Thursday, December 31, 2009

And We're Back... Hall of Fame, Anyone?

On this last day of 2009, I do recognize that as a baseball blogger I have been almost completely missing in action during December. Well see, I got married on December 5th, and was pretty busy before and after that, then I had to play catch up with everything I didn't do while I was getting married and away on my honeymoon, then I had to get ready for the Holidays which I had done nothing for because, well, I was getting married. But now I'm back. I will cover the major baseball related events since my last post on December 1st, including the big transactions, the moves made by the Phillies, and a few other tidbits. However, I first want to turn my attention to the 2010 Hall of Fame class.

Earlier this week, Joe Posnanski wrote an interesting piece about the Hall, and a system devised by the Baseball Think Factory called The Hall of Merit. It's worth reading, and sets the stage well for the inevitable debate that occurs this time of year.

As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), I had the opportunity a couple of weeks back to cast a vote for who I would elect to the Hall of Fame in 2010. You can find the story detailing the results of the BBA election here. From the BBA, only Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven received enough support for enshrinement.

I cast my vote for five men. Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines, Barry Larkin and Mark McGwire. Let's look at the case for each.

Robert Alomar- Alomar played for seven teams over 17 seasons between 1988 and 2004, and was perhaps the finest combination of hitting and fielding that the second sack has ever seen. A career .300 hitter (on the nose), Alomar was named to 12 All-Star games, won 10 Gold Gloves (most for a 2B) and four silver sluggers (second most for a 2B). He is in the top 100 in Major League history in games, at-bats, plate appearances, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, walks, steals, extra base hits, and sacrifice flies. He was also a member of back to back World Series champions with the Blue Jays in 1992-93. Detractors point to an ugly spitting incident with John Hirschbeck in 1996 and his relatively rapid decline upon joining the Mets in 2002. However, his 12 consecutive All-Star Game appearances from 1990-2001 illustrate his greatness over a prolonged period, and his early decline could be due at least in part to breaking in young, playing over 140 games as a 20-year old for the Padres in 1988. Alomar should get in comfortably, but not overwhelmingly.

Bert Blyleven- Perhaps one of the more hotly contested candidates of recent vintage, with opinions strong on both sides of the argument. I voted for Blyleven because I believe that he is equal, if not superior, to other pitchers who are already immortalized in Cooperstown. I'm not here to debate the Hall of Fame merits of Don Sutton or Gaylord Perry, but if they're Hall of Famers, so is Blyleven. The red-headed Dutchman is probably best known for having what many consider to be the greatest curveball of all time. One former player who had faced Blyleven told me that his curveball seemed to start above your head and then hammer down until the catcher caught it down by your knees. But one great pitch does not a Hall of Famer make (even though, as Posnanski pointed out, Candy Cummings is in the HoF for inventing the curveball, even though he probably didn't invent it... but I digress). Detractors will point out that Blyleven made only two All-Star Games, never led his league in wins or ERA, never finished better than third in Cy Young voting, and while he ranks 27th in wins, he also ranks 10th in losses. Also, as strikeout pitchers are known to, Blyleven gave up a ton of home runs, including an astounding 50 in 1986. I'll tell you that there are numbers, and then there are NUMBERS. For a pitcher, wins, losses, saves (and more) are just numbers. The NUMBERS for a pitcher are strikeouts, H/IP and (for a starter) complete games and shutouts, because these statistics shows dominance and the overpowering of competition. Blyleven is fifth all-time in strikeouts, allowed 338 fewer hits than innings pitched, completed 242 games (while most of the 90 pitchers ahead of him pitched in the early 1900s) and ranks ninth all-time with 60 shutouts. On his page on, of the 10 pitchers who Blyleven's similarity scores match up with, eight are in the Hall of Fame, with the two holdouts being lefthanders Jim Kaat and Tommy John, two guys who pitched forever and compiled a lot of numbers because of it. Blyleven's vote percentages have risen each year he's been on the ballot, and I think this year he finally gets in.

Tim Raines- A consummate leadoff hitter, Tim Raines suffered the severe misfortune of playing at a time when the best leadoff hitter anyone has ever seen, Rickey Henderson, was running roughshod over the American League. But had it not been for Henderson, many fans and media alike would have been forced to really examine and appreciate what a great player Raines was. Besides Henderson, another factor that worked against Henderson was playing most of his career in Montreal, away from the bright lights and big city of New York, Philadelphia or Chicago. I'll freely admit that Raines' career numbers look fairly pedestrian. But kept in context of what he was- and what he was supposed to do- I believe he is a Hall of Famer, and his numbers support that. Raines was a leadoff man, which made his jobs threefold- get on base, create havoc and score runs. Raines his .294 for his career, hitting over .300 eight times and winning the NL batting title in 1986. He stole 808 career bases, fifth all-time (behind four Hall of Famers), and stole at least 70 every year between 1981 and 1986. He also had six 100 plus run seasons, including leading the NL twice. Raines made the All-Star team seven times, showing his standing among his contemporaries. Again, his overall numbers are not necessarily overwhelming, but he does overwhelmingly pass the eye test, which is why I included him on my ballot. Based on his previous support, I'd say Raines won't get in, but his numbers do seem to be trending upward.

Barry Larkin- In many ways, I think Larkin is similar to Tim Raines in that our perception of him was not as great as it should have been because there was a guy in the other league who garnered all the headlines. In Raines' case it was Rickey Henderson, and in Larkin's, its Cal Ripken Jr. Not that Henderson and Ripken weren't great, but Raines and Larkin were great too. The 1995 NL MVP, Larkin was a Cincinnatti kid who played his whole career for the hometown Reds. Larkin was named to 12 All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves and took home nine Silver Slugger Awards. One of the problems that I believe people have in evaluating a player in a historical context (such as Hall of Fame balloting) is remembering to evaluate the player against the other players of his time. When seeing such offensive dynamos of the 2000s such as Jimmy Rollins, Miguel Tejada, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter, it's easy to see the numbers that Larkin compiled and think of them as nothing special. But look at the Silve Slugger award. The four guys I just mentioned, all premier offensive players this decade, have won eight Silver Sluggers combined. Larkin has nine by himself. Which means, he was the best offensive shortstop at his position in the NL nine times. Nine. No one has ever won more than 10 (although I'm sure A-Rod will win his 11th at some point). Barry Larkin was the best offensive shortstop in the National League for over a decade. And, as his three Gold Gloves attest, he was also an outstanding defender. Barry Larkin is a Hall of Famer. This being his first year of eligibility, I don't think Larkin will be enshrined in 2010, but I do expect that he will be someday.

Mark McGwire- We had to save this one for last, didn't we? I don't think there actually is much debate about whether or not he belongs in the Hall if you consider what he did on the field. Sure, he was one dimensional, but so was Reggie Jackson and a host of other power hitters. Ryan Howard is one-dimensional, but you want to tell me that if his career trajectory stays the same, he's not a Hall of Famer? Didn't think so. By way of review, McGwire hit 583 home runs in his career (8th all-time), led the league four times, made 12 All-Star teams and even won a Gold Glove in 1990. He also broke Roger Maris' single-season home run mark when he hit 70 in 1998, and melted before your very eyes in front of Congress in March of 2005. That's the long and the short of it. The debate since that infamous day on Capitol Hill is whether or not McGwire (and others of his era) belong in the Hall. I say yes. Do you know McGwire took steroids? I mean KNOW. Do you? Did you see him do it? Did he tell you he did it? If not, you don't know. By the same token, you don't know that Barry Bonds did (as most people believe), or that Ken Griffey Jr. didn't (as most people also believe). To me, the Hall of Fame debate comes down to this. What do we actually, verifiably, undoubtedly know to be true about players and performances in the steroid era. The ONLY answer- the only one- is what happened on the field of play. We get into dangerous territory when we start to decide that we know more than that. It would be easy for a player who used steroids but has not been suspected of steroid use to slide into the Hall because the voters hold up some arbitrary standard of what they think they know. Maybe that has already happened. But I can assure you, if voting is done based upon anything except what happened on the field, it will. And if we vote on what happened on the field Mark McGwire is a Hall of Famer. Period. End of discussion. If we find out more (such as a player like Jose Canseco, who admitted steroid usage) we can have a different discussion. But as of now, we must vote based upon what happened on the field. Having said that, and given his level of support in the 23% range thus far, I highly doubt McGwire will get in this year. As the hitting coach for the Cardinals, Big Mac will have to face the media at some point, and if he comes clean about what he did or didn't do, his chances may improve.

So how will all of this shake out? Stay tuned, as the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce its' voting results on January 6th. But if it were up to me, I'd have Alomar, Blyleven, Raines, Larkin and McGwire start writing their acceptance speeches for this summer in Cooperstown.

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