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Wednesday, December 10, 2008
A common sighting this time of year'Tis the season for ill-conceived Hall of Fame columns, and today the San Francisco Chronicle's Bruce Jenkins wrote a classic of the genre. Basically, Jenkins goes with the I-like-the-cut-of-his-jib approach, eschewing statistics except in those cases when they support the guys whose jibs he likes in the first place:
In a glowing tribute to the recently retired Greg Maddux, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci noted that his comments, "not by accident, made no mention of any career statistic - no more than you would cite records sold to describe the voice of Sinatra."
Whatever. We've heard all of this before, and on some level I don't care anymore. Bert Blyleven numbers are irrelevant because he didn't feel like a Hall of Famer at the time, but Jack Morris' 133 complete games are a key consideration. Jim Rice was feared. Tim Raines wasn't Rickey Henderson. These are common arguments so it's not necessarily worth singling out Jenkins. He managed to put so many of these old chestnuts into a single column, however, that it would be a shame for his hard work to go unnoticed:
Jim Rice: Though his defenders call him the most dominant player of his time, that does a disservice to Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray and George Brett. Rice might have been the most feared, though.
I'm pretty sure it was one of the Boston writers who came up with the "feared" meme, but when were the talking points on this officially released?
Jack Morris: Defined the type of toughness lacking in so many starting pitchers today. He would have laughed at pitch counts, had they existed. Big winner who finished games (133 times) and was especially good in the postseason. Yes. And I'd love to see a "no" voter try to look Morris in the eye.
Really? The fact that Morris might intimidate a sportswriter is a reason to vote for him? Oy.
Mark McGwire: Yes. I've never wavered on McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa. They were legends of their era. They were juiced, like so many of their contemporaries, but baseball had no hard-and-fast legislation nor drug testing to stop them. Forget the numbers. In fact, when it comes to this era, my theory works better than ever. As always, take the players who truly made a difference.
Let's give Jenkins some props here: most of the guys who adopt the cut-of-his-jib reasoning decide that McGwire's jib is fatally flawed. If you're going to go big picture/gut feeling like Jenkins does, I don't see how you can carve out these big famous guys. If you're going to penalize for steroids, you had better make a fact-based argument. Indeed, if anyone is ever going to make a convincing case for keeping out the steroid users (or alleged steroid users) it will probably be a stathead who has (a) gained access to some reliable steroid data; and (b) figured out how to quantify the unfairness of a given players' juiced accomplishments.
Tim Raines: No. Did a lot of great things, but in every single category, he was a level down from Henderson.
The same could be said for Ted Williams when compared to Babe Ruth. What's your point?
Bert Blyleven: If you were around at the time, following the game daily all season, you weren't likely to peg Blyleven for Cooperstown. Too many of his contemporaries had better reputations, and more presence. He did throw the best curveball of his day. But no.
Usually they knock Blyleven for the win totals and Cy Young votes. This is the first time I've seen reputation and presence cited. Probably worth wondering why this doesn't cut against Morris too, because there wasn't anyone talking about his reputation and presence back in the day either. Really, has one game ever made such a difference for a player's Hall candidacy?
Don Mattingly: Yes, if only to make a point. Mattingly has no chance, because of the persistent back injuries that essentially had wrecked his career by the age of 28. But he was the epitome of greatness in the late 1980s, the very essence of "ballplayer." He needs some votes, just to know that people remember.
If you admit that the man is not worthy of the Hall of Fame, you should have your privileges revoked if you later vote for him.
Dave Parker: Ask anyone who saw Parker in his prime: tape-measure homers, rocket throws, exceptional speed for a big man. Ask his A's teammates from the Tony La Russa years. A man among men, and clutch. Yes.Another instance where we should give Jenkins at least some credit for consistency. Many of the guys who are pro-Rice are anti-Parker, and can't cite any reason for their position other than the fear factor. I wouldn't vote for Dave Parker, but if Jenkins wants a big Hall of good-but-not-great corner outfielders, he's more than entitled to vote that way.
Andre Dawson: Confession: I've never been able to make a definitive call on this guy. He does look great in retrospect. Hell, he looked great at the time. It's just that from the very start, in the Montreal outfield with Ellis Valentine and Warren Cromartie, he was short on full-blown recognition. A reluctant no.
I don't get this. For starters, if you're going all-in with Rice and Parker, it seems like you may as well have Dawson as well. More of a mystery is that line about Cromartie and Valentine. Is he saying that those guys carried Andre to some degree and thus he doesn't deserve it? Is he saying that Andre doesn't deserve it because no one paid attention to Warren Cromartie (and if so, I beg to differ!)? If that's the case, wasn't it Jenkins' job as a writer to make people pay attention? And where does Ron LeFlore fit into all of this?
Mark Grace and Alan Trammell: Rock solid. Like granite. Just too much stiff competition at their respective positions. No.
Maybe that's true about Grace -- the falloff from elite first basemen to Grace is pretty dramatic -- but not Trammell. You got, what, Wagner, Vaughn, Banks (for a while), Yount (for a while) Ripken, Smith, Jeter, A-Rod, Larkin, and that's pretty much it, isn't it? While he's no Wagner, I think Trammell fits in pretty well with that group.
As usual, that gets us nowhere. I just need to go off on one or two of these things each year to get it out of my system.
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 2:17pm
Not to defend the guy—his explanation of the Mattingly vote alone is enough evidence that the guy doesn’t understand the concept of voting—but I read his comments on Dawson to mean that despite playing in an outfield that had no other star power, he didn’t shine brightly enough.
One problem (of many) with these arguments is that guys who toiled away on mediocre teams are the very ones that are not likely to be talked about during a season, while guys who drive in the winning run on a lucky hit for the 100-win team are likely to be the lead for the evening news. To say that this logic over-emphasizes contextual statistics would be a dramatic understatement.
Posted 12/10 at 03:39 PM
Jason @ IIATMS said...
Craig, these are your best types of posts. The kind that I can just read along, nod my head in agreement and say “well, he said it all”. Nicely done.
Posted 12/10 at 03:44 PM
Matt Sullivan said...
I think it is sad that this guy (jenkins) gets a HoF vote when so many more diligent, dedicated writers are left on the outside of the process looking in.
If you believe that Morris has a “dominant presence” and Blyeven doesn’t, you should be able to find BOTH stats AND in-game evidence to support that claim. Otherwise it’s fiction- pure and simple.
When did the days of constructing an argument with relevant data, insightful interpetation and logical conclusions give way to the buzz-word laden sophistry that bombards us each day.
In the words of John Lennon, “Give me some Truth”
Posted 12/10 at 03:56 PM
I’ll still never understand why people are so excited about Rice but show no love for Dawson. And I still think Dawson’s numbers say HOF. Especially considering he KILLED himself and his knees in Montreal and then played incredibly well on those knees for years. And the fact that no one paid attention to him? What about that MVP while playing on a last place team? Come on!!!
And as much as I love Grace, he’s no where near Trammel. He should be in the Chubby Chicks on the Prowl HOF for introducing so many to the secret of a slump buster.
slump buster-n. an unattractive woman sought by a man for sexual relations in order to improve his sports-playing abilities or his involuntarily inactive sex life
Posted 12/10 at 04:04 PM
I cannot tell what that “133” stat for Morris is. He had 175 CG, apparently 111 CG victories. Blyleven, meanwhile, had 242 CG and 167 CG victories. Bert was such a slouch next to Jack.
Posted 12/10 at 04:28 PM
It’s not that I mind voters using the “gut feel” method to help them vote. It is the Hall of Fame, so I’m okay with that. To a certain extent.
Because the problem with using it exclusively is that you over-rate guys who play on teams like Boston (Rice) and under-rate guys who play on teams like Montreal (Dawson). You vote for guys who play on championship teams (Morris) and exclude guys who played on mostly poor to mediocre teams (Blyleven). When your method of voting excludes players for a reason that is no fault of their own, you need to supplement the process with some other analysis.
I’m probably more tolerant of the gut feel stuff than most statistically inclined persons, but I can’t condone someone who completely ignores all other evidence.
Posted 12/10 at 05:15 PM
I always challenge people to make the Rice case without using the word “fear.” I look at his career, and sometimes and genuinely wonder-
What the hell were they afraid of?
Posted 12/10 at 06:01 PM
@Chipmaker: on BBTF it was posted that 133 is the number of Morris’ CGs in the 1980s (I guess, to go along with his league-leading 80s win total?)
I just seriously question the sanity of anyone who says Morris - In, Blyleven - Out. I don’t see how you can compare their careers and come up with that decision. Blyleven pitched 1000+ more innings, and pitched them significantly better. And Blyleven didn’t nearly sabotage one team’s postseason like Morris did for the Jays in ‘92 (if postseason is so important…)
Posted 12/10 at 08:21 PM
What I really can’t believe about this article is that this moron doesn’t think CRAIG BIGGIO belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Nevermind the fact that everything he said about Jack Morris can be applied twofold to both Phil Niekro and Bert Blyleven, neither of whom belong according to this guy. Also, Jack Morris threw 175 CG’s, not 133, which is still less than both Bert and Phil.
Posted 12/11 at 11:04 AM
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