inductions in 1976.  Among the four final inductees were a horticulturist and a judge.  None of the final four have yet had a bronze bust built in their honor.  Its Board of Trustees formally dissolved in 1979.  Since then, the colonnade has been far more popular with pigeons than with people.  You may still visit the 98 bronze busts in existence.  Self-guided tours are available daily from 10:00-5:00, with a suggested donation of $2.00 per person.

Attendance to the Baseball Hall of Fame has steadily declined over the past twenty years, from a high of over 400,000 in the early 1990’s to around 260,000 last year.  Although the Hall of Fame is a non-profit institution, and is, in effect, a ward of the State of New York, it appears that its operating budget was over two million dollars in the red in its last fiscal year.  Over the past decade, the HOF has more often than not lost money.

Outwardly, the Baseball Hall of Fame appears to be a healthy, thriving entity.  It has a modern website, a Board of Directors featuring such luminaries as Tom Seaver and Joe Morgan, and disproportionate influence on how the game itself is remembered from one generation to the next.  Its solid brick exterior and its pastoral location connote classical American values such as fortitude, temperance and diligence.  And it contains part of the original facade of Ebbet’s Field.  What can go wrong?

By all means, consider the official Hall of Fame ballot a sacred totem of a mystical shrine, if you will, but consider this:  Will our choices result in a stronger institution, more relevant to modern American sensibilities of entertainment and utility, or will they further contribute to the atrophy that apparently is slowly setting in?

Having said that, and while chafing at the ten-player limit arbitrarily imposed on actual BBWAA voters, here are my choices, in no particular order,  for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame:

1)  Greg Maddux

2)  Mike Piazza

3)  Craig Biggio

4)  Jeff Bagwell

5)  Tim Raines

6)  Tom Glavine

7)  Mike Mussina

8)  Alan Trammell

9)  Frank Thomas

10)  Don Mattingly

I’m sure the most controversial pick on this list will be Don Mattingly.  Fine.  Up until I set about typing this post, I would not have included him among this group, either.  But in light of all the previous paragraphs I’ve written about The Hall in this article, the relevant question is, would the enshrinement of Donnie Baseball be a good thing for the future viability of The Hall, or would it somehow be a “bad” thing.

Three questions:

1)  Was Don Mattingly ever the best player in the game during his career?

2)  Did Don Mattingly represent the game, his team, and himself with nothing but respect both on the field and off?

3)  Did he meet the 10-year minimum length career criteria for Hall eligibility?

The answer to each of these questions is yes.  From 1984-87, there was no better player in the American League than Don Mattingly.  He was always nothing but professional.  He played for 14 seasons.  At various times in his career, he led his league in hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, and total bases.  From 1984-89, he averaged 330 total bases per season.  Perhaps most impressively, however, he never struck out more than 43 times in any single full season in his career.

In his only playoff appearance, in 1995, vs. Seattle, he batted .417 in 25 plate appearances.  He was a six time All Star, won three Silver Sluggers, nine Gold Gloves, and his .996 Fielding Percentage is among the ten best all-time at his position.  He won an MVP award, and finished runner-up once as well.  If he picked up a bat today, at age 52, he would probably still outhit Ike Davis.

Perhaps more to the point, Mattingly has legions of loyal fans who might just possibly trek all the way up to Cooperstown to see their hero enshrined, and to listen to his acceptance speech.  Years from now, dads might still be taking their kids to see Mattingly’s plaque at The Hall.  How many parents do you think bring their kids all the way up to Cooperstown each year to stand in awe of the plaques of HOF “immortals” such as Herb Pennock, Rick Ferrell, Lloyd Waner, or Dave Bancroft?

Explain to me, then, how inducting Don Mattingly into the Baseball Hall of Fame would be bad for baseball, or for The Hall itself?

In the final analysis, the Hall of Fame is an idea as much as it is a place.  All baseball fans, in their heart of hearts, have their own idea as to what constitutes fame in this context.  When the chasm between what fans believe in their hearts is legitimate fame relative to the actual composition of the institution itself  grows too wide, then the fans, faced with an untenable choice, will always follow one and ignore the other.   Should that happen, The Baseball Hall of Fame may one day bear an uncanny resemblance to that other unfortunately failed Hall of Fame further downstate on a bluff overlooking the indifferent Harlem River.

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 18 – The San Francisco Giants

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inn...

Image via Wikipedia

I thought he was destined for the Hall of Fame.

For a five-year period, from 1987-91, Will “The Thrill” Clark of the San Francisco Giants was one of Major League Baseball’s  most dominant players.  His eye-black and competitive nature provoked fear in many opposing pitchers.  His glove around the first base bag was plenty good, but it was his bat they feared and respected most of all.

During that five-year period, Clark averaged 27 home runs, 104 RBI’s, 94 runs scored, a .304 batting average, an OPS of .900, and an outstanding OPS+ of 153.  He accomplished all of this while playing in one of the better PITCHER’S Parks in the N.L.

By way of comparison, Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez topped an OPS+ of 150 only twice in his 23-year career.  Giant’s Hall of Fame first baseman Orlando Cepeda topped 150 three times.  Yet another Giant’s Hall of Fame first baseman, Bill Terry, touched an OPS+ of 150 in just two seasons.

Will Clark topped an OPS+ in five separate seasons, as many as Cepeda and Terry combined.

Obviously, then, Will Clark had several outstanding seasons before he turned thirty years old, and many other good seasons during the rest of his career.

Will Clark’s Best Forgotten Season was in 1989.

As with some of the other players I’ve profiled in this series, a case could be made for one or two other seasons as well.  But ’89 was arguably Clark’s best season for several reasons.

In 1989, the 25-year old Clark batted .333, second best in the league.  He accumulated 321 Total Bases, again, good for second best in the league.

His WAR was a league-leading 9.4.

He led the N.L. in runs scored with 104.

He posted a career high 196 hits, and his OPS (.953) and OPS+ (175) were also each second best in the league.

He won his first Silver Slugger award, and he played in the All-Star Game.

Clark’s 136 Runs Created led the N.L.

He led the N.L. in times on base with 275.

He hit 23 home runs, drove in 111 runs, knocked 38 doubles and added nine triples.

Defensively, his Range Factor / Game of 9.85 was also the best in the N.L.

Just for good measure, he was voted the N.L.C.S. MVP by single-handedly smashing the Cubs pitching to the tune of a .650 batting average, a .683 on-base percentage, and a ridiculous slugging percentage of 1.200.

Will Clark finished second in the N.L. MVP voting in 1989 to teammate Kevin Mitchell who slugged 47 home runs and drove in 125 runs.

Clark finished in the top five in MVP voting four times in his career.  He played in six All-Star Games.  He won one Gold Glove, but was good enough to have earned more.

Astonishingly, Will Clark’s career OPS+ of 137 is better than 90 hitters currently in the Hall of Fame.

It is also better than two of his more celebrated contemporaries at the first base position, Don Mattingly, (127), and Keith Hernandez, (128).

The primary reason’s why Clark is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame have to do with his career power numbers.  Hall voters like to see lots of home runs and RBI’s from a first baseman.  Clark’s career totals in these two areas — 284 home runs and 1,205 RBI’s —  look modest compared to some of the other first basemen in The Hall.

Clark also never won an MVP award, and he never played on a World Championship team.

Clark ended his fifteen-year baseball career after the 2000 season when he was just 36-years old.  But he showed even in his final days as a player that his bat was still just about as dangerous as ever.

As a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in the last 51 games of his final season, Clark batted .345, had a .426 on-base percentage, slugged .655, and compiled an OPS of 1.081.  He smoked 28 extra-base hits in just 171 at bats.

Although Clark’s best overall season had occurred almost a dozen years earlier, clearly he had saved the best for last.

Underrated / Overrated: Baseball and Other Stuff – Part 2

I began my first “Underrated / Overrated” blog-post with the sentence, “There is more to life than baseball.”

Apparently, some people took offense to this heretical statement.

Nevertheless, let’s face it.   Other people, things and events have had at least a modicum of importance even though they have had almost nothing at all to do with baseball.

Things like the Hindenburg Disaster, for example, which took place not all that far from the Elysian Fields of New Jersey, where some of the very first baseball games were ever played.

Some of these people, events and things have been historically overrated, just as certain baseball players have long been overrated.

And, of course, the opposite is true as well, as I will argue throughout this blog-post.

For those of you who read the first edition of Overrated / Underrated, the format hasn’t changed.

I alternate a contemporary baseball-related Overrated / Underrated, comparing either teams or players, with another Overrated / Underrated that might be a pair of movies, authors, foods, historical people or events, or just about anything else that I find momentarily amusing or interesting.

For those of you who are either new to this blog, or who may have missed the first installment, don’t worry, you’ll catch on rather quickly.

Keeping in mind that this author’s opinions are highly biased, and not to be taken entirely seriously.

So, let’s begin.

Overrated: Mariners Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki – 200 hits per year, every year, is a pretty cool, and not insignificant accomplishment.  Ichiro is also an excellent defensive outfielder (nine gold gloves.)

He has stolen 344 bases in his career, for an 80% success rate.

Ichiro also reliably scores over 100 runs per season, and he has only grounded into 43 double-plays in his entire career.

Six times, he has led the A.L. in hits, and he holds the single-season record for hits with 262 in 2004.

He has a .333 career batting average (good for 29th all-time) and he has won two batting titles.

Finally, he has played in nine All-Star games in nine years, while winning three Silver Slugger awards.

So why overrated?

Despite all the hits, Ichiro has topped a .400 on-base percentage in only one season.  His career on-base percentage of .378 is good, but not great.  He comes in at 188th all-time, sandwiched between Taffy Wright and Merv Rettunmund.

Moreover, Ichiro’s career OPS of .811 is not at all impressive.  It ranks a pedestrian 331st all-time, right up there with Phil Nevin and Andre Thornton.

Also, despite Ichiro’s obvious speed and his ability to generate hits, he has hit an astonishingly low number of doubles and triples, not to mention home runs.  Fine, homers aren’t a part of his game.  But doubles?

Only twice has Ichiro topped 30 doubles in a season, never coming anywhere close to forty.  And only once has he hit more than nine triples.

Getting to first base is nice, as any teen-age boy can tell you.

But a great hitter is someone who normally accumulates a large number of total bases, and whose presence in the lineup leads to much more significant run production than Ichiro’s has in his nine years in Seattle.

Underrated:  Indians Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo – Choo was a 20-20 man last season in his first full year, and he hit .300 with a nearly .400 on-base percentage.  He was caught stealing just twice in 23 attempts.

Through 40 at bats this season, Choo is hitting .350 with four homers (including a Grand Slam), and he has drawn 11 walks to 10 strikeouts.  He has also driven in 12 runs, and he has scored ten.

Choo, who turns 28 years old in July, has a legitimate shot at a 30-30 season, with 100 runs scored and batted in, plus a .300 average.

As I stated in my last blog-post, Grady Sizemore gets all the hype in Cleveland, but Choo is the real deal.

Overrated:  “Silence of the Lambs” – Quick question.  Who is, as far as the plot is concerned, the primary antagonist in this film?

Wrong.  It is not Anthony Hopkins’ character, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  It is, in fact, an ill-defined serial killer who goes by the moniker “Buffalo Bill”  whom F.B.I. agent Clarice Starling (Jody Foster) is pursuing.

But because a big box-office film needs to put its stars front-and-center, Hopkins character receives far more show-time than his character warrants.

Now let me ask you something else.  In this movie, Foster’s character has recently graduated from the F.B.I. Academy.  So, do you really believe that this freshly minted graduate, who apparently has zero experience dealing with serial killers, would be placed on such an enormously important case as virtually the lead investigator?

But Hopkins hammed it up so effectively, he won the 1991 Best Actor Award for his performance.  And “Silence of the Lambs,” a nominal horror movie, won the Best Film award.  Too bad that much of its dialogue was lifted verbatim from an earlier film called…

Underrated:  “Manhunter” – The original Dr. Hannibal Lecter character was played, not by Hopkins, but by Brian Cox in this Michael Mann film.  Watch Cox’s spell-binding portrayal of Lecter in this film, and you will have to admit that Cox’s Dr. Lecter would eat Hopkin’s Dr. Lecter for lunch, perhaps with a nice Chianti.

Moreover, the lead investigator, Will Graham (played by William Peterson of C.S.I. fame) is far more credible as a foil for both Lecter and the “Tooth Fairy” serial killer (whose character is given far more depth than Silence of the Lamb’s “Buffalo Bill”) because it is established early on in Manhunter that he and Lecter have a history which almost resulted in Graham’s death.

And again, much of the dialogue in the first part of “Silence” is exactly the same as in “Manhunter.”

Shouldn’t an Academy Award winning film be at least somewhat original?

Overrated:  Cubs Pitcher Carlos Zambrano – Being paid like an ace, despite the fact that he hasn’t truly pitched like an ace in about three or four years.  Still only 29 years old, he has avoided the quick Mark Prior burnout in favor of a longer-slower approach.  Perhaps he can thank manager Lou Piniella simply for not being Dusty Baker.  Nevertheless, Zambrano’s decline is evident, although not apparent, to many fans and “analysts” who still refer to him as an “ace.”

(Note:  Just before I published this blog-post, it was reported that Zambrano had been banished to the Cubs bull-pen.)

Underrated:  Red Sox Pitcher Josh Beckett –  Although there are some people out there who believe that Beckett is actually overrated (Boston sports-writer Dan Shaughnessy for one), the fact is that Beckett is one of the most unappreciated aces in the Majors.

He has posted WHIP’s below 1.20 in each of the past three seasons while pitching most of his games in the toughest division on the planet, and half his games in a great hitter’s park.  He keeps his walks reasonably low, and he strikes out nearly a batter an inning.

So what’s not to like?

Overrated:  Horror Writer Stephen King – Full disclosure here.  I own 16 of his books, and I used to be a big fan of his.  I also lived in Maine for over twenty winters.

But the truth is, King’s books haven’t been truly creepy, let alone scary,  since “Gerald’s Game,” published way back in 1992.  Since then, the scariest thing about King’s books have been their massive heft, and the dismaying frequency with which he produces them.

Underrated:  Horror Writer Franz Kafka – This man was so far ahead of his time, we’re still trying to catch up to him.  “The Trial” and “The Castle,” as well as his other works, propose primary characters so de-humanized by the modern world that they barely have names.  The normal narrative of a life characterized by triumph and tragedy is replaced by one of a constant state of anxiety, confusion, and paranoia from which there is no escape.

And the real horror here is that it’s not even clear that the primary characters in his stories ever truly even want to escape, so accustomed to the moral chaos they have become.

Sound familiar?

Overrated:  Yankees First Baseman Don Mattingly – “Donnie Baseball” had three truly great seasons, and several good ones.  In the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (a great book, overall), James has only this to say about Mattingly:  “100% ballplayer, 0% bullshit.”

Fine, but according to Baseball-Reference.com, Mattingly’s career most closely resembles those of Cecil Cooper, Wally Joyner, Hal McRae and Will Clark.

Mattingly was a good fielder, winning nine Gold Gloves, but the last couple were won primarily on reputation, and, anyway, defensively he was not the game-changer that cross-town rival Keith Hernandez was.

Do I wish Mattingly had a long and highly successful career?  Of course I do.  But the fact of the matter is that once his back problems sapped his power by the time he was 28-years old, he was basically not much better than your average first baseman.

Underrated:  Mets First Baseman Keith Hernandez –  During the decade of the 1980’s Major League Baseball kept an official statistic called Game Winning RBI’s.  I’m not sure why they discontinued that stat, but guess which player produced the most GWRBI’s in that decade?  Yup, Keith Hernandez.

Like Mattingly, Keith Hernandez won one MVP Award (co-winner with Willie Stargell in 1979.)  Unlike Mattingly, however, Hernandez’s presence led to his New York team winning a World Series title in 1986.

Keith Hernandez was an excellent line-drive hitter, a superior on-field leader, a clutch performer, and easily one of the top five defensive first basemen of all-time.  Keith played first base with the quickness, agility and brashness that usually characterizes the very best middle infielders.

Keith Hernandez:  100% ballplayer, 0% bullshit.

Overrated:  Las Vegas Elvis – Virtually everyone under the age of 45 has only the bloated, self-parodying Vegas Elvis as their reference point here.  The favored Elvis of the vast majority of Elvis impersonators, one has to wonder if even Elvis himself grew tired of playing this version of himself.

Underrated:  Memphis Elvis – This talented young crooner sang country, gospel, and rockabilly long before he was exploited for his sexy good looks and distinctive voice by the quickly emerging Rock n’ Roll establishment, not to mention Hollywood.

Overrated:  Mets Outfielder Jason Bay – He’s being paid like a Super-Star, but he is best suited as a complementary piece in a deep line-up, which the Mets clearly do not have.  Thus, he will feel the New York pressure in the not-too-distant future.  Athletically, his body-type and skill set are reminiscent of Tim Salmon, Kevin McReynolds, Ryan Klesko, and an over-the-hill George Foster.  Fenway Park inflated his numbers; Citi Field will expose them.  Sorry Mets fans.  Poor signing.

Underrated:  Mariners Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez – Hands down, the best defensive outfielder playing today.  According to Baseball Prospectus, Gutierrez’s defensive prowess saved between 25-30 runs last season, an estimated value of about three wins for his team.  Offensively, he has the power and speed to go 20-20 on you, and last season, his first full year in the Majors, he scored 85 runs, just three fewer than Ichiro.  Now entering his age 27 season, he could enjoy a very nice, All-Star caliber year in Seattle.

In fact, as I write this, Gutierrez, through 57 at bats, is hitting .421 with a .460 on-base percentage.  Not too bad.

Overrated:  The Winchester Rifle – These beautiful, classic weapons are now collectors items worth thousands of dollars.  They sound cool when they shoot, and on T.V. many years ago, the Winchester Rifle was the preferred weapon of Chuck Connors’ “The Rifleman.”

Yet the Winchester did not significantly alter the balance of power between cowboys and Indians in the old west, or even the balance of power between cowboys and other cowboys.  Smith and Wesson, and Colt, with their handy revolvers, were arguably more important to the culture and history of the American West.

Still, no question about it, Winchesters are pretty cool.

Underrated:  The Martini-Henry Rifle – This breech-loaded, single-shot  rifle, in the hands of disciplined, well-trained British soldiers, was an extremely deadly weapon.  Firing in ranks, and independently, barely 100 British soldiers held off approximately 4,000 determined Zulu warriors at Rorke’s Drift in 1879.  This rifle, with a fixed bayonet, made all the difference.

Check out the final attack of the Zulus in the 1964 film, “Zulu.”

 

It is only five minutes long, and there are a couple of decent shots of the Brits using this weapon in battle.

Overrated:  Inter-League Play – Mets and Yankees fans need several fixes of this match-up per year to satisfy their unquenchable desire to turn baseball into an all-New York event.  Meanwhile, a few other rivalries, Cubs-White Sox, Angels-Dodgers, are kind of cool I guess.  But there are far too many pointless match-ups (Tigers-Reds, anyone?), to justify so many games per year of this stunt, especially when teams in different divisions, but in the same league, barely ever get to play one another.

Moreover, how fair is it that some teams always draw the toughest teams the other league has to offer, while other teams usually end up playing the rival league’s patsies?

Underrated:  Pre-game Warm-ups and Batting Practice –  Yes, some teams actually still do these things.  It’s a great time to enjoy the quiet that has been bled out of baseball.  Sit back, watch the players toss the ball around, put your feet up, and have a beer.  If you have a child in tow, bring them down to the seats closest to the field, and try for an autograph or two.  And you still have an entire game to look forward to.  What could be better than that?

Overrated:  Pittsburgh Steelers Defense – They sacked their opponents quarterbacks 47 times last year.  Nice total, but nothing special.  Their opponents sacked Steelers quarterbacks 50 times.

Underrated:  F.D.N.Y.  (Fire Department of New York City) –

Saved thousands of lives on 9/11 at the cost of 343 of their own.  One Firehouse, Engine 40 / Ladder 35,  sent 13 men to the World Trade Center that day.  Only one returned alive.  ‘Nuff said.

So ends another installment of Underrated / Overrated.  Hope you enjoyed it.  Whether you agree or disagree with my opinions expressed here in this blog-post, I’d love to hear from you.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

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