Randomly Yours

Thank God for annual Hall of Fame elections. It saves a lot of time and trouble when you don’t have to sit down and come up with something original to write about in early January.

I really haven’t gotten a particular theme for this column, just a lot of random thoughts banging around inside what passes for my mind.

This much I do know: if Bert Blyleven gets voted in this year, poor Rich Lederer is going to be hard pressed figuring out what he’s gonna write about this time next year. Thanks to him I probably know more about Blyleven than I do my own kids.

Of course I’m one to talk. People who know me will tell you how much time I’ve devoted to the case of Robert Lee “Indian Bob” Johnson. I’ve mellowed a bit in time (some might call it laziness), and while he’s an iffy Hall of Fame candidate I would like to see him be recognized as an overlooked star player from the 1930s and 1940
s.

So if Blyleven gets in and Rich is looking for something to devote his considerable energy to…

BTW Rich: I do agree that Blyleven belongs, but alas I do not have a vote—I hope your hard work pays off. If it does, you can take the above as a friendly directive. (insert grinning emoticon here).

Moving on…

I can’t help but wonder what criteria some members of the BBWAA are planning on using in order not to vote for Mark McGwire. Are they excluding him simply because he cheated by using performance-enhancing drugs? Or will it be that they feel he wouldn’t have had a Hall of Fame career absent steroids? It’s a critical distinction. If they vote “nay” simply because he was a steroid user then they would also have to vote no on Barry Bonds. They may rationalize that Bonds was a HOFer before he started using. That, however, would be tantamount to saying that there’s no penalty for steroid use if you are a slam-dunk Hall of Fame talent but there is if you are a marginal candidate.

The simple answer to that is “Well he wouldn’t have Hall of Fame numbers save for steroids.”

How can you be sure? Can it be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt? You cannot exclude McGwire and include Bonds. Both are/were users, both have Hall of Fame résumés. Can you say in good conscience that one would still be a HOFer had he not used and one wouldn’t?

They’re O.K. if they say: “Steroid use is a deal-breaker when I cast my vote. They cheated–I don’t vote for cheaters.” It becomes a bit more tricky if they say: “I voted for player A because he was a Hall of Famer even if he never used steroids” and “I didn’t vote for player B because he wouldn’t have had Hall of Fame numbers if he didn’t use steroids.”

Unless of course they can prove that assertion. If they can prove it then by all means stand and deliver because we’re all eager to see how much anabolic steroids skewered statistics.

Would Mark McGwire have hit fewer than 500 home runs unaided by the bicep-building, testicle-shrivelling elixir?

Over the first 2,656 at-bats of his career (through age 27) McGwire had a career OBP of .351. After that, until he retired it was .424. In short, as he matured a good batting eye got better. In the first 2,656 at-bats of his career McGwire was a five-time All Star, a Rookie of the Year, and a Gold Glove winner. You can discount the importance of these honors but it does show that he was well regarded as a player and was a key cog on a club that won three straight AL pennants. It wasn’t until after the strike that he became “Mark McGwire.

The point is this: he was never chopped liver—he’s always had major talent. Erstwhile fellow primate (the denizens of Baseball Think Factory) and writer for the New York Sun Tim Marchman calls McGwire one-dimensional writing:

“He didn’t hit for average, didn’t play notably good defense, didn’t play a difficult defensive position, and didn’t run the bases well”

…which sounds an awful lot like Harmon Killebrew. (In Tim’s defense Killer did log 1,272 games at third base, outfield and second base, but he is primarliy considered a first baseman.) Big Mac has 20 points of OPS+ on Killebrew and one more Gold Glove Award.

It sounds like some are looking for non-steroid reasons for not voting for McGwire.

When did he start juicing in earnest? Where does the talent end and the chemicals begin? Here’s another thought. A couple of excerpts from an interview done with Fay Vincent:

“I don’t remember much about the circumstances and I don’t remember who really pushed for it. But, I can speculate that it came out of an awareness that for people who were not in the union—not protected by the Union agreement—that steroids might be a problem. I think that we had become to realize that there were a variety of other compounds floating around that were dangerous. We’d heard rumors about Jose Canseco. I think we thought that steroids and the like were basically a “football problem”, but we did think that they were dangerous. And so for at least coaches and managers and everybody else in baseball we thought we ought to go on record and say that this is bad stuff and we don’t want it getting a toe-hold in baseball.”

“I think it was really our attempt to be on record, if this was our universe, if we controlled the whole thing, this is what we would do. And we did it, but we did it only for the people that were not covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

In short, the rule against steroids didn’t apply to the players because the rule had never been formally collectively bargained. This is key; here’s an excerpt from Marvin Miller’s autobiography, A Whole Different Ball Game:

Before 1966, the owners had a unilateral right to do, literally, anything they pleased; they could change the rules in the middle of a player’s contract and say, “Here are the rules that now apply to you.” The owners routinely tied players to documents-the Major League Rules, the Professional Baseball Rules, the league constitutions and bylaws-without even giving them copies of what they were agreeing to be bound by. The first basic agreement, in 1968, required that players at least be given copies of every document that became a part of their contract. Then we insisted that the owners had to advise us of proposed changes. Later, we insisted and obtained agreement that no rule would apply if it conflicted with a provision of the basic agreement.

We had them put that language in a big box in the major league rule book to make clear to anyone who opens it that any rule which is inconsistent with the conditions of the basic agreement is null and void. But we still weren’t home free; we would negotiate something in the basic agreement, and the owners wouldn’t change the blue book-the book that encompassed the Major League Rules and the so-called major league agreement. And since the rules weren’t brought up to date, you had owners and general managers saying, “How was I to know I couldn’t follow this rule? I followed it for thirty years, and it’s still here.” Over time, the language protecting the players’ contracts and the collective bargaining agreement became stronger and stronger until the leagues finally understood that any time they wanted to change a rule affecting the players’ rights, they had to negotiate the approval of the Players Association. The same became true of any playing rules that could affect a player’s career. [italics mine]

Simply put, unless there was a collectively bargained rule that forbid the use of steroids, if you used [steroids] you weren’t violating any rule.

Now if you wish to discuss that it’s against the law or against the spirit of fair play I’m certainly going to agree with you, but to exclude McGwire because he cheated against the rules of major league baseball doesn’t line up with reality. To exclude him because he wouldn’t have had Hall of Fame stats absent the juice requires proof. So the BBWAA is really in a pickle if they vote “no” to McGwire based on ‘cheating’ or ‘he wouldn’t have put up the numbers if clean’.

Of course if they vote no to McGwire and yes to Bonds then things get really interesting.

So here’s what we have:

  • The only player in MLB history with five consecutive 50+ HR seasons
  • A 65 and 70 HR campaign in consecutive years
  • A 12 time All Star
  • 583 HR
  • 11th best OPS+ in history (163)
  • A player that, according to the one-time highest officials of both management and labor in MLB, broke no existant rules

So the BBWAA either votes yes or no. If they vote no it’s because:

1) They are penalizing McGwire retroactively for violating a current rule that wasn’t in effect during his career.
2) Although not having proof they feel he wouldn’t have Hall of Fame numbers without steroids. The steroid evidence they have, while compelling, is nonetheless circumstantial.
3) In a few years they will have to vote for a player who did violate the rules but feel he would’ve had Hall of Fame numbers without steroids.
4) They will have to later justify why a cheater got their vote and why one guy who had Hall of Fame numbers but didn’t cheat (according to rules as they existed during his career) didn’t get their vote.

Expect some interesting mental gymnastics in the near future.

(Conducts belated post-mortem on deceased equine with fresh bruises, drops Louisville Slugger comes to conclusion)

Time to move on (again) …

Davey Concepcion: an amazing ballplayer.

He truly was.

I called up his numbers on the Lee Sinins’ Sabermetric Encyclopedia, and from 1973-82 he had a Runs Created Above Position of 177 and had a Runs Created Above Average of -2. From 1970-1990 The leaders in RCAP among NL SS were Ozzie Smith (140) and Dave Concepcion (136).

Back then his offense was considered remarkable for his position. On many occasions I recall hearing announcers commenting that his bat was superb for a guy who fields as good as he did and how he didn’t drag his team down offensively—which was unusual for a guy who played shortstop [back then].

Concepcion was probably the second best NL SS over a two decade span. It’s hard to comprehend that when we’ve recently seen a shortstop top Concepcion’s career HR mark in just two seasons (Alex Rodriguez).

But at the time he was rightfully considered an elite player. Although it’s easy not to put a lot of stock in All-Star Game selections the fact he was named to the NL squad nine times over 10 years gives us an idea of how highly he was regarded back in the day.

I remember Bill James in Politics of Glory discussing Phil Rizzuto. James admitted that he was somewhat handicapped in assessing Rizzuto simply because he wasn’t there to physically witness his career and how he was viewed at the time. Well I did see Concepcion, read about him, heard what others said about him at the time.

My verdict? I think he falls a teensy bit shy of the HOF although I haven’t closed the book yet on this.

Jim Rice? I dunno. First was Ted Williams, then Carl Yastrzemski now it’s Manny Ramirez. I saw Yaz, I see Manny, but I don’t see Rice at that level. Too many double plays, poor defence, poor road numbers and his falling off a cliff outweighs a terrific peak.

Since I’ve been rattling on too much as it is…

The rapid round: (of guys I would vote for—excluding the obvious Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken):

Alan Trammell: Yes (and Lou Whitaker one day too)
Tommy John: Yes—for posterity’s sake
Goose Gossage: Heck yes
Harold Baines: Would love to vote yes but can’t
Tony Fernandez: See above
Dale Murphy: See above … like Rice he fell too far too fast
Albert Belle: Used to be yes, now I’m not sure
Jack Morris: No (used to be yes and am willing to be convinced to change back)
Andre Dawson: I need to be convinced one way or the other. Jeff Sackmann has me thinking no
Dave Parker: No
Steve Garvey: No
Jose Canseco: No
Don Mattingly: No
Lee Smith: No

So there ya go. Let me have it—that includes a certain Mr. “C”.

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