Tuesday, December 1, 2009

For Your Consideration

Nothing quite piques my curiousity during the baseball off-season like the announcement of the latest Hall of Fame ballot. The latest roster, released last week, is no less intriguing than any other year. Of the 26 names listed, 15 are on the ballot for the first time; all of these newcomers retired during or after the 2004 season, as you have to be out of the majors five full years to be eligible. Obviously, a lot of these fresh faces are filler and probably won't be considered for next year's vote. (I dare you to justify the Hall of Fame qualities of David Segui and Shane Reynolds.) From a talent standpoint, it's a more threadbare ballot than some of us are accustomed to. The rampant steroid usage of the late '90s and early '00s enabled aging stars to add about five years to their careers, resulting in a dearth of sure-fire inductees calling it quits midway through this decade, if not for several years to come. In the eyes of the most jaded and cynical baseball fans it may seem like a throughly unappetizing ballot, but there are three names that I wish would be put into serious consideration: longtime bridesmaids Bert Blyleven and Lee Smith and newcomer Barry Larkin.

Let's start with the Flying Dutchman. Granted, his career win-loss record is 287-250, and usually 300 wins is guaranteed admission. People tend to forget that Bert spent three years on a Pittsburgh team that scored in bunches in the late innings of the game, resulting in a unwieldy number of no-decisions, including a staggering 20 in 1979. That .534 career winning percentage may not look impressive, but it's better than Hall of Famers like Eppa Rixey (266-251 lifetime), Teddy Lyons (260-230), and even Nolan Ryan (324-292). Of course, wins don't tell half the story; Blyleven is 5th on the all-time strikeout list and only eight men have more career shutouts. Plus, he might've had the sweetest curveball anybody's ever seen; I'm sure there's clips on YouTube or Metacafe that'll prove my point.

No statistic has revolutionized the worth of a pitcher in the past half-century quite like the save, which makes the constant snubbing of Lee Smith a mystery of sorts. Smitty's 478 plugs were the standard until about three years ago, and the man who surpassed him (Trevor Hoffmann) looks like a borderline lock for the Hall. Bruce Sutter only had seven or eight dominant seasons out of the bullpen, yet he was inducted in 2006. Smith had arguably ten great years as a closer, finishing with 35 or more saves six times. Having a career 3.03 ERA doesn't hurt, either.

As for Larkin, he's not a first-ball Hall of Famer though I'm sure the sportswriters will come around to this guy sooner than later. A 12-time All-Star and 7-time Silver Slugger, "Lark" might've been the quintessential National League shortshop of the 1990s. Nobody would mistake him for a power hitter, though he squeezed out doubles like nobody's business and his career .371 on-base percentage was nothing to scoff at. His one weakness was durability; in 19 seasons in the majors he played at least 120 games just 10 times. Nevertheless, he was a team leader who willed the Reds to two division titles and one championship in the early-to-mid '90s, and having to toil under an owner like Marge Schott has to be worth something.

So what about everybody else? As a Royals fan, I grew up admiring Kevin Appier; he should be on Kansas City's wall of honor but his career stats won't bat any eyelashes in Cooperstown. My support for Mark McGwire has waned over the years, and his new gig as the Cardinals' hitting coach feels like a last-ditch attempt at public atonement. Andre Dawson's career on-base percentage is laughable, Alan Trammell was a sac-fly artist with an above-average glove, and Dale Murphy was little more than a power-hitting milquetoast. Freshman like Roberto Alomar, Edgar Martinez, and Fred McGriff will linger on the ballot for years, too divisive to get the necessary 75% to be inducted but too above-average to be ignored altogether. Maybe --and I mean maybe-- Don Mattingly will get the call from the Veterans Committee, but I'm totally impartial. If you're looking for marquee names, wait until 2011; after all, who's gonna get in the way of Jeff Bagwell?


  1. The question you should ask yourself is: Is Blyleven a slam dunk / A+ player? The answer is no. Here's some stats:

    22 seasons, 287-250 (.534%) 3.31 ERA, 692 G, 685 GS, CG 242, 60 SHO, 4970.0 IP, 4632 H, 2029 R, 430 HR, 1322 BB, 3701 K, 155 HBP, 1.198 WHIP

    2-time All Star. Highest MVP ranking: 13th in '89, Ranked 1st in IP twice, K's once, GS once, CG once, SHO twice.

    All-time rank: 27th wins, 14th IP, K 5th, GS 11th, CG 91st, the bad: 10th losses, HR 8th, BB 29th, H 15th.

    The skinny: He pitched a long time & his arm never fell off, way to go. Majority pitched in the A.L. when the N.L. was the dominate league. Won 20 games once but lost 17 times in the same season. Never won a Cy Young. The guy was almost never an All Star yet he's a Hall of Famer?? 60 shutouts and only a 3.31 ERA?? Blyleven was durable, but so is a Buick LeSabre, and that ain't no show-stopper.

    Larkin? Never once while I watched him play, did I ever think he was a HOFer. Like Blyleven, stick him in The Hall Of The Very Good. Nazi Marge loved Larkin & they were somehow good friends. If anything, he got preferential treatment (they spent $1 million on grass installation in the last season at Riverfront Stadium because of Larkin).

    Btw, Smiith's 3.03 ERA for a closer is terrible. Voting in Sutter was a mistake & was only justified by 1+ innings saves & the exploitation of the split-finger & his brief dominance; Gossage & his one-pitch fastball. The closer was the first hornet's nest, and now the DH is the second. Both only played a few minutes in a game. That's a lot of glamour to sit on your ass most of the time.

    This year, I wouldn't elect anybody, and I'd remove some people from the Hall, which would include Kirby Puckett, Sutter, Rice, Gossage & some of those old timers. What I don't get is somehow guys who linger on the ballot for over a decade, then just barely squeak in because a bunch of stupid sportswriters trying to be nice guys & putting guys in with now lower standards of "brief dominance" criteria. Some people say Fred McGriff should go in with his 493 homeruns, but that number needs to be put in perspective of a hitter's era, and all his other stats aren't that great.

    And I don't see why Mattingly should ever go in. He was their only star in that dark era he played in. Think of him as the Yankees version of Ron Santo.

  2. When I posted my blog last week, I kinda had a feeling that you'd give a long, elaborate rebuttal. Once again, we'll have to agree to disagree, but I like how you do your research.

    On that note, I must ask: is there anyone that you think should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame? You've been pretty vocal about players that shouldn't be in there, but I was just curious if there's anyone you think Cooperstown has overlooked.

  3. Overlooked? You mean like Pete Rose (a compulsive gambling criminal who couldn't care less about the sport) or Marvin Miller (who took it from one extreme to the other, was an enabler to gain leverage no matter how morally wrong or illegal & why tickets cost $2,500 at Yankee Stadium)? No deal, Howie. I can't throw my support behind two of those biggest candidates. My question is "why are people so eager to put so many guys in?" Are we lowering our standards in this country or do people hate being "that bad guy" ? I have to wonder if the only reason Red Sox fans wanted Jim Rice in the Hall was only to counter the Yankees & their HOFers. Was there much support for Wade Boggs, especially since he bolted right to the Yankees? It's like how outside of Cubs fans nobody else thinks Ron Santo is a HOFer. Fans want their guy in.

    As for putting more guys in, I'm inching closer on the side that says the Hall is a complete joke. I just hate seeing a hallowed institution being ruined by journalistic hacks like Phil Rogers who obviously don't have a fucking brain & an admitted apologist who says "he doesn't want to be 'that' guy". Way to be objective, Phil. And the argument that pisses me off the most is "well you put Ty Cobb in!"

    My question to you: what are your HOF benchmarks? How would you handle the Steroid Era candidates?

  4. I came across something interesting:

    If the 1993 season happened today, the A.L. Cy Young award winner would had been K.C.'s Kevin Appier over Jack McDowell. I always thought McDowell's ERA was too high for a CYAW & I never noticed Appiers stats in that context. It's nice to see that it takes more than the most wins to win now.

  5. Agreed.

    As for HOF requirements, I'd go with most of the basics: 3,000 hits and/or 500 home runs if you're a offense-oriented position player, and a .960 fielding percentage (minimum 2000 games) if you had a hot glove. As for pitchers, I'd go with a minimum of 300 wins, 3000 strikeouts, and/or 450 saves.

  6. My benchmarks: 3,000 hits, 300 wins for older guys, maybe 275 for the newer generation (face it, there's way too much emphasis on bullpen management that cost starters way too many W's, and a game so heavily tilted towards the offense, even more unfair), 600 to maybe 700 HRs for the newer gen., w/ no steroids and 500 saves.

    The Tribune's HOF ballots came out today, and of course there was the typical offenders. For some reason, Andre Dawson is gaining momentum. .279 / .323 is very low for a HOF standard, and that 1987 season is extremely bloated & basically is double-best his career averages (and it was a rabbit ball gift year). He was a very good player, but not a HOFer. I'm seeing a dangerous trend of lower standards.

    Intersting points made that Roberto Alomar is a bonafide HOFer & that McGriff was a selfish player who was a slow & crappy fielder.