The On Deck Circle

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This Year’s Hall of Fame Arguments

I’ve been reading a sampling of the vast body of opinion regarding the 2014 baseball Hall of Fame ballot, which includes many of the most famous (and infamous) names in baseball history:  Bonds, Maddux, Clemens, Sosa, Bagwell, Biggio, Piazza, Schilling, Glavine, Mussina, Morris, Raines, etc.  Predictably, there is not only little consensus on which players belong in The HOF (with the probable exception of Greg Maddux), but there also seems to be a great deal of disagreement about what standards we should even use to judge these players.

What follows is a random sampling of the often contradictory (occasionally hallucinatory) opinions that fans and writers have expressed online regarding the players, and the Hall of Fame voting procedure itself.  The player being commented upon appears in parentheses.

1)  “He was a compiler.  He needs to get used to the fact that he was a good, but not a great player, and only got to 3,000 hits because he hung around for a long time.”  (Craig Biggio)

2)  “He didn’t play long enough.  His career was too short.  He never got anywhere near 3,000 hits.”  (Larry Walker)

3)  “He didn’t hit 500 homers, which is the gold standard for first basemen.  Also, he just looks like a ‘roid user.”  (Jeff Bagwell)

4)  “Although he hit over 500 home runs, and was mostly a first baseman, he was just too much of a one-dimensional player.  He probably didn’t use steroids, but that’s not enough of a reason to vote for him.”  (Frank Thomas)

5)  “If he’s not in the Hall of Fame because of the mistakes he made, which he’s paid for long enough, then no one should be.  Betting on baseball is not any worse than steroid use.  In fact, steroids are far worse.”  (Pete Rose)

6)  “He should be in the Hall of Fame because he was one of the greatest players who ever lived.  Period.  It’s not like he bet on baseball, which is much more serious.”  (Barry Bonds)

7)  “Mostly, he got to 300 wins because he played for great teams.  Put him on a more average team, and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation today.”  (Tom Glavine)

8)  “I can’t see him getting elected to the Hall of Fame because he didn’t reach 300 wins, which would have made him an automatic Hall of Famer.”  (Mike Mussina)

9)  “If he and the other ‘roid users get in, then the Hall of Fame will have lost all respectability.”  (Roger Clemens)

10) “If the BBWAA doesn’t vote him into the Hall, then the Hall will no longer have any credibility.” (Roger Clemens)

11) “That’s what I hate about stats.  You can make an argument for lots of guys.”  (Tim Raines)

12) “He wasn’t any better than Ray Durham.  He just ended up with more numbers.”  (Craig Biggio)

13)  “He wasn’t any better than Lew (sic) Whitaker.  So why should be get in?”  (Craig Biggio)

14)  “A loudmouth phony and a shameless self-promoter.  Had a couple of great seasons, but so did a lot of other guys.”  (Curt Schilling)

15)  “This shouldn’t be a popularity contest.  There are lots of scumbags in the Hall of Fame.”  (Barry Bonds)

16)  “The Hall has been so watered down over the past few years, he’d just water it down further.”  (Argument against Jack Morris)

17)  “Winningest pitcher of the ’80’s, and always pitched to the score.  That’s why his ERA shouldn’t matter.”  (Argument in favor of Jack Morris.)

18)  “They all used steroids, so if everyone is cheating, then no one is cheating.”  (Clemens, Bonds, etc.)

19)  “All the steroid users should be in jail.”  (Clemens, Bonds, etc.)

20)  “I know stats wise he is better, but he also quit while he was ahead.  So people saying Glavine is just getting in over him due to 300 wins also need to look at the downturn that getting to 300 caused to the rest of his stats.”  (Argument apparently favoring (?) Tom Glavine over Mike Mussina.)

21)  “Not denying {he} was a pretty good pitcher, but he could throw the ball anywhere near the plate and the umps would call it a strike.”  (Greg Maddux)

22)  “No one ever had better command and control.”  (Greg Maddux)

23)  “Bloody sock, my ass.  One great World Series moment does not a career make.”  (Curt Schilling)

24)  “His Game 7, 10-inning shutout in the World Series was one of the greatest moments in baseball history.  That’s why he should be in the Hall.”  (Jack Morris)

25)  “Greatest right-handed pitcher ever.”  (Roger Clemens)

26)  “Greatest right-handed pitcher of all time.”  (Greg Maddux)

27)  “The Hall of Fame is just a museum of baseball, so you have to take the good with the bad.”  (Regarding the alleged steroid users.)

28)  “It’s a special honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.   It would send a terrible message if we put {them} in.”  (Regarding the steroid users.)

29) “Mantle’s stats were great… now think how better they’d have been if he hadn’t tried to paint every town red across the country. Heck, Babe Ruth’s off-the-field escapades were legendary. In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, how many players were on the field after a night of uppers or downers? Few people speak ill of those guys.  Which affects a MLB game more? A home run that IS hit or a home run that IS NOT hit? A base hit or a strike out due to a hangover? (So, therefore, Mantle and Ruth should be EVEN MORE in the Hall of Fame?)

30)  “As long as he’s not in the Hall, it’s all a complete joke.”  (Argument for Shoeless Joe Jackson)

31)  “No one who played before Jackie Robinson came along and broke the color line should be considered as great as today’s players.”  (Argument against Shoeless Joe Jackson)

32)  “He shouldn’t be in there if Gil Hodges isn’t.”  (Jeff Bagwell)

33)  “To argue that he should be in the Hall when Tommy John and Jim Kaat are not is ridiculous.”   (Mike Mussina)

34)  “He was a good hitter, but as a day-to-day catcher, I’d take Brian McCann over him.”  (Mike Piazza)

35)  “Saves are a junk stat.”  (Lee Smith)

36)  “One of the two or three best closers of all time.”  (Lee Smith)

37)  “Largely a product of his home ballpark.”  (Larry Walker)

38)  “New how to use the short porch in right-field at Yankee Stadium to his advantage.”  (Roger Maris)

39) “All those who broke the rules should all be banned from baseball forever!”

40) Otter’s Defense of the rule-breakers:  (Animal House)

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Lesson’s Learned: Sleep With One Eye Open

Honestly, I was not going to comment on yesterday’s Hall of Fame voting results.

Too many keyboards have suffered enough over that topic the past couple of days.  But I read a comment by a member of the BBWAA today that I have to admit irked me a great deal  (I won’t name him; there’s no reason to give him greater exposure.)

This writer said (and I’m paraphrasing) that he was very glad that no one was elected in this year’s HOF voting because it teaches our children a lesson that cheaters and cheating will not be tolerated.  Otherwise, he claimed, our children would come away with the opposite lesson, that cheating can and will be rewarded.

Fine, but here are some other lessons our children can take away from yesterday’s HOF voting:

1)  In our culture, you are now guilty until proven innocent.  Moreover, the court of public opinion (where Bonds and Clemens were convicted) is more important than a court of law (where neither of them were convicted of using steroids.)

2)  Guilt by association is not only to be tolerated, but encouraged.  Were you successful at the same time or place that some alleged cheaters were also successful?  By extension, then, perhaps you were guilty as well, even if no credible witness has ever come forward to accuse you of wrong-doing.

3)  The innocent may be punished as well as the guilty.  Call this the Rule of Collateral Damage.  Yes, it’s true that Craig Biggio was apparently as clean as a player can be, but he was on the wrong ballot at the wrong time.  Yes, we presume he is innocent, (so the argument may go), but don’t you see that a greater good was served here today by excluding every player, even if for just one year?

4)  Future generations are to be held to a higher standard of ethics and behavior than previous ones.  If you cheat, lie, or otherwise finesse the rules in the future, you can bet that your punishment will be swift, severe, and final, unlike past generations of scoundrels who we have arbitrarily declared off-limits to meaningful moral judgment.  Too much of our sepia-toned childhood nostalgia rests in the mythology we have created for ourselves regarding the so-called Golden Age of baseball.  To objectively re-analyze all of that risks fatally puncturing the baseball dreams dancing around in our collective psyches.  Screw that!

Thus, HOF’er Goose Gossage declared today that if Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza do make it into The Hall in the next couple of years, and if they did actually use steroids, and should that info come out after they’ve been inducted, then it would be justifiable to remove their plaques from Cooperstown.  He suggested that if they know in their hearts that they are guilty, they should sleep with one eye open.

Yet at no time has anyone ever suggested before that someone who is already in The Hall of Fame should perhaps have their plaque removed if it is found that they cheated their way into The Hall.  And, yes, we know of previous cheaters, some of whom I’m sure even Goose Gossage has heard of.

5)  Compassion and forgiveness are dead.  Christian believers though some of these writers may claim to be (at least in private), they appear to have forgotten Christ’s #1 message: Judge not lest ye be judged.  There is to be no forgiveness, no compassion, no humble awareness of our own fallibility. As long as we have fingers to point at someone else, we will keep those fingers busy.

6)  When the system is done with you, it will chew you up and spit you out.  For many years, team owners, managers, trainers, journalists and fans looked the other way while happily cheering the heroes they made for themselves.  Fame, fortune, and everything else that comes with celebrity in our culture was there for the taking.  The athletes were encouraged to partake as much of and for as long as possible.  Meanwhile, the baseball machine hummed along, making record profits.  The machine was fat and happy, and life went on.  But once the machine was threatened, it jettisoned any and all the human ballast it could as fast and as ruthlessly as it could.  Because the machine was never about the players; it was always about the profit, and nothing else.

These are six more lessons that we should be sure to teach our children as a result of yesterday’s Hall of Fame voting, if we are being honest with ourselves.

The Baseball Hall of Fame Vote (Or, Rats Boarding a Sinking Ship)

Normally, when a ship is about to smash itself upon the craggy coast of, say, a nineteenth century New England village during a nor’easter, the black rats aboard would be wily enough to read the warning signs in time to jump ship and attempt to save themselves by swimming through the swells.

Not so, apparently, with the Baseball Writers of America (BBWAA), America’s last bastion of discomfiting morality.  Just as the S.S. Hall Ballot 2013 set sail, the BBWAA rats began to puncture holes in their own vessel, now listing dangerously to port-side before they’d even left port.  And more of them  continue to climb aboard,  though it should be obvious by now that their (nautical) position, (like Dave Kingman playing third base), is untenable.

How else to account for the inevitable shipwreck-of-a-ballot being buffeted around like a latter-day Pequod doing battle with the GREAT WHITE WHALE of our time, steroids?

Wait a minute.  Aren’t the writers — those sportswriters lucky enough to actually receive a ballot (in a newspaper industry, mind you, with about as much of a future as a harpooner) — simply supposed to vote for the best players of the past decade or so whose names now appear on ballot?  When did the baseball writers, an old-time boys club not to be mistaken for a boy’s choir, become the Maginot Line of virtue in our society?

Yet moralize they will once their ballots are submitted on January 9th.
Some of them will tell you it’s simply wrong to allow cheaters into The Hall of Fame even though plenty of cheaters are already in there.  They will argue that to let in a Barry Bonds or a Roger Clemens will turn the Hall’s Plaque Room into an atrocity, akin to burying Napoleon’s remains in Westminster Abbey (well, they probably won’t come up with that one, I suppose, though they’ll wish they had.)

Yet the Hall has withstood the induction of a KKK member, Tris Speaker, as well as the enshrinement of such other virulent racists as Cap Anson and Ty Cobb, to name just two of probably many.

Gaylord Perry was an admitted cheater.  He even wrote a popular book about cheating called, “Me and the Spitter.”

 Leo Durocher, while managing the Giants in ’51, had his players utilize a complex set of mirrors and a German-made telescope to steal the signs of opposing pitchers in the second half of the ’51 season, up to and including  the pennant deciding game in which Bobby Thomson probably knew what Ralph Branca was about to throw before he hit the legendary (probably tainted) home run.

Don Sutton and Whitey Ford were said by many to have regularly scuffed the ball.

And as for Performance Enhancing Drugs, “Greenies” don’t count?  Mike Schmidt and Hank Aaron were both admitted users of “Greenies” and Willie Mays probably used them as well.  “Greenies” have been specifically banned from baseball since 1971.  They might not have enabled a player to hit a ball further or to throw it harder, but they did allow the player to continue to perform at peak performance when their body otherwise might not have been able to.  That is the same purpose for which  Mark McGwire claims to have used PED’s.

Meanwhile, even if none of those reasons impress you very much or cause you to take a second look at PED use, consider this.  It’s probable that at least one or two PED users are already in The Hall.  The taint has probably already occurred.  If PED use really began to manifest itself in the Majors in the early to mid-1980’s, this means that for around twenty years now, the BBWAA has been inducting players who could conceivably have used PED’s.  Given the large number of stars who’ve now been linked to PED’s (either by leak, personal admission, or circumstantial evidence) over the past 20 years, is it inconceivable that some of their peers already in The Hall might also have been users?

Consider, as well, that the despite the “best” intentions of the BBWAA over the next decade, almost certainly at least a couple more PED users will be enshrined.  The alternative is that NO players will be enshrined, and despite the Baseball HOF’s best efforts at appearing Regal and Above the Fray on this issue, no organization will squawk louder than The Hall will when NO player is inducted into The Hall for several years running.

We’re talking big bucks on the line here for The Hall’s big, annual Induction Weekend.  No induction, no big crowds.  No big crowds, a lot less money coming into the town coffers.  (Current Hall Chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark, whose family owns just about all that is worth owning in Cooperstown, would not be happy about that.)

Finally, there is the long-term issue of the continued relevance and viability of a HOF which excludes virtually all of the significant record holders and award winners of an entire generation of players.  Consider List A and List B, for a moment:
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List A:

Tommy McCarthy
George “High Pockets” Kelly
Rick Ferrell
Lloyd Waner
Jesse Haines
Freddie Lindstrom
Chick Hafey
Herb Pennock
Jim Bottomley
Ray Schalk
Rube Marquard
Elmer Flick
Ross Youngs
Kiki Cuyler
Joe Kelley

That’s a list of 15 players who are actually in the HOF.
Now let’s take a look at List B:
Barry Bonds
Mike Piazza
Jeff Bagwell
Roger Clemens
Sammy Sosa
Larry Walker
Mark McGwire
Craig Biggio
Edgar Martinez
Tim Raines
Alan Trammell
Kenny Lofton
Curt Schilling
Fred McGriff
Lee Smith

Virtually every player on List B is better than every player on list A, yet there’s a very real chance that NONE of the players on List B will be elected this year, and that perhaps only 2 or 3 will be elected in coming years.  Granted, not all of these players suffer from the scarlet letter of Steroids.

Yet, from both a historical standpoint as well as from a perspective of pure entertainment, obviously far more fans (despite their misgivings about any particular player) would prefer to visit Hall Plaque Room B over Hall Plaque Room A.  And certainly the players on List B were both more talented and, therefore, more Hall-worthy than List A.  So, the question arises, how irrelevant do we want to allow The Hall of Fame to become?

Which players from List B (and let’s add Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, and Don Mattingly to round out our ballot) would you vote for?  Remember, you can vote for up to ten players.  Which ones would you choose not to vote for, and why?

Happy New Year,
Bill Miller

Best Position Players Not In the Hall of Fame: All-Time Team

“Tis the season, for Hall of Fame voting.

That means, of course, that today must be Cyber-Monday, the day in which I spend around six hours in my sweat-pants — pot of coffee at-the-ready — poring over statistics, analyzing the career records of various retired players…oh, wait, I do this all the time anyway.

Here are the ground-rules for my list of Best Retired Players Not Already in the Hall of Fame:

1)  No 19th century players.  In my opinion, the baseball writers / bloggers / historians, etc., have spent more than enough time picking over the skeletal remains of that century, regarding baseball.  As it says in a pretty famous book, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

2)  The player not only has to be retired; he also has to have appeared on the BBWAA HOF ballot at least once since he’s been retired.

3)  The player has to meet basic Hall of Fame requirements, such as having played at least ten seasons in the Majors, can’t have been deemed ineligible due to “legal” issues (do you hear me, Pete Rose?), etc.

And that’s basically it.  So let’s get started.

Jeff Bagwell

Jeff Bagwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1B  Jeff Bagwell:  (1991-2005)  A no-brainer.  Baseball-Reference.com (I’ll  constantly be referring to this invaluable website throughout) has Bagwell listed as the sixth greatest first baseman of all-time.  Thirty-eight players have reached the 30 (homers) – 30 (steals) club in baseball history.  You know how many of them have been first basemen?  Just one.  Jeff Bagwell.  And he did it twice.

Bagwell’s career OPS+ of 149 is tied for 36th best in baseball history, at any position.  He was an outstanding base-runner, a very good fielder, could hit for both power and average, and was durable, leading the league in games played four times.

His 1,788 runs created is tied with HOF’er Al Simmons for 39th all-time, ahead of such immortals as Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripkin, Jr., Reggie Jackson and Eddie Mathews.

Bagwell was the N.L. Rookie of the Year in 1991, and the league’s MVP in 1994.

Last year, Bagwell was named on 56% of the ballots cast by members of the BBWAA.  Apparently, the other 44% were a bit scared off by “rumors” that Bagwell might somehow have been associated with the steroids scandal.

Yet the fact remains that no evidence has surfaced that Bagwell had anything to do with steroids at all.  Hopefully, another 20% of the BBWAA will come to their senses this year and vote Bagwell into The Hall where he clearly belongs.

2B  Bobby Grich:  (1970-86)  Baseball-Reference (from here on out, B-R), ranks Grich as the 8th best second baseman of all-time.  The seven listed immediately ahead of him, and three of the four directly behind him, are all in the Hall of Fame.  Grich’s 67.3 WAR is higher than the average of the 19 second basemen in The Hall.

A four-time Gold Glove winner, Grich was an excellent defensive second baseman.  He also had good power for a middle infielder, slugging 224 career homers, including a league-leading total of 22 in the strike year of 1981 (100 games played), and 30 homers in 1979.

Only six second basemen in history have a career OPS+ better than Grich’s mark of 125, and each of them is in the Hall of Fame.  Playing for both the Orioles and the Angels in his 17-year career (1970-86), Grich possessed one of the best combinations of offense and defense ever by a second baseman, and certainly belongs in the HOF.  (All apologies to Lou Whitaker, my second choice.)

SS Alan Trammell:  (1977-96)  Bill James ranked Trammell as the 9th best shortstop of all time.  B-R has him ranked in 11th place.  So let’s compromise and call him the 10th best shortstop ever.  Now, if you are among the top ten players in one of baseball’s most difficult defensive positions, it seems logical that you belong in The Hall, doesn’t it?

Alan Trammell’s career WAR of 67.1 is exactly the same as recent HOF inductee Barry Larkin.  It is also better than 13 other shortstops already in the HOF.  Trammell and his keystone mate Lou Whitaker were each always among the best defensive players at their respective positions in their era.

Trammell was the best player in the A.L. in 1987, batting .343, with 205 hits, 109 runs scored, 28 homers, 21 steals and 105 RBI (and his usual stellar defense), but finished second to George Bell in MVP voting due to Bell’s gaudier power numbers.

Trammell won several Gold Gloves, posted a solid .285 career batting average, slugged 185 homers and 412 doubles (shortstops were not yet necessarily expected to be dangerous hitters, as would become the norm a bit later), and played his entire 20-year career (1977-96) in Detroit.

This year will be Trammell’s 12th on the HOF ballot.  Last year, he was named on 36.8% of the ballots.  Perhaps the BBWAA will take a more serious look at Trammell’s career this time around and give him the boost he needs to make it into The Hall before his eligibility runs out in just a few more years.  He certainly belongs there.

English: St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Ken...

English: St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer in a 1955 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3B  Ken Boyer:  (1955-69)  As perhaps many of you already know, third base is the least represented position in the HOF.  Only eleven third basemen are in The Hall, and it took Ron Santo’s drawn-out induction last year to get the number that high.  Ken Boyer should be inducted to make it a dozen.

Boyer is rated by B-R as the 14th best third baseman of all time.  Of the 13 players listed ahead of Boyer, three are either currently active or have recently retired, one — Edgar Martinez — wasn’t really a third baseman at all, and all but one of the rest of them are already in The Hall.  Only Graig Nettles is as qualified as Boyer to stake a claim on this list.

Ultimately, I chose Boyer because I believe his overall game was a hair better than Nettles’ was, and because Boyer was selected to play in eleven All Star games in 15 years, while Nettles was chosen six times in 22 seasons.

For a solid decade, 1955-64, Boyer was always one of the best players in the N.L.  In 1964, the year in which the Cardinals defeated the Yankees in the World Series, Boyer led the league with 119 RBI and was named N.L. MVP that season.

A five-time Gold Glove winner, Boyer ranks 20th all-time in assists as a third baseman.  Boyer also hit for solid power (282 homers), had very decent speed (68 triples), and finished his career with a respectable .287 batting average.

Boyer was dropped off of the BBWAA’s HOF list after receiving just 11.8% of the vote in his final year of eligibility in 1994.  Yet, as of this writing, Boyer remains the best third baseman not in the Hall of Fame.  Perhaps some day, a future Veteran’s Committee will endorse his induction into the HOF.

C  Ted Simmons:  (1968-88)  Simmons HOF candidacy was always hurt by the fact that his career largely occurred during what can now be considered a Golden Age of catchers.  In the 1970’s and into the ’80’s, there was no shortage of World Class catchers:  Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson, Gene Tenace, Bob Boone, Darrell Porter, Jim Sundberg and Gary Carter, among others, each donned the so-called tools of ignorance.  Ted Simmons had a fine career, but was overshadowed by some of these other catchers.

Still, B-R ranks Ted Simmons as the 10th best catcher of all-time.  Simmons was an underrated defensive catcher, though no match for several of the others I’ve listed above.  But more to the point, Simmons was a catcher who could really hit.  Here are his batting averages from 1971-80:  .304, .303, .310, .272, .332, .291, .318, .287, .283, and .303.

After switching leagues at age 31, leaving the Cardinals for the Brewers, Simmons caught fewer and fewer games every year, becoming increasingly a 1B / DH.

Despite the competition at his position and in his league, Simmons was named to eight All Star teams in his career.  Only one catcher, Pudge Rodriguez, has ever hit more career doubles than Simmons’ total of 483, and his 1,389 RBI is also the second highest total of all time by a player whose primary position was catcher, surpassed only by Yogi Berra.

Strangely, Ted Simmons was only on the BBWAA HOF ballot for just one year, 1994, in which he received just 3.7% of the vote.  Looking back nearly 20 years later, it’s difficult to understand how Simmons could garner such little support for such an excellent career.

Thus, Ted Simmons remains the best catcher not in the Hall of Fame.  (Apologies to Joe Torre, my second choice.)

LF  Tim Raines:  (1979-2002)  In my opinion, after Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines is the best player not in the Hall of Fame.  And other than Rickey Henderson, I believe that Tim Raines was the best top of the order, base-stealing, run-producing player of the past eighty years.

Tim “Rock” Raines stole 808 bases in his career, leading the league in steals four times.  He stole at least 70 bases in a season in each of his first six years in the Majors.  Significantly, he never led the league in times caught stealing.  By way of comparison, Lou Brock led the league in steals eight times, but also led in times caught stealing seven times.  Raines career stolen base success rate of nearly 85% is one of the best in MLB history.

But Raines was also an excellent all-around run producer.  He created exactly 1,636 runs in his career, the same total as Tony Gwynn, and more than Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and former teammate Andre Dawson.

Of the seven left-fielders ranked ahead of Raines by B-R, five are in The Hall.  The other two are Barry Bonds and Pete Rose (see the link to an article about Pete Rose below.)  There are 13 left-fielders who rank behind Raines who are in The Hall. Clearly, Raines has more than a legitimate case to be enshrined in The Hall.  Until that day arrives, however, he will remain the best left-fielder not in the HOF.

CF  Jimmy Wynn:  (1963-77)  Frankly, although I’ve always been a fan of Jimmy Wynn, I didn’t expect him to be my center-fielder on this list.  But I am happy to say that he fits the bill.  B-R ranks Wynn as the 15th best center-fielder ever.  Each of the 14 listed ahead of him are either already in The Hall, are currently active, or have only recently retired.  Kenny Lofton (ranked 8th) appears on the HOF ballot for the first time this fall.

I’ve made this argument before, but let me briefly state it one more time.  If you took HOF’er Jim Rice and placed him in the Houston Astrodome for the majority of his home games, and you put Jimmy Wynn in Fenway Park for the majority of his, then Wynn would be in The Hall, and Rice would be remembered as a very solid player along the lines of say, Joe Carter.

In 1967, for example, the entire Astros team hit just 93 home runs.  Jimmy Wynn hit 37 of those homers, representing an astounding 40% of all of the Astros homers that season.  The aging Eddie Mathews and a very young Rusty Staub each hit 10 homers that year, good for second place on that team.

Meanwhile, flashing ahead ten years, Jim Rice led the A.L. with 39 home runs.  But among his teammates, George Scott hit 33, Butch Hobson hit 30, Yaz hit 28, Fisk hit 26, and Fred Lynn hit 18. The BoSox as a team that year hit 213 home runs in ’77.  Therefore, Rice’s 39 represented just 18% of the team total.  Obviously, then, time and place matter a great deal when attempting to judge a given player’s value.

Aside from Jimmy “Toy Cannon” Wynn’s enormous power, Wynn was an on-base machine, reaching at least 90 walks in a season nine times, including a league-leading 148 walks in 149 games in 1969.

Wynn’s career lasted from 1963-77, spent almost entirely in the N.L.  His career OPS+ of 129 is, perhaps a bit ironically, one point better than Rice’s career mark of 128.

If Kenny Lofton fails to be voted into The Hall this year, his first year on the ballot, then he will become the best center-fielder not in The Hall.  But unless that happens,  Jimmy Wynn will remain the best one not in the HOF.

RF  Larry Walker:  (1989-2005)  I know what you’re going to say.  Two Words:  Coors Effect.  I’ve already written one entire blog-post about why Larry Walker belongs in the HOF.  But briefly, both before and after he played his home games at Coors Field, he was always an outstanding baseball player.

B-R ranks Walker as the 9th best right-fielder ever.  His career WAR of 69.7 almost perfectly matches the 69.5 average of the 24 players in The Hall at his position.

As a fielder, Larry Walker was credited with 150 outfield assists, good for 12th place among all outfielders in baseball history.  He won seven Gold Gloves for his fielding.  He won those Gold Gloves as both a member of the Expos and the Rockies.

Walker was an excellent base-runner.  Among those who saw him play, it was rare that anyone ever saw Walker make a base-running mistake.  He slugged 471 doubles and 62 triples in his career, always ready to take the extra base on an unsuspecting outfielder.  He also stole 230 bases in his career, posting a respectable 75% success rate in that category.

Walker could hit for both average and power.  His career line of .313 / .400 / .565 places him among the greatest right-fielders in history, as does his career OPS+ of 141 (which takes into consideration a player’s time and place.)  Although Walker clearly hit better at Coors Field (and why, precisely, should that be held against him?) he also hit very well pretty much everywhere else.

In the final 144 games of Walker’s career, which he spent with the Cardinals after leaving Colorado, the 38-year-old Walker posted a batting line of .286 / .387 / .520 with an OPS+ of 134, fine numbers for a player on the verge of retirement.

In some cases, a player is almost completely a product of his environment.  Dante Bichette comes to mind.  In other cases, though, an already great player uses his environment to his advantage.  Larry Walker belongs in the latter category.  One other place Larry Walker belongs is in the HOF.  Until that happens (and Walker will be on the ballot for the third time this year), Walker will remain the best right-fielder not in the HOF.

DH  Edgar Martinez:  (1987-2004)  I’m not a big fan of the Designated Hitter rule, but I am a fan of Edgar Martinez.  Quite simply, Edgar Martinez is one of the greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history.  Edgar appeared in just 564 games as a third baseman out of 2,055 games played, so he can be said to have been a player without a legitimate defensive position.  There was a time I would have held this against him, as, apparently, many BBWAA voters still do.

The fact remains, however, that Edgar Martinez was simply the best pure D.H. in baseball history.  Martinez hit .312 for his career, winning two batting titles along the way.  He hit 514 doubles, 309 home runs and drove in over a hundred runs six times.  His career OPS+ of 147 is the same as HOF’ers Mike Schmidt, Sam Thompson, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell and future HOF’er Jim Thome.

Martinez played his entire 18-year MLB career with the Seattle Mariners.  Given the evolving way in which the D.H. position is being used these days — some teams have begun rotating their regular players through the D.H. to give them more rest — it is possible that Edgar Martinez will go down in history as the best Designated Hitter of all-time, regardless of whether or not he eventually makes it into the Hall of Fame.

So those are my choices for the nine best players not in the Hall of Fame.  Do you agree or disagree with my choices?  I’ll be interested to find out.

Next time, I’ll examine the best pitchers who are not in the Hall of Fame.

2012 Baseball Hall of Fame Vote Analysis

Let’s try to sift through the wreckage of the 2012 BBWAA Hall of Fame vote, and

Barry Larkin, Cincinnati Reds, 2004, by Rick D...
attempt to reconstruct the debacle.  Maybe we’ll find a black box or something.

1)  Reds shortstop Barry Larkin received 86.4% of the vote, easily exceeding the 75% he needed for induction into the Hall of Fame.  One of the top ten shortstops of all time, he is a worthy addition to the Hall of Fame.

2)  Jack Morris received 66.7% of the vote.  He has a couple of years left on the ballot, and stands a good shot at getting elected before his time is up.  His career WAR was 39.3, the second lowest among the 14 players on the ballot who survived the cut.  Morris received 382 votes.  Brad Radke, career WAR 40.9, received just two votes and fell off the ballot.  Morris had a mustache.  Radke didn’t.  BBWAA voters like men with mustaches.  They think it makes them look tough, you know, like a Hall of Famer should.

3)  Forty-four percent of the American public believes that the world is less than 10,000 years old.  This is the same percentage as BBWAA voters who left Jeff Bagwell’s name off of their HOF ballots.  One has to wonder if they are, in fact, the same people.

4)  Lee Smith, a relief pitcher who specialized in taking naps before his 9th inning cameos, received 50.6% of the vote.  Apparently, this means that about half of the voters believe the save is a crap statistic, and they are correct.

5)  Tim Raines got 48.7% of the vote.  What’s interesting here is that no one mentions anymore that Raines was part of a cocaine scandal that rocked baseball back in the 1980’s.  It was a very big deal at the time.  Yet Raines now has a real chance of someday getting into the HOF.  What are we to make, then, of all the hullabaloo surrounding the PED scandal of recent times?  My guess is that it’ll ultimately go the way of all American scandals, including Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair, etc.  The public doesn’t so much forgive.  It simply forgets.

6)  Alan Trammell:  Sometimes I think HOF voters are just kind of lazy.  Why bother taking a look at a guy like Trammell’s numbers year after year?  He just didn’t, you know, feel like a Hall of Famer when he was playing.  Yet his career WAR (66.9) is better than Ozzie Smith, PeeWee Reese, Luis Aparicio, and Ernie Banks, not to mention Phil Rizzuto and Rabbit Maranville.  In fact, Trammell’s career WAR is only slightly below Barry Larkin’s 68.9.  I’m not saying that Trammell was as good as Larkin, but he is clearly legit Hall material.  So why did he receive just 36.8% of the vote?  Ask the voters.

7)  The Designated Hitter rule came into being in the American League in 1973, the same year that Tony Orlando and Dawn dominated the singles charts with “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree.”  While Tony Orlando and Dawn are long since gone, the D.H. remains, a relic of the age of Nixon.  The bastard child of Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and A.L. President Joe Cronin, it remains with us today, an oddity largely rejected by the BBWAA, who gave Edgar Martinez, the greatest D.H. ever, just 36.5% of the vote.

8)  Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff received just 23.9% of the vote.  If he’d hit just seven more career home runs, he would probably have doubled that vote total.  Writers look at their hands a lot, and the BBWAA writers noticed that they have ten fingers, so they can only think in terms of numbers divisible by ten.  493 (home runs) is not divisible by ten.  500 home runs would be.  Thus the low vote totals for Crime Dog.

9)  Larry Walker (22.9%) played during an era where we were all buried in an avalanche of three-run home runs and 14-10 ball games.  For a while, he called Coors Field home.  Coors Field was to the baseball fan what the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas would be to a group of college under-grads, the ultimate venue to enjoy a bacchanal of pure lust and carnal pleasure.  Larry Walker is being penalized for having been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and nothing’s going to change that.

10)  Mark McGwire (19.5%) – The ultimate example of how our culture is like a pair of tectonic plates crashing into each other, causing massive earthquakes and unending destruction.  We wanted massive biceps, towering home runs, Ruthian records, immortal legends.  We got all of that.  We also wanted Scouts Honor, drug-tested teachers, lock ’em up law and order, and family values.  We got some of that, too.  But the natural tension between the two caused a fissure to develop into which  McGwire’s reputation dropped, wordlessly and without a murmur from a society that demanded his creation, and his demise.

Four other players, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmiero, and Bernie Williams all received enough votes to remain on the ballot to fight another day.  Thirteen other players dropped off the ballot.  One of those players, Bill Mueller, actually received four votes for the Hall of Fame.  Every society has a subculture, and every subculture has a lunatic fringe.  Baseball is our little subculture, and, apparently, Bill Mueller voters are our lunatic fringe.

That’s as far as I care to go with this.  Let me know your thoughts about today’s voting results.

Best Regards, Bill Miller

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Baseball Bloggers Alliance Hall of Fame Voting: 2012 Edition

Baseball Bloggers Alliance
January 3, 2012

BBA RECOMMENDS LARKIN, BAGWELL FOR HALL OF FAME

In the annual polling of members of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin and former Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell were recommended for induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  This is the third year the organization has conducted this survey of the membership.

Larkin, a 12-time All-Star who fashioned an .815 OPS over 19 seasons, received the largest percentage of votes, being named on 84.25% of the 148 ballots cast.  This is the highest percentage garnered by any player in the three years of BBA voting.

Bagwell, who hit 449 HR and had a .948 OPS in his 15 seasons in Houston, was selected on 115 ballots for a 78.77% rate.  As with the official voting done by the Baseball Writers of America, a player must be named on 75% of the ballots to be recommended by the alliance.

Last year, the BBA recommended second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven, both of whom were inducted into Cooperstown during the summer.  In 2010, no player reached the 75% mark in BBA balloting, the year that outfielder Andre Dawson was selected for the Hall by the baseball writers.

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s vote has no impact on the official vote taken by the Baseball Writers of America.  However, the BBA has often been a predictor of major awards granted by the writers.

The final voting results are as follows:

Barry Larkin 84.25%
Jeff Bagwell 78.77%

Edgar Martinez 60.27%
Tim Raines 57.53%
Alan Trammell 44.52%
Mark McGwire 41.10%
Larry Walker 35.62%
Lee Smith 33.56%
Jack Morris 32.19%
Don Mattingly 29.45%
Rafael Palmerio 28.77%
Fred McGriff 28.08%
Dale Murphy 16.44%
Bernie Williams 11.64%
Juan Gonzalez 6.16%
Javy Lopez 2.74%
Brad Radke 2.05%
Tim Salmon 1.37%
Bill Mueller 0.68%
Phil Nevin 0.68%
Ruben Sierra 0.68%
Tony Womack 0.68%
Jeromy Burnitz 0.00%
Vinny Castilla 0.00%
Brian Jordan 0.00%
Terry Mulholland 0.00%
Eric Young 0.00%

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was established in the fall of 2009 for the purpose of fostering collaboration and communication among bloggers from across baseball.  The BBA has quickly grown to its current membership of 347 blogs, including some of the most prominent blogs on the Internet, spanning all major league teams and various other general aspects of the game.

More information about the BBA can be found at their website, baseballbloggersalliance.wordpress.com, or by contacting the founder and administrator of the organization, Daniel Shoptaw, at founder@baseballbloggersalliance.com.

Barry Larkin, Cincinnati Reds, 2004, by Rick D...

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50 Best Players Not in The Baseball Hall of Fame

Jeff Bagwell

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Here’s a nod to Graham Womack’s baseball blog, Baseball Past and Present. He is currently putting together a list, based on votes from his readers that he is tabulating, of the 50 best players not currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

This project also fits in well with my recent series, “Cleaning Up the Hall of Fame.” 

This is the list I submitted to him for consideration.  I chose not to include either Pete Rose or Shoeless Joe Jackson because everyone knows that both of them would already be in The Hall, if not for their alleged ethical / legal indiscretions.

The first five players on the list would receive my vote for the Hall of Fame.  Some of the other 45 players might ultimately get my vote as well, but I am undecided at this point.  After the first five, they are in no particular order.

1)  Jeff Bagwell
2)  Barry Larkin
3)  Alan Trammell
4)  Ron Santo
5)  Tim Raines
6)  Minnie Minoso
7)  Dale Murphy
8)  Reggie Smith
9)  Dave Parker
10) Gil Hodges
11) Dwight Evans
12) Lance Parrish
13) Al Oliver
14) Graig Nettles
15) Willie Randolph
16) Edgar Martinez
17) Ted Simmons
18)  Eric Davis
19)  Darryl Strawberry
20)  Lee Smith
21)  Sparky Lyle
22)  Dan Quisenberry
23)  Carl Furillo
24)  Jimmy Wynn
25)  J.R. Richard
26)  Boog Powell
27)  Larry Walker
28)  Rusty Staub
29)  Luis Tiant
30)  Thurman Munson
31)  Dick Allen
32)  Jack Clark
33)  Will Clark
34)  Don Mattingly
35)  Roger Maris
36)  Rocky Colavito
37)  Bobby Grich
38)  Tommy John
39)  Jim Kaat
40)  Tony Oliva
41)  Vada Pinson
42)  Bobby Murcer
43)  Fred McGriff
44)  Rick Reuschel
45)  Bobby Bonds
46)  Ron Guidry
47)  Keith Hernandez
48)  Ken Boyer
49)  Kevin Brown
50)  Wes Ferrell
There are, of course, many other players that could have been included on this list.  If I do this again next year, I am sure I will change my mind about certain players.
Who would you add or subtract?  I’m curious to know which of my choices you think are the worst, and which players you would have chosen instead.
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2011 Hall of Fame Vote: The Good, the Bad, and the Utterly Perplexing

Jeff Bagwell

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The results are in, and there weren’t any major surprises.  Bert (we suddenly loved you all along) Blyleven (79.7%), and Robbie (sorry we messed up last year) Alomar (90%), were the only two players on this year’s ballot elected into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Looking over the percentage of votes each player received from the BBWAA revealed interesting results, some unexpected, some utterly perplexing.

THE GOOD:

1)  Roberto Alomar will now be enshrined in The Hall.  Alomar was a stunning offensive player, and although his defense was a bit overrated (see my last bl0g-post), he certainly belongs in The Hall.  Some bloggers / writers have Alomar rated as among the top three 2nd basemen of all-time.  I think that overstates his legacy a bit much.  I am comfortable rating Alomar in the top 5-10 second basemen ever.

2)  Bert Blyleven, the Bearded Dutchman, joins Alomar.   Personally, I don’t think I would have voted for Blyleven.  I know that some people will think it’s outrageous to hold this opinion, but if he was such an obvious HOF candidate, then why has he been passed over 13 previous times?  Some people point to his 3,701 career strikeouts (5th all-time) as one bit of evidence that he should be enshrined.  But he averaged 6.7 K’s / 9 innings in his career, good, but not great.

Voting for Blyleven isn’t voting for greatness; it voting for remarkable durability (he averaged 245 innings pitched per season in his career.)

So why file his election under THE GOOD?

First, because I have nothing against Blyleven personally, and there’s no reason to rain on his parade.  Obviously, this vote means a lot to Blyleven and his supporters.

Second, because now that his enshrinement is a done deal, we can start to focus a little more seriously on some of the other players who also deserve enshrinement.  Which brings us to…

3)  Barry Larkin: Larkin received a promising 62% of votes cast, an improvement over the 51% he received last year, his first on the ballot.  Larkin is one of the ten best shortstops of all-time, and the best N.L. shortstop of his era.  It will be interesting to see if his relatively strong showing this year represents his high-water mark, or if it is a stepping-stone to future Hall induction.

Next year’s relatively weak class of first-time HOF candidates, however, could work in his favor.  Let’s hope it does.

THE BAD:

1)  Jeff Bagwell, an obvious Hall of Famer if there ever was one (unless you really weren’t paying attention), received a lower percentage of votes (41.7%)  than I thought he would, and I had low expectations for him going into this election.  His (hopefully temporary) rejection does not, however, come as a surprise because, and there is no way to sugarcoat this, many of the BBWAA voters are cowards.

What are they afraid of?  They are afraid to induct a player that they know, statistically speaking, should be a first-ballot HOF’er because they believe he just MIGHT have used steroids.

Even though Bagwell’s name has never appeared on any list of users, and even though no former teammates of his have ever accused him of being a user,  somehow an internet driven whiff of scandal has created a false cloud of controversy over his name and reputation.

And the voters are deathly, and unreasonably, afraid that if they were to induct Bagwell into The Hall, and then it was later revealed that he was, after all, a steroid user, then they would look foolish.

But they are wrong.  If (as unlikely as it is) that Bagwell was elected and then, at some later date, it turns out he was a user, then the shame of his tainted induction would be on him, not on the voters.

In other words, placing the onus of responsibility on a particular player to prove that he didn’t use steroids is unreasonable and unjust.  Guilty until proven innocent is the fallback position favored by cowards in an irrationally fearful society, and history is seldom kind to those who accuse others of some perceived crime, who then later turn out to have been innocent.

Prediction:  Bagwell is eventually elected into The Hall, but it could take a while.

2)  Larry Walker: Much of what I have just written about Bagwell can be applied to the case of Larry Walker as well.  And, as an added obstacle to The Hall, Walker is penalized for having played in the best hitter’s park ever constructed in one of the better era for hitter’s in modern history.

Only one in five voters (20%) believe Walker had a HOF career.

Setting aside the steroid issue, on which you have probably already formed an opinion, yes, Walker benefited from playing at Coor’s Field.  But I can’t think of any other player in baseball history who was penalized for having similar good fortune.  For example, if you had put Jim Rice in the Astrodome for his entire career, he certainly would not have ended up in The Hall.  Conversely, if you had put Jimmy Wynn in Fenway Park for his career, he would have put up HOF numbers.

As another example, Mel Ott hit 323 (63%) of his 511 career home runs at the Polo Grounds, the highest total any player ever hit in their home ballpark.

Walker was already an outstanding player before he signed with the Rockies.  He was a great defensive player, an excellent base-runner, and could hit for power and average.

Yet his relatively poor showing in this year’s Hall of Fame vote does not portend, I fear, an eventual Hall induction.  More likely, he will continue to languish in the Dale Murphy/ Ted Simmons limbo, never taken quite seriously enough by the BBWAA that the full weight of his career will ever receive anything other than token appreciation.

3) Tim Raines: Raines was named on 37% of the ballots cast.  It is clear that Raine’s cocaine use, as well as the Conventional Wisdom that other lead-off hitters such as Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock outshone him, will probably keep Raines out of the Hall.  I can’t think of any other reason why someone would not vote for him.  The Conventional Wisdom in this case is, as it often proves to be,  just plain wrong.

The Utterly Perplexing:

1)  Edgar Martinez: (33% support) – What to do with Edgar Martinez, one of the greatest pure hitters in baseball history?  The crux of the issue is, there is no consensus on what constitutes a legitimate baseball player.  And don’t wait for the Baseball Hall of Fame to clarify the issue of what to do with the virtual life-time DH anymore than they will the issue of players linked to steroids.

The Hall of Fame, an institution that should be jealously guarding its reputation, has been cryptically, irresponsibly silent on the salient issues of the day regarding baseball, and the players it accepts for enshrinement.

2)  Lee Smith: Smith, 3rd on the all-time Saves list, was snubbed, appearing on 45% of the  ballots  cast.  What is a closer to do?  Either Saves, as a statistic, impress you, or they do not.

Smith emerged from the single-inning “clean” Save era, where 9th inning specialists usually entered the game with no one on base, and three outs to work with.  Sounds simple enough, and Smith did his job well.  But is this task, however well-performed, impressive enough to merit HOF recognition?

I believe, despite the large number of closers who compiled over 300 saves, that the voters will ultimately reward only a small handful of these specialists.  Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman come to mind as probable future inductees.  But I don’t believe that the BBWAA membership is all that impressed by raw Save totals.  Nor do I believe that they should be.

3)  Fred McGriff: (18% support) – Why the lack of love for the Crime Dog?  If I told you that a player who hit just under 500 home runs, registered eight 100+ RBI seasons, who had the same OPS+ as Al Kaline, and who has never been linked to steroids, appeared to be on the road to nowhere regarding Hall of Fame enshrinement, what would you think?  Frankly, I don’t know what to think, either.

4)  Marquis Grissom received four votes.  Tino Martinez received six votes.  B.J. Surhoff nailed down two, and Brett Boone and Charles Johnson received HOF support from one voter each.  How is it that each of these decent but unspectacular players received votes for The Hall, yet so many writers do not see Bagwell, Raines, Larkin or Walker as Hall material?  It’s a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, without the inevitable “now it all makes sense” ending.

So what are your thoughts on today’s BBWAA Hall of Fame voting results?  I’d like to know.

The complete results from the BBWAA:

Name Votes Pct.
Roberto Alomar 523 90.0%
Bert Blyleven 463 79.7%
Barry Larkin 361 62.1%
Jack Morris 311 53.5%
Lee Smith 263 45.3%
Jeff Bagwell 242 41.7%
Tim Raines 218 37.5%
Edgar Martinez 191 32.9%
Alan Trammell 141 24.3%
Larry Walker 118 20.3%
Mark McGwire 115 19.8%
Fred McGriff 104 17.9%
Dave Parker 89 15.3%
Don Mattingly 79 13.6%
Dale Murphy 73 12.6%
Rafael Palmeiro 64 11.0%
Juan Gonzalez 30 5.2%
Harold Baines 28 4.8%
John Franco 27 4.6%
Kevin Brown 12 2.1%
Tino Martinez 6 1.0%
Marquis Grissom 4 0.7%
Al Leiter 4 0.7%
John Olerud 4 0.7%
B.J. Surhoff 2 0.3%
Bret Boone 1 0.2%
Benito Santiago 1 0.2%
Carlos Baerga 0 0.0%
Lenny Harris 0 0.0%
Bobby Higginson 0 0.0%
Charles Johnson 0 0.0%
Raul Mondesi 0 0.0%
Kirk Rueter 0 0.0%

Baseball Bloggers Alliance Hall of Fame Vote

Barry Larkin, Cincinnati Reds, 2004, by Rick D...

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Here are the official results of the BBA membership Hall of Fame vote.  Curious to see what you all think.  Personally, I voted for Alomar, Larkin, Bagwell, Raines, and Larry Walker.  I did not vote for Bert Blyleven.

BBA RECOMMENDS ALOMAR, BLYLEVEN FOR HALL OF FAME
Second baseman Roberto Alomar and starting pitcher Bert Blyleven were named today as the recommended 2011 Hall of Fame class by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.
Alomar, who is on the ballot for his second year, and Blyleven, looking at his fourteenth time, both finished just shy of the BBA’s recommendation in 2010 at just a fraction under the 75% threshold.  As was the case last year, both Alomar and Blyleven received the same amount of votes from the BBA membership in 2010, but this time it was enough to push them into the recommended status.
Both players received 117 votes out of the 154 ballots cast, resulting in a 75.97% approval rate.  Again echoing the vote taken at the end of 2009, shortstop Barry Larkin was the third man in the balloting, missing selection by being named on just 70.78% of the ballots.
The Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s vote has no impact on the official vote taken by the Baseball Writers of America and the members of the Hall of Fame.  However, the BBA has been often a predictor of awards granted by the writers, matching their selection in fourteen of the sixteen major awards in the last two postseasons combined.
The final voting results are as follows:
Roberto Alomar, 75.97%
Bert Blyleven, 75.97%
Barry Larkin, 70.78%
Jeff Bagwell, 62.34%
Edgar Martinez, 59.09%
Tim Raines, 54.55%
Mark McGwire, 44.16%
Lee Smith, 38.96%
Alan Trammell, 35.71%
Don Mattingly, 33.12%
Larry Walker, 31.17%
Fred McGriff, 27.27%
Jack Morris, 25.97%
Rafael Palmerio, 20.78%
Dale Murphy, 16.23%
Dave Parker, 12.34%
Harold Baines, 10.39%
Kevin Brown, 9.09%
John Franco, 7.14%
John Olerud, 5.19%
Al Leiter, 4.55%
Bret Boone, 3.90%
Juan Gonzalez, 3.90%
Marquis Grissom, 2.60%
Benito Santiago, 1.30%
Bobby Higginson, 0.65%
Charles Johnson, 0.65%
Kirk Rueter, 0.65%
Carlos Baerga, 0.00%
Raul Mondesi, 0.00%
BJ Surhoff, 0.00%
The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was established in the fall of 2009 for the purpose of fostering collaboration and communication among bloggers from across baseball.  The BBA has quickly grown to its current membership of 256 blogs, including some of the most prominent blogs on the internet, spanning all major league teams and various other general aspects of the game.
More information about the BBA can be found at their website, www.baseballbloggersalliance.com, or by contacting the founder and administrator of the organization, Daniel Shoptaw, at founder@baseballbloggersalliance.com.

Why Larry Walker Deserves to be in the Hall of Fame

Larry Walker

‘Tis the Season.

This is the time of year when the Baseball Writers of America (BBWA) submit their final ballots for the players they think are deserving of induction into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Among the eligible inductees this year are Bert (haven’t I been here before?) Blyleven, holdovers from last year Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin and Edgar Martinez (shame on you, BBWA,) and first-time eligibles Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmiero, Mark McGwire, Kevin Brown, Juan Gonzalez, John Olerud, Bobby Higginson, and Larry Walker.

If baseball Hall of Fame history provides any lessons, then Blyleven, Alomar and Bagwell are the most likely candidates for Hall enshrinement in 2011.

But an equally deserving candidate for HOF enshrinement is Larry Walker.

Walker was overshadowed in his day (1989-05) by players like Ken Griffey, Jr., Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa.  But, with the tainted exception of Barry Bonds, Walker was arguably a more complete player than any of the others.

In fact, only Barry Bonds and Jeff Bagwell were truly comparable to Walker as  complete Major League players.

One way to go about evaluating a potential Hall of Famer is to start with his weaknesses (or at least his perceived shortcomings.)

Thus, one can argue that Edgar Martinez, for example, was “only” a DH, and therefore, because he seldom played in the field, his Hall credentials are penalized.

As for Sammy Sosa, (aside from the steroid issue,)  he was neither a great base-runner, nor was he a legendary defensive outfielder.  And in many seasons, his batting average wasn’t all that fantastic, either.

Barry Bonds, even before he ever (allegedly) used steroids, was nearly a complete player, but his throwing arm was just average.  If he could really throw, he would have played right field.

Jeff Bagwell was as close to being as complete a player as you could find during this era, but first basemen have to be exceptionally superior around the bag to win a reputation for defensive excellence.  Bagwell won just a single Gold Glove, and his throwing arm was considered average.

Ken Griffey was a sleek, graceful defensive outfielder and an excellent power hitter who won 10 Gold Gloves, had an average arm, and who never led his league in OBP, OPS, OPS+, hits, doubles, or walks.  His base-running skills were considered solid, but not fantastic.

Frank Thomas was a devastating hitter for both power and average, walked a lot, but was a poor defensive player and a below average base-runner.

I’m not arguing that the aforementioned players have questionable Hall of Fame credentials.  If any of them don’t make it into The Hall, it will be due to the taint of steroids.

But suppose you can find a truly flawless player?  Doesn’t it stand to reason that this player, given enough time on the baseball diamond to prove himself, would be a Hall of Fame quality player?

Enter Larry Walker.

Every player has at least one minor shortcoming, right?  I’ve listed the relative shortcomings of several Hall of Famers already.

But as I searched for Larry Walker’s hidden weakness, I kept coming up empty.

Let’s start with a couple of traditional stats: batting average, and its sexy younger sister, on-base percentage.

Batting average is overrated, I know.  But a player with a career .313 batting average who happened to win three batting titles (as many as George Brett,) has certainly demonstrated at least one strength.   And for those of you who snicker at the very mention of batting average, Walker posted an On-Base Percentage in his entire career of exactly .400.

By way of comparison, Derek Jeter, whose specialty is getting on base, has posted an OBP of .400 or better in just four of 16 seasons.  Brett reached that magic number in just three of 21 seasons.  Walker topped .400 in eight consecutive seasons.

Fine.  He got on base a lot.  But what about hitting for power?  Let’s look at homers and RBI’s.  Acknowledging (again with a nod to the sabermetric crowd) that RBI’s are overrated, Walker drove in 1,311 runs, topping 100 RBI five times.  He drove in over 90 runs for the first time, while playing with the Montreal Expos, at the age of 25.  He drove in over 90 runs (104, actually) for the last time, playing for the Rockies, at age 35.  Thus, for a solid decade, he was a serious middle of the order masher.

As for home runs, he hit 383 in his career, topping 30 homers four times.  He topped the N.L. in homers with 49 in 1997, and he averaged 31 per 162 games in his career.  Albert Pujols, who, if he quit playing tomorrow, would be a definite inductee into The Hall, also reached 49 homers just once.

In addition to Walker’s 383 homers, he also produced 471 doubles and 62 triples.  His 916 extra base hits are 56th all-time, more than Hall of Famers Paul Waner, Joe DiMaggio, Harmon Killebrew and Duke Snider, and just four fewer than Willie McCovey.

Impressively, Walker’s career slugging percentage is a remarkable .565, good for 14th best all-time.  Virtually every single player ahead of him on this list is either in the Hall of Fame already, or will be elected eventually (Pujols) unless their alleged use of steroids keeps them out (A-Rod, Bonds, Manny Ramirez.)

Likewise, Walker’s OPS (on-base + slugging) of .965 ranks 16th best all-time, just below Stan Musial, and just ahead of Johnny Mize.  He posted an OPS north of 1.000 six times in his career.  By contrast, Hank Aaron reached that level five times in his career.

Enough already, you say.  So he was basically just a big, slow-footed Canadian who could slug the ball.  There have been lots of sluggers.  What else does he bring to the table?

How about seven Gold Gloves?  And how about 150 outfield assists?  Walker led the N.L. in assists three times, and his career total of 150 assists ranks seventh best, just four behind Jesse Barfield, and only five behind the legendary Dwight Evans.

Clearly, Walker was an excellent defensive right fielder with a gun for an arm.

Base-running skills?  Check.  In poll after poll of managers and of his peers, Walker was consistently on the short-list of best base-runners in his league.  Only Jeff Bagwell and a couple of other players were considered comparable to Walker during the entire decade of the ’90’s.

Not only was Walker extremely adept at turning singles into doubles, and reading the ball off the bat so that he knew when to score from second base, but he was an underrated base-stealer, too.

Larry Walker stole a surprising 230 bases in his career, and was caught 76 times.  His career stolen base percentage of 75% was about the same as Lou Brock’s and better than Maury Wills’.  Walker set a career high with 33 stolen bases in 1997, and topped 20 steals in two other seasons.

In his base-running prime, over a seven-year period (1993-99), Walker’s stolen base percentage, in 153 attempts, was an even more impressive 81%.

So Larry Walker could hit for average and for power, he could field his position with the best of them, and he was an excellent base-runner.

Oh, and due to his great base-running and his excellent power, he scored 1,355 runs in his career, topping 100 runs scored four times, and 90+ runs scored in two other seasons.

But I’ll bet he hit into a ton of double-plays, right?  Sluggers like him, even if they are smart on the base-paths, are susceptible to the old 4-6-3 double-play. And hitting into double-plays is an underrated killer of a player’s total value.

Even here, however, Walker’s career numbers are fantastic.  He hit into just 153 double-plays in his career.  Cal Ripkin is the all-time leader, having hit into 350 double-plays.  Jim Rice and Eddie Murray each hit into 315.  Frank Robinson checks in at 270.  Willie Mays hit into 251.  Charlie Hustle himself grounded into 247 twin-killings.  Derek Jeter clocks in at 235.

Walker was about as difficult to double-up as Craig Biggio (150), and Biggio once went an entire season (1997) without grounding into a double-play.

Larry Walker was a five time All-Star.  He won the N.L. MVP award in 1997.  He won three Silver Slugger awards.  He had a 200 hit season.  He won three batting titles, a home run title, and he led his league in OPS twice.

Now this is where you pull out your trump card.  Walker played his home games for nine+ seasons in the most favorable hitters park ever constructed, Coors Field in Denver, Colorado.

There is no doubt  his overall career numbers were given a boost by this ballpark.  But in the last of his five seasons with his first team, the Montreal Expos, (1994) Walker posted an OPS+ of 151, a number he surpassed just four times in nine full seasons in Colorado.

Walker’s career OPS+, which takes into account a players’ home ballpark as well as the era in which he played, sits at 140, the same as Hall of Famer Duke Snider.

Moreover, while in Montreal, he had already established himself as a fine defensive outfielder by winning two Gold Gloves.  He had also already demonstrated fine base-running skills by swiping 29 bases in 36 attempts in 1993, and he led the N.L. in doubles with 44 in ’94.

As for his home-road splits, consider the following.  In Walker’s finest season, 1997, he slugged .709 at home, and .733 on the road.  He belted 20 homers at home, and 29 on the road.  He drove in 68 runs at home; he drove in 62 runs on the road.  His home on-base percentage was .460; his road OBP was .443.  So his numbers, in some cases, were actually better on the road, and even the stats that were better at home were not vastly superior.

Other Hall of Fame ball players certainly benefited tremendously from their home ballparks.  Mel Ott, for example,  hit 323 of his 511 career homers (63%) at the Polo Grounds.  If Jim Rice had played his entire career in Houston, there would have been little difference between him and Jimmy Wynn.

Finally, a few of you may even pull out the “whiff of steroids” excuse to besmirch his reputation.  But no credible evidence exists to suggest that Walker ever used steroids.  Frankly, as intelligent adults, we need to move beyond the perversely gratifying,  sensationalist rumor-mongering on this issue.

Not everyone who hit 25 or more home runs in a season in the ’90’s and early 2000’s used PED’s.  Unless credible evidence has come to light regarding a particular player, we have no choice but to extend to them the benefit of the doubt on this issue.

According to baseball-reference.com, of the ten players whose careers were most similar to Walkers, four of them, (DiMaggio, Snider, Chuck Klein and Johnny Mize) are already in the Hall of Fame.  Another close comp., Vlad Guerrerro, will be once he becomes eligible.

Taken as a whole, then, Larry Walker clearly produced Hall of Fame numbers.  Whether or not the BBWA sees it this way, and I suspect many of them won’t agree with me, Walker deserves enshrinement in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Yesterday, December 1st, was Larry Walker’s 44th birthday.  Consider this blog-post a birthday present, Larry.  You deserve it.

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