December 12, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Friday, January 11, 2013
This week's Hall of Fame result wasn't totally unexpected, but for many of us, it was frustrating nonetheless. The primary question that everyone has been wrestling with lately is, "what, exactly, is the Hall of Fame supposed to be?" Let me explain.
Since basically forever, the Hall of Fame has been a place to enshrine the best players in baseball. At least, that's what it was as far as the Baseball Writers Association of America was concerned. For the most part, they did a good job. Sure, the writers missed the boat here and there, mostly with players they didn't elect, but if the BBWAA voted you in, well, it meant you were one hell of a ballplayer. But suddenly, the narrative has changed.
The BBWAA has now decided that character matters. Never mind all the jerks and cheaters in the Hall of Fame. Racists. Spitballers. Players who spent their entire careers drugged up on amphetamines. Now, we have to start considering character. Whatever that means (the only thing more vague than the mention of character in the voting guidelines is the answer you get from many BBWAA members when they address that guideline). You'll hear lots of half-baked reasons why this is the case, but I'll tell you what I think is the real reason: It's the only thing the writers can still claim to knowing more about than the rest of us.
Think about it. For a long time, the writers were given the vote for a reason that makes perfect sense: They saw more baseball than anyone else. Of course they should get the vote. They see the guys play. No one else seemed qualified. But this simply isn't true now. In fact, it can be argued that the writers as a whole have seen significantly less of the players on the current ballot than many, many baseball fans. Why? TV.
Average fans can watch their favorite team as often as they want. That means that there are thousands and thousands of people who saw Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds and Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza play more often than any beat writer except for those covering that player's team. Why? because the Boston beat writer isn't waiting up to see Barry Bonds play and the San Diego beat writer is too busy getting ready for the Padres game when the Red Sox or Yankees are playing. And it's not as though writers have special analytical skills. They're journalists, not analysts.
So the question of who's qualified to judge performance has suddenly, over these last several years, come up for debate.
I don't know how you feel about the beat writer for your favorite team. I follow the Reds and we have John Fay. I think he's pretty solid. He's a reporter and he reports. He doesn't always ask the questions I want him to ask. Sometimes that's frustrating and sometimes I get that he has to have a relationship with Dusty Baker if he's going to do his job. Notably, Fay drew some attention to himself when he announced that he was not submitting a ballot this year because he doesn't know how to deal with the issues at hand (note that this is different than submitting a blank ballot, because it isn't added to the tally of votes cast and thus hurts the players less).
I respect that decision, but I still wonder why we're bothering with it in the first place. I mean, do the writers really want to make the character argument? Let's take an extreme example: Who would you rather trust with your kids, Ty Cobb or Mark McGwire?
Now, the absurdity of that question aside, unless the writers know something about McGwire that they have chosen not to report, I think the answer is fairly obvious. You take McGwire. Why? Because he did something wrong, but he doesn't seem dangerous or scary. He certainly hasn't shown a tendency toward violence like Cobb did.
Seems like McGwire has better character than Cobb, at least as I'd define it. So can we take Cobb out? No one wants that, right?
If you're a writer, you can make some argument about character having to do with the integrity of the game or something, but then you get back into all the other kinds of cheating, and I have yet to see anyone make an argument that resists even the most basic logical challenge as to why one kind of cheating is different from another kind.
That's why the character argument doesn't hold water and never will. However the writers try to make the argument, it's refuted by players they already voted into the Hall. So why can't the writers stop pretending the Hall is about anything other than honoring the best players, warts and all? I think it goes back to the argument I made earlier.
Like I said, I have no problems with John Fay the beat writer. But you know what? I don't go to John Fay for analysis about who's good and who's not. I got to him for news. When I want analysis, I go to anyone of the fantastic baseball sites on the web. It can be FanGraphs or somewhere on SBNation or right here at THT. There are a lot of sources, and they all do a better job of telling me which players are likely to help my favorite team win than the beat writers do.
And I wonder if they're starting to feel that. If they know that people don't buy the story anymore about the gritty player who didn't have the numbers, but was really the team's MVP. I wonder if maybe some of them find a need for a different story and so they've started to latch onto the character issue as something they can write about and still have readers take them seriously. This last part is conjecture. I really don't know.
I do know that the writers aren't the among people most qualified to judge the career of a ballplayer unless they followed him daily. If they know they aren't qualified and we know they aren't qualified and they still have the vote, then the election has to be about something else, doesn't it?
So, in the end, I guess the Hall has to decide what election means. For a long time it meant only that you were a great ballplayer. It doesn't mean that anymore. It means something else. Something that makes most of us (including John Fay) pretty uncomfortable.
It is an article of faith in the online baseball community that Barry Bonds, etc., got jobbed in this year's Hall of Fame voting. Just look at the numbers, says the sabermetric orthodoxy.
And understandably so. Looking at numbers is what sabermetricians do. But these are not the people who vote on Hall of Fame membership.
Members of the traditional sports writing fraternity—who do vote—do numbers, yes, but are more inclined to look beyond them. Thus the brouhaha over this year's election and its rejection of otherwise-qualified candidates suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. And thus the overwhelming online condemnation of what the voters did (or didn't) and why, in articles like this.
I have a foot in each camp. For some years now, I've been an editor here at The Hardball Times, working with smart people who massage statistics in ways I couldn't have dreamed of in my long-ago life as a newspaper sports editor (and, briefly, a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America).
One thing I have learned is not to stereotype either camp. Baseball writers on the internet aren't all geeks in their pajamas writing in their mothers' basements, eschewing baseball tradition. Baseball writers in the press box are not all old fogies getting mustard all over their plaid sports jackets and refusing to recognize newfangled numbers.
The argument that reached its loudest point in this year's Hall of Fame election cycle is familiar to anyone reading this. The electors are 10-year members of the BBWAA. The guidelines they get are open to wide interpretation:
"Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."Nothing about how much weight to give each of those elements. Nothing about how to define any of them. And so, not surprisingly, the 500-plus BBWAA voters don't all agree on how to apply these standards.
I think we've covered the major points on THT over the past few days: Chris Jaffe gave us the historical pattern of Hall of Fame voting and explained why this year is different. Jeffrey Gross made the case for Bonds, the most obvious left-out candidate. Today, Jason Linden sums up the argument that the "character" qualification is meaningless. And Dave Studeman, here and here, has urged that all those who care about baseball and the Hall of Fame take a fresh look at the whole selection system.
I'm not here to argue Bonds and PEDs, or RBIs vs. wOBA. Rather, I'd like to offer a little perspective.
There's a BBWAA chapter in each major league city. The print beat writers who go (or in some cases used to go) to the games are members, and, after 10 years, have the opportunity to vote on Hall of Fame candidates. (Not all members vote. Some news organizations have decided, not unreasonably, that there's an essential conflict in having people who cover the players participate in decisions that affect those players.)
The full membership requirements are in the BBWAA constitution. Essentially, you must be a beat writer, backup writer, columnist or sports editor from a newspaper or wire service that covers major league baseball on a regular basis. Membership has been expanded to include web sites on a case-by-case basis. No television or radio broadcasters have a vote.
Some of these writers are historians of the game. Some are students of its strategy. Some are working stiffs just happy to have a job in these troubled times in their industry. As is the case where you work, some are more diligent and knowledgeable than others.
Most love the game. Some can't wait to get off the weird travel and hours of the beat so they can have a normal life. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.
Some are quite good with numbers, believe it or not, but numbers are the salt and pepper that season each day's game stories and most other newspaper baseball coverage. They're not the meat. Newspapers tell stories. Newspaper baseball writers use statistics in aid of that.
So why has this exclusive little group, bound to get smaller under current rules as the number of daily newspapers shrinks, kidnapped the Hall of Fame admissions process?
Well, it hasn't, exactly.
The system in place is legitimate in that it represents an old reality. Time was, as Jason Linden notes today, baseball beat writers for daily newspapers were the fans' primary eyes on major league baseball. Only they saw all the games and all the teams (at least in their teams' league). Then came locally televised games. Then came the national game of the week. And then superstations. And then came now, when, if you can't find a ballgame on TV on a summer day, you aren't trying, and when you don't need the Cleveland Plain Dealer to find out Asdrubal Cabrera's batting average.
But the Hall of Fame didn't see that future three-quarters of a century ago when it asked the people who watched baseball players for a living to choose the best of the best players to be honored. The BBWAA notes on its website:
"The board of directors at the Hall of Fame is responsible for choosing the best way to select honorees. Currently, they have decided that the BBWAA is the body best-suited to vote, but the Hall of Fame board is free to make changes as it sees fit."That's the Hall's decision. And the "... integrity, sportsmanship, character..." language is the Hall's language.
If the Hall of Fame wants its honorees selected on the basis of statistics and nothing else, that's easy. We have a dozen folks at The Hardball Times who, given an afternoon, could propose a credible formula defining a Hall of Fame player by the numbers.
I think most of us can agree, though, that a Hall of Statistics would lose some of the romance of what we have now. But once you move beyond mere numbers, you bring in subjectivity—opinion, interpretation. And that invites differences of approach, less so on what 300 wins means than on what "integrity" means, and "character."
You can make a good case—as Dave Studeman has—that the process should be examined, overhauled, opened up, made to reflect 21st century reality. But don't blame the people who have been asked to figure out how to do a vaguely defined job for doing just that.
5,000 days ago something very rare happened—something that hadn’t happened in decades: A team scored in all nine innings of a game.
It was May 5, 1999 and the Rockies were slated to play a day game against the Cubs in Colorado’s only series of the year in Wrigley Field. The day before they’d scored 12 runs in a losing, 13-12 effort. Today their hitting would be a touch better, and their pitching notably better, giving them the win.
Things got off to a nice start for Colorado. Though the first two batters in the top of the first made outs, the next pair singled in a nice little two-out rally. The rally should’ve been stillborn as Colorado third baseman Vinny Castilla bounced one to the side of Cubs third sacker Gary Gaetti, but the aging Gaetti fumbled the ball. Thus the first Colorado run scored unearned. It would not be the last unearned run.
In the second, Chicago starting pitcher Terry Mulholland allowed a leadoff homer to Colorado shortstop Neifi Perez. This might not be the Cubs’ day. Then again, the Cubs tied the score 2-2 in the bottom of the first, so who knows? After all, eventually the Cubs had to keep the Rockies off the scoreboard at some point …. Right?
In the third, the Rockies pushed another run across the plate by following up Larry Walker’s leadoff double with a Dante Bichette RBI single. But they lost the lead when a big Cubs inning in the bottom of the third gave them a 5-3 lead.
Naturally, the Cubs couldn’t hold it. In the fourth, Colorado center fielder Chris Sexton recorded one of his 17 career RBIs on a two-out single. The Rockies hadn’t broken through in any frame, but hadn’t been stopped yet either. After four, the Cubs held a 5-4 advantage.
In the fifth the Rockies finally scored more than one run—two, to be exact. The Cubs were lucky it wasn’t more than that; three of the first four Rockies hitters bashed extra-base hits. Walker had a leadoff triple, and Bichette and first baseman Kurt Abbott both doubled. Mulholland hunkered down after that and Abbott died at second base. But now Colorado had the lead, 6-5. And the Cubs still hadn’t kept the Rockies from scoring in any single frame.
Mulholland led off the sixth by walking Sexton, and Cubs manager Jim Riggleman finally yanked him. Reliever Richie Barker nearly got out of the inning without letting Colorado score, but a two-out wild pitch let Sexton score. Now it was, 7-5.
The Cubs pulled Barker for a pinch-hitter, and so Dan Serafini came in to pitch the seventh. Sexton continued having the biggest day of his brief big league career, belting a two-run homer. Now the game was 9-5 and getting out of reach. The only drama left was whether the Cubs would somehow figure out how to keep Colorado from scoring in an inning. There were only two frames left.
Serafini began the eighth with a thud. After three batters, the bases were loaded on two singles and an error by second baseman Mickey Morandini. Out went Serafini and in went Rodney Myers. His first pitch to Neifi Perez became a two-run double (only one run earned because of the error). The Rockies now had runners on second and third with no outs, but to their credit the Cubs managed to stop any more runs from scoring. The lead runner was thrown out at the plate and the Cubs got a double play a little later.
Now it all came down to the ninth. Would the Rockies become the first team in decades to score in all nine innings or would the Cubs survive with some minimal level of pride? Lord knows the game was over, with the Rockies up easily, 11-6.
Leadoff hitter Mike Lansing singled for Colorado. Uh-oh. But a few minutes later he was forced at second on a fielder’s choice by Walker. The Cubs still had a chance to keep them from scoring. Myers then made things trickier, throwing a wild pitch that let Walker advance into scoring position with still just one out. Then Bichette walked.
Vinny Castilla came up with a chance to make history by driving in the run, but instead grounded out. Sure it advanced the runners to second and third, but now the Rockies were down to their last out. Could they do it?
Coming up to the plate was young Todd Helton. He didn’t start the game but replaced Abbott midway through. Now it was all up to him. What would he do?
Rats—he grounds an easy one to first baseman Mark Grace. Of all these defensively challenged Cubs to hit it to, Helton had to pick the Gold Glover. But wait—Grace’s glove was King Midas in reverse; the ball clunked off his stone fingers. Both runners scored and Helton ended up on second base.
The Rockies had done it: They’d scored in every inning. At least the Cubs retired Perez to end the inning. Colorado never scored more than two runs in any frame in the 13-6 victory, but more notably the Cubs never shut the Rockies down. (Heck, the Cubs helped them, with three unearned runs, each scoring in different innings, and a fourth run plated by a wild pitch).
There’s an odd detail to this game. Before the contest, Grace was talking to some of his teammates and reporters asking if any team had ever scored in every inning of a game. It’s like he had some sixth sense something was going to happen in that game—a game that happened 5,000 days ago.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate a “day-versary” or anniversary. Here they are, with the better ones in bold.
Click for more...