Interesting year on the Hall of Fame ballot. You’ve got an all-time great (Rickey Henderson), the usual band of solid guys with good cases (Alan Trammell, Tim Raines), the pair that is inching closer to induction (Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven) and an on the verge with one last shot (Jim Rice).
Oh, and Dan Plesac.
Away we go… (and feel free to let me know how wrong I am at email@example.com)
Harold Baines: 22 seasons and his best finish for MVP was ninth (1985). Black Ink? One, he led the AL in slugging in 1984. A very nice player for a long time, but never one of the 10 best players in baseball. His peak was from 1984-1987. During that span I would have taken Boggs, Mattingly, Ripken, Murray, Henderson, Winfield, Brett, Rice, Gwynn, Sandberg, Schmidt and Raines over Baines without question. That’s 12 guys (and there are about 10 more who are borderline) that were clearly superior over a guy during his prime. How many Hall of Famers can you say that about?
In or Out? Out.
Jay Bell: Nice player, an All-Star a few times. Looking at his career statistics, a curious note: He hit 38 home runs in 1999, 18 more than he produced in any single season before or after. Wonder how that happened?
Bert Blyleven: How is this guy not already in the Hall of Fame? Classic case of voters looking at won/loss records. You know how in sports movies the team is usually god-awful in the first act before something incredible happens in Act II (Major League, Bad News Bears, Hoosiers)? Blyleven spent most of career pitching for lousy teams that never had an Act II. If he pitched for the same teams Jack Morris did he would have won 325 games and been elected on the first ballot.
Blyleven (287 career wins in 685 starts): Career ERA: 3.31 League ERA: 3.90
Morris: (254 career wins in 527 starts) Career ERA: 3.90 League ERA: 4.08
Blyleven: 10 seasons with an ERA of 3.00 or less.
Morris: No seasons with an ERA of 3.00 or less.
There are eight pitchers that rank among the Top 20 in career wins, strikeouts and shutouts since 1900. Seven (Don Sutton, Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Walter Johnson and Ferguson Jenkins) are in Cooperstown. The eighth is Blyleven. (Thanks to baseballanalysts.com for that stat.)
David Cone: I’d have to double-check, but I’m pretty sure that he’s the only guy on the ballot that was ever slapped with an $8 million lawsuit for exposing himself in the bullpen to three women.
Cone isn’t quite a Hall of Famer, but he’s close, at least much closer than I thought before I really looked at his career. From 1988-1999 he was consistently among the best pitchers in baseball, finishing among the top 10 in ERA on seven occasions and in strikeouts for all 11 campaigns. He was a big part of three World Series with the Yankees (he was on the roster for the 2000 Yankees as well, but had a 4-14 record and pitched two innings in the postseason, so no credit for that one) and owns an 8-3 record in the playoffs (including a 2.12 ERA in 29 World Series innings).
I just think he’s two or three seasons short of HOF status. Tough to put a starter in with less than 200 wins unless he was truly dominant (see Koufax, Sandy). Cone had a better career than several starters in Cooperstown (guys like Red Ruffing and Eppa Rixey), but the “he’s better than the worst guy in” argument isn’t enough.
Andre Dawson: It really comes down to this with Dawson: how high a premium do you put on on-base percentage?
Dawson’s career OBP is .323 (league average for his career--.332). Clearly a terrible number, shocking for a player of his caliber. But he’s one of three players in history with at least 400 homers and 300 steals (Barry Bonds and Willie Mays). Does that make up for a low OBP? How about eight Gold Gloves? How about 10 top 10 NL finishes in total bases, twice leading the league? How about an MVP in 1987 and a pair of second-place finishes (1981, 1983)? Four Silver Slugger Awards? Eight All-Star Games?
In/Out: In, though I’ll admit I’d feel better about it if his career OBP was even .340.
(I think a Dawson induction really helps the argument for Dwight Evans. Dewey was every bit the fielder Dawson was, and has a .370 career OBP. Dawson: two career 100-run seasons. Evans: four. Dawson career OPS: .805. Evans: .840. Dawson received 358 votes for the HOF last year. Evans best total? 49 votes in 1998 (he dropped off the ballot in 1999).
Ron Gant: We all know that Gant is off the ballot after this year (I’ll predict he gets three votes), so let’s skip his case for induction and focus on a few leftover notes from the holidays…
How about Pat Summerall broadcasting the Cotton Bowl? Good god. If CBS would ever allow teams of three to compete on “The Amazing Race”, I would demand that Summerall, Dick Enberg and Dick Clark comprise one of the squads.
Saw “Milk”. I’ll just say this: If you ever wanted to watch Sean Penn make out with guys for two hours then “Milk” is the movie for you. (In reality it was a surprisingly standard bio-pic, pretty flat. Just a weak year for the cinema. The only standouts this year are a pair of documentaries, “Man on Wire” and “Dear Zachary”.)
If you were an NFL owner wouldn’t you be a little concerned about hiring a Patriots assistant as a head coach? Has Weis, Romeo or Mangini done anything to inspire confidence? Maybe Josh McDaniels is the next Bill Walsh, but no one really knows how much control these guys have under Belichick.
How about this lineup during a six-hour JetBlue flight on January 3? Start with the ‘Pine Barrens’ episode of “The Sopranos” (one hour). Then a Capital G great episode of “Saved by the Bell”, the Christmas special that saw Zach romance a homeless girl who eventually moved into the Morris house with her dad (half hour). Then “A Fish Called Wanda” on Comedy Central (two hours). That led right into the Arizona/Atlanta playoff game, which took me to the end of the flight. Home run.
In/Out: Out. (And before we go further, I’ll just give the “out” to Jesse Orosco, Dan Plesac, Greg Vaughn and Matt Williams. Don’t expect any of those guys will get the five percent to return to the ballot next year).
Mark Grace: Phil Rogers has him in, with the seldom-used (and pretty stupid) “I’ll pick 18 postseason at-bats and combine that with good clubhouse leadership” argument.
Grace was a very good player, we all know that. .303 career hitter, solid OBP (.383 career), led the majors in hits during the 1990s. His lack of power (never hit 20 homers, only finished in the top 10 in slugging once in his 16 seasons) is the biggest knock.
Look, if you put Mark Grace in the Hall of Fame, you have to put John Olerud in the Hall of Fame. And neither of those guys is in the class of Keith Hernandez, who never sniffed the magical 75 percent mark (tops was 51 votes in 1998, just short of 11 percent).
Rickey Henderson: Do you know which player was elected with the highest percentage of votes in HOF history? Tom Seaver (98.84 percent in 1992). Will Rickey beat that total?
He should. There is not a single reason not to vote for Henderson, who is one of the 15 or 20 best players in the history of the game (all-time leader in runs and steals, second in walks). Look, in 1982 Rickey stole 130 bases, scored 119 runs and walked 116 times. Great season? You bet. One of his five best? Not even close. That’s all you need to know.
I think he’ll fall short of Seaver’s total, if only because certain media types will leave him off the first ballot to “make a statement” (Rickey was not a team player, selfish, etc.). Of course that is ludicrous, but for some of these media guys the moral high horse is all they have. I think Greg Maddux has a great chance of breaking the record in five years.
Tommy John: Last chance on the ballot for John, who has never really made a dent in the voting (his best effort was last year with 158 votes, just over 29 percent).
The good: John was a remarkably durable and consistent pitcher (reached double-figures in wins 17 times). He was a strong playoff performer, recording a 6-3 mark with a 2.65 ERA in 88 postseason innings. His 288 wins are the most among all eligible players not in the HOF.
The bad: Not bad, exactly, but John spent a great majority of his career as a second or third starter. Three top five Cy Young finishes in his 26-year career (Mike Mussina, for example, had six in 18 years). Career ERA 3.34, league ERA 3.69. (and his career road ERA is 3.56).
The indifferent: I can’t give John points for the surgery. We’re not talking about Jackie Robinson or even Curt Flood.
In/Out: Out. The Hall of Fame is not for the above average, which John was for a very long time.
Don Mattingly: One of my all-time favorites, but simply not a Hall of Famer. For four seasons (1984-87) he was one of the three or four best players in baseball, and if he could have kept that pace up for another half-decade or so he would have been a first ballot choice. Plus his hair was too long for a couple of years.
Mark McGwire: I have to be consistent on this. If I’m going to get on the voters for passing moral judgment on players I cannot do the same. If a guy is on the ballot I am going to check yes or no simply on the numbers.
And based on the numbers McGwire is a lock. 583 career homers (eighth all-time), .588 career slugging (ninth), 12th in history with an adjusted OPS+ of 162. His 10.6 at-bats per home run is the top total in baseball history.
If, however, McGwire were removed from the ballot for “moral reasons” I would have zero problem with that. It is clear that he started with steroids around 1996. He was Dave Kingman before that and Babe Ruth after. Throw in a disgraceful performance in front of Congress in 2005 (not the only guy who whiffed that day) and there is more than enough evidence to leave him out.
In/Out: In. But I’m convinced that he’ll never be elected.
Jack Morris: An ace. A winner. Clutch. A workhorse. Fearless. All of those words have been used to describe Morris. All of those things might be true.
This definitely is true: Not a Hall of Famer.
Pitcher A: 246 wins, 185 losses. Career ERA 4.19 (league ERA 4.42). 2,248 strikeouts in 3,746 innings pitched.
Pitcher B: 254 wins, 186 losses. Career ERA 3.90 (league ERA 4.08). 2,478 strikeouts in 3,824 innings pitched.
Pitcher B is Morris. Pitcher A? Jamie Moyer.
Morris was a solid pitcher for a long time. Pitching 18 years in the majors and finishing with a better than league average ERA is no small feat. But let’s be honest: if Morris had pitched for the Cleveland Indians his entire career he wouldn’t have lasted more than a year or two on the ballot.
Dale Murphy: Would you elect a player with these stats into the Hall of Fame?
1,086 games, 181 homers, 592 RBI, .250 batting average, .324 OPB and .461 slugging.
That’s Murphy’s career totals on the road. He benefitted hugely from playing 81 games a season at Fulton County Stadium for most of his career. Take his 1982 MVP season:
Home: 81 games, 24 homers, 59 RBI, .310 average, .392 OBP, .596 slugging
Away: 81 games, 12 homers, 50 RBI, .252 average, .365 OBP, .419 slugging
How about his monster 1987 season?
Home: 81 games, 25 homers, 61 RBI, .346 average, .493 OBP, .673 slugging
Away: 78 games, 19 homers, 44 RBI, .249 average, .338 OBP, .495 slugging
I can’t put a player with such huge splits into the HOF. It’s hard to shake the thought that he’s little more than a product of “The Launching Pad”.
Dave Parker: I think Parker would already be in the Hall if he hadn’t fallen off the cliff from 1981-84 (there were reasons for this decline). If you pencil in numbers for those seasons that were close to his production before 1981 and after 1984 you get pretty close to 3,000 career hits (and I assume he would have stuck around long enough to get to that total if he was close).
Another example of a near miss. He was an MVP in 1978 (and finished a close second to Willie McGee in 1985) and twice a batting champion. It’s missing those prime years (and a weak .339 career OBP) that leave him on the outside.
Tim Raines: If there were no Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines would be viewed as the greatest leadoff hitter in MLB history.
Picking the best season of Raines’ career is tough. You could go with 1984 (106 runs, 192 hits, 75 steals, .309 average, .393 OBP). Or 1985 (115 runs, 184 hits, 13 triples, 70 steals .320 average, .405 OBP). You could go back to the strike-shortened 1981 season (in just 88 games, Raines stole 71 bases (that’s 130 SB’s if adjusted to 162 games) to lead the NL by 32 and hit .301 with a .392 OBP). You could jump ahead to 1993 with the White Sox (75 runs scored in 115 games, .306 average with a .401 OBP). 1986 was terrific as well (.334 average, 70 steals, 91 runs, .413 OBP).
I guess I’d go with 1987 if I had to choose. In 137 games (he missed the first month of the season due in no small part to collusion) Raines hit .330 with a career-best 18 homers, slugged .526 and stole 50 bases. Oh, he also scored 123 runs (143 if projected out to a full season) and was intentionally walked 26 times.
Here’s something else to like about Raines: he remained highly productive past his prime. At age 38 he played a key role on the legendary 1998 Yankees team, playing in 109 games, hitting .290 with a .395 OBP (that was following a .321 average in 1997).
Jim Rice: Courtesy of Bill James, we bring you the Keltner List.
1. Was he ever the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
I don’t think that there is any question that from 1977-79 Rice was considered by some to be the best player in baseball. I don’t think he was even close (my pick would be Mike Schmidt) but a case could be made.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
In 1978 he was, easily. Same goes for 1977. He wasn’t in 1979 (Fred Lynn was) but Rice was usually the first or second best everyday player on the Red Sox 1975 until 1983 or so.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
Rice was without question the best left fielder in the American League in the mid to late 1970s. That title was quickly snatched away by Ricky Henderson around 1981.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of playoff races?
Sure. In 1975 (rookie season) he had a huge second half (.332 average), helping the Sox to the division title. He was MVP in 1978 and finished third in the voting in 1986. He was not a factor in 1988 (unless you count fighting with Joe Morgan over Spike Owen pinch-hitting for you as an “impact”.)
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after his prime?
No, and this really hurt his legacy. I think he was looked at as a stone-dead lock for Cooperstown after 1986 (.324, 200 hits, 20 homers, 110 RBI). He just lost his ability to hit overnight and was done by 1989. If he could have put together three decent seasons he would be in the Hall today.
6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
Nope. Ron Santo was better. Raines was better. Albert Belle was better. Dick Allen was better (Rice’s best OPS+ season was 1978 with a 157 mark. Allen’s career OPS+ average was 156). There are some others as well (though not as many as the anti-Rice people would lead you to believe. I read a “Brian Downing is better than Jim Rice” story today. That’s a little much.
7. Are most players with comparable stats in the Hall of Fame?
Four of the top 10 most comparable to Rice at baseball-reference are in the Hall of Fame, including the most comparable, Orlando Cepeda.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Hall of Fame standards is another Bill James creation that awards points for career totals. The “average” Hall of Famer should score 50 points. Rice is at 43, which is 108th all-time (ahead of a bunch of HOFers, but also behind a few guys who aren’t in).
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
This hurts Rice. There is no way to deny that Fenway Park helped his career immensely.
In 1,048 career home games he hit .320 with 208 homers ,802 RBI and an OPS of .920. In 1,041 road games he hit .277 with 174 homers, 649 RBI and an OPS of .789. Eric Hinske’s career OPS is .773. So for half of his career Jim Rice was slightly better than Eric Hinske. Probably won’t find that on his plaque if he gets in.
10. Is he the best player at his positon who is eliglibe for the Hall of Fame but not in?
Henderson is, but that’ll change. Again, I’d take Raines and Belle over Rice.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
This may be Rice’s best argument (and the one that Rob Bradford brings up EVERY TIME Rice’s HOF candidacy is discussed). He finished in the top five in MVP voting six times, with a win in 1978. He ranks 29th in history with 3.15 MVP Award Shares. With the exception of Dave Parker, every player ranked above him that is eligible for the Hall of Fame is in.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star Games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star Games go into the Hall of Fame?
Rice played in eight All-Star Games, which is about right, he had seven or eight All-Star level seasons.
It’s interesting, 25 retired players who are eligible for the HOF played in eight All-Star Games. Less than half (12) are in. 13 retired players who are eligible for the HOF played in 10 All-Star Games. Once again, 12 are in (only Steve Garvey is out). Ok, maybe it’s not that interesting.
13. If this man was the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
In his prime without question. He was the best player on the 1978 Red Sox and the club won 99 games.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
Not really, no.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
He was fine, no problems there. Rice could be a little tough with the media, of course, and that seemed like a REALLY big deal back then. But it must’ve been tough for him, when you think about it. Coming from South Carolina, the first black star for a franchise noted for its bigotry, not easy.
(But Rice was sure intimidating back then. I remember in fourth grade, during recess, (this would’ve been in 1984), Kevin Duffy told me that his cousin was on “The Baseball Bunch” and that when Jim Rice was on he beat up both Johnny Bench and one of the other kid players. This seemed totally plausible to me at the time. Of course, Kevin Duffy also told me that he dated the girl from “Small Wonder” and that his dad was in the E Street Band, so maybe I should’ve fact-checked.)
Rice actually comes out okay on the list. I think it shows him to be exactly what he is—a borderline Hall of Famer. I do think that voter infatuation with RBI helps him greatly with MVP votes (take 1986 for example: did Rice really deserve to finish ahead of Wade Boggs in the voting? Does 39 RBI make up for a 33-point difference in batting average and a 67-point edge in OBP? Of course not. But these guys love RBI).
In/Out: I have to leave him out. His road numbers are not worthy of Cooperstown. I’ll be honest, I think Dwight Evans is a better candidate.
Lee Smith: I can’t figure the closers out. Was Smith better than John Franco? Dan Quisenberry? Tom Henke? John Wetteland? I’ll admit, I have no clue. Smith pitched forever and tanked up on saves (478, third all-time), but what does that mean? Billy Wagner will be fourth or fifth on that list when he retires. Raise your hand if you think Wagner’s a Hall of Famer. I’m going to pass on all closers not named Rivera for the next decade or so.
Alan Trammell: This is strange.
Player A: 2,293 career games, 185 HR, 1,003 RBI, .352 OBP, .415 slugging
Player B: 2,390 career games, 244 HR, 1,084 RBI, .363 OBP, .426 slugging
Player A is Trammell, who has been on the ballot since 2002 and has received between 70 and 99 votes each year. Player B is the player most associated with Trammell, Lou Whitaker. Whitaker was on the ballot for just one year (2001), when he received only 15 votes. How does that work?
Trammell is a favorite of the sabercrew, but I think he falls short. How many seasons did he have that can be considered HOF worthy? I count four. 1987 (great season, should have been the MVP, hit .343 with 28 HRs and played a good shortstop), 1984 (also World Series MVP that season), 1983 and 1988. Two or three top seasons short, but at his peak he was an annual .300 hitter with power (remember, 15-20 homers from a SS in 1985 was top level stuff) and a superb glove. He’s not off by much.
Mo Vaughn: Very similar to Mattingly (excluding defense). From 1993-98 he finished in the AL top 10 in slugging and OPS each season, and homers five times. A lot has been made about Belle deserving the MVP over Vaughn in 1995 (and it’s true—Belle hit 50 homers with a 1.091 OPS to Mo’s 39 and .963), but what is often forgotten is that Mo was actually better in 1996 (more homers, RBI, hit 26 points higher and his OBP jumped from .388 to .420) and just as good in 1997. Just too short a peak, but he was a Hall of Fame-caliber player in his prime.
So I’ve got Blyleven, Dawson, Henderson, McGwire and Raines. My guess for the actual results? Rickey and Rice. Dawson and Blyleven will fall just short but 2010 will be the year (Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin and Edgar Martinez are the big newcomers in 2010. Not a great class) for them.
Kirk Minihane, WEEI.com Contributor, is the resident Fantasy Sports expert for WEEI.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at WEEI.com