Bill James wrote a superb book a while back called Politics of Glory. When it was re-released later on he changed the name to Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? After reading the above column on cnn.com by Jon Heyman on his Ballot selections I think I might have a clearer understanding. The problem is not with the players, for talent is often subjective anyway. One man’s Don Mattingly is another man’s Stan Musial. Nor is the problem solely with the Hall of Fame Beauracracy or voting structure as James believes, though Lord knows that is an issue.
No, after reading Heyman’s column it seems the main issue is that the people doing the voting don’t know what the bloody hell they’re talking about.
Let’s look at Heyman’s 6 selections:
1. Roberto Alomar
2. Barry Larkin
3. Andre Dawson
4. Jack Morris
5. Dave Parker
6. Don Mattingly
Now I don’t neccesarily have any problems with these picks per se but more with the naive, illogical, and sometimes plain stupid arguments used to support them. This isn’t even a personal attack on Mr. Heyman, but more those people responsible for electing Hall of Fame members who think the same way he does.
He seems to generally think Alomar and Larkin deserve inclusion based solely on their performance with no real debate neccesary. Alomar’s spitting incident aside I’d basically agree.
After that his arguments for and against start getting a little dicey. With Andre Dawson he claims having 400 steals and 300 home runs as one of only three players (along with Barry Bonds and Willie Mays) to accomplish the feat merits inclusion. The problem is that that statement isn’t true. There have actually only been two players to accomplish this, they are Barry Bonds.. and amazingly enough his father Bobby. I’m sure he meant to say 300 steals and 400 home runs but even so it already illustrates a problem with this line of reasoning. Why is Dawson deserving with 400+hr/300+sb when Bobby Bonds isn’t with 300+hr/400+sb, an even more exclusive accomplishment? He also mentions Dawson was a “five tool” guy with bad knees. I hate the term five tool. It’s a term used to shut off argument and gloss over flaws. Dawson also had an atrocious OBP, striking out over 900 more times than he walked.. and his lifetime average was .279 Not terrible especially for the 80’s. But not exactly on the level of a “five tool” skill. Again.. it’s not that he doesn’t perhaps deserve to be in.. but at least make sensible arguments.
Jack Morris – Just as Bert Blyleven has become the patron saint of statheads everywhere, Morris has become a pariah. Heyman’s arguments..
1. Dominant Bulldog. What the heck does that mean? I suppose that he pitched a lot of innings. True. But so did Wilbur Wood. So did Mickey Lolich. So did Luis Tiant. All three were much better pitchers than Morris.
2. Received Cy Young votes 7 times. This hardly dignifies a response. I suppose it’s a counter argument to Blyleven who only received votes in 4 different years. But most pitchers only received votes in 4 or 5 different years. Morris though played for generally very good teams. He could lead the league in wins while having an absurdly high ERA. Blyleven pitched for generally bad teams and could lead the league in losses while he posted very low ERAs.
3. Won more games in the 80’s than anyone. The problem with this argument is twofold. A) the 80’s were a generally bad decade for pitching. guys like Seaver, Niekro, and Carlton were retiring. Others like Gooden, Clemens, and Randy Johnson were just beginning. and B) 1980-89 is a completely arbitrary span of time. Make it 1977-1986 and you get Ron Guidry. 1984-1993 and it’s Dwight Gooden ( I could be slightly wrong on this, but I think the point is still valid). Again keep in mind Morris played for much better teams than most during this time.
His next vote is for Dave Parker. Parker started out in the 70’s as a Willie Mays wunderkind who could do it all. And he did.. for a brief time. By the age of 28 he had won an MVP, finished 3rd two other times, appeared in two all star games, won two batting titles, three gold gloves, and led the Pirates to a 1979 World Series victory. Then it all started to fall apart. He started in with drugs (Cocaine) and was never the same player after 1979. Heyman even takes the absurd step of defending (to a point) his drug use by noting at least Cocaine wasn’t a performance enhancer. Parker actually made a bit of a comeback in the mid 80’s and made 5 more all star teams after 1979. But they were more a recognition of what he was. He had an ecellent 1985 season but otherwise posted rather average statistics. Hanging on until 1991 helped boost his career totals. Much like Dawson he was a free swinger, striking out over 800 times more than he walked. Notice a pattern? A lot of people throw their hands up in the air at sabermetrics, decide newfangled stats like OBP and OPS+ are to complicated and revert to the old standbys of average and Rbi’s. Two things both Parker and Dawson did pretty well.
His last Controversial choice is Don Mattingly. The only argument he offers is that Mattingly was one of the greatest players in baseball for 6 years and one of the 2 or 3 greatest defensive first basemen of all time. Now I think Mattingly probably is slightly above my personal cut off line for the Hall of Fame, but his arguments are silly. as for defense saying Mattingly is one of the 2 or 3 greatest ever First Basemen is like saying Tony Stewart can bench press more than any other Nascar driver. Maybe true, maybe not. But regardless it means nothing and has little to do with the argument about why he’s great. As for being one of the greatest for 6 years, while that’s true there are lots of people who were among the best for 6 years or so and don’t measure up. Dick Allen, Tony Oliva, Charlie Keller, Dwight Gooden…
The ones he then claimed were close..
Tim Raines, Alan Trammel, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Edgar Martinez, Bert Blyleven, Andres Galarraga, Harold Baines, Lee Smith.
His argument against Raines is that “while he was a star in Montreal, he was merely a good player for the bulk of the rest his career, spent mainly with the White Sox and Yankees”. Of course never mind he was a superstar, not a star in Montreal, and he spent 12 years there. Afterwards he was still talented enough that I would say “very good” rather than just “good”. I would argue that Raines in his early years was better than Dave Parker, for instance, and in his later years was much better than Parker was in his. Oh but wait I forgot Raines wasn’t a “five tool” player since he didn’t hit for power.
With Martinez, Heyman hints that his main beef is that Martinez didn’t do well in MVP voting despite having impressive offensive numbers. And furthermore:
“That suggests something less than dominance. And even on his career totals, he comes up short. His final power figures (309 home runs, 1,261 RBIs) are underwhelming for someone whose whole candidacy is based on offense”
Now A) The reason he didn’t do that well in MVP voting is the same reason he won’t do well in HOF voting… he was primarily a DH for his career. It’s fine if you want to penalize or exclude him for that. I don’t even disagree to some extent. But say what you mean.. he was less valuable because he wasn’t a fielder. And B) I gotta bring up that his beef about his career totals is disingenous when they were basically the same as Parker’s, and in far fewer at-bats.. while being much better than Mattingly’s, while having batter stats across the board than Mattingly.
And then there was Blyleven. His argument against Blyleven essentially boils down to: He wasn’t a star. He wasn’t famous enough for the hall of fame. If every team in every season played equally well and finished at .500 every year he might have a point. But they don’t and Blyleven pitched for some really bad teams in small markets. So did Rick Reuschel and Frank Tanana. So did Dave Stieb and Dennis Leonard. As did Sam McDowell and Bob Friend. All these guys were at least as good as Jack Morris. None were really in Blyleven’s league. Blyleven never really had a chance to become famous. He did pitch for the Pirates in 79, and the Twins in the late 80’s but inexplicably had some of the worst seasons of his career these years (though still better than the league average usually). The problem with this whole line of reasoning is that it basically limits the hall of fame to two classes of players.. those who post Ruthian Stats, and those who played for Babe Ruth’s teams (Yankees, Red Sox, etc.) guys like Norm Cash never get a chance. Lastly he compares Blyleven to Sutton saying they both are the same type of pitcher, and have basically the same type of stats, yet Sutton won 37 more games. Well again Sutton pitched for much better teams. Blyleven was a far better pitcher than Sutton in reality, and Sutton also started 71 more games than Blyleven.. of course he has more wins than Blyleven.
He also mentions Trammell, McGriff, Murphy, Galarraga, Baines, and Smith. I’ll just say I think Trammell and McGriff and maybe possibly Murphy belong in eventually.. but the others aren’t in my mind even really debatable.
To sum up the generaly consensus of people like Heyman:
1. Five tool player – definitely Hall of Fame player.
2. Three times as many strikeouts as walks – No problem as long as player meets qualification number 1.
3. High Average with Lots of Rbi’s – Automatic Hall of Famer… unless you’re Edgar Martinez
4. Dominant Bulldog – Hall of Famer as long as you played on good teams and got enough years with Cy Young Votes
5. Great fielding 1st Baseman with short career with Yankees – Hall of Famer
6. Great fielding outfielder with, high average, long career and greatest base stealer (percentage wise) of all time but played in Montreal – dog poo.
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