I once had a student whose parents were atheists. When she was growing up, they didn’t teach her religion. Rather, they taught her that it’s nice to be nice (and I’m sure a whole lot of other things, but the nice thing sticks with me). There’s something beautiful about the simplicity, honesty, and accuracy of that lifestyle.
Of course, being nice isn’t exactly what blogs are all about. Or maybe it is.
Over the weekend the great Joe Posnanski posted a really cool piece called The Museum of Nice Players. In the post, basically, he wanted to pick the one player from the last forty years at every position who nobody would call a Hall of Famer but was a really nice player. With all of the caveats about Joe having forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know, I do take issue with some of his selections.
Joe’s Pick: Darrell Porter
My Pick: Jim Sundberg
This is a tough call, and I can’t really disagree with Joe’s decision here. Porter was indeed a very nice player, and his 1979 season was something matched by only seven other catchers ever in terms of value. Additionally, Porter has a back story unlike that of many possible selections. Still, I prefer Sundberg’s glove to Porter’s bat. A straight JAWS voter would likely move in the direction of the great Poz, but I adjust BBREF’s defensive number by using DRA. At catcher, I don’t know that such an adjustment is exactly what should be done. On the other hand, with the information we’ve learned in the last few years about framing, I might guess that someone with Sundberg’s skill set would take a step forward. Overall, either pick is a good one.
Joe’s Pick: Mark Grace
My Pick: Carlos Delgado
This position is a tough one since there are a lot of nice players in the Hall of Fame – guys like Frank Chance, Tony Perez, and Orlando Cepeda. Those guys aren’t really at Hall level, but they’re in over guys like Keith Hernandez, Dick Allen, and Pete Rose, all of whom would be better selections on their merits.
Dolph Camilli is a nice call here, but since he retired about 70 years ago, so I’m going with Delgado. Will Clark and John Olerud are near enough to Hall-level that they don’t qualify for our game. And Fred McGriff, though further away, certainly has his supporters. I’ll take Delgado over Grace based on the former’s 2000 and 2003 seasons, two years that Grace never matched in quality.
Joe’s Pick: Chuck Knoblauch
My Pick: Chuck Knoblauch
I’m very surprised that Joe and I agree here. Shocked. When reading his post, Knoblauch stuck out as a guy who just wasn’t “nice” enough. Then I looked at my numbers. In the last 40 or so seasons, there have been so many great second basemen – Morgan, Grich, Whitaker, Sandberg, Alomar, Biggio, Randolph – that a guy like Knoblauch got lost in the shuffle.
On one hand I really want to go with Tony Phillips, a guy who I’ve never heard anyone support unless I’m talking to Eric. Or to myself. Jeff Kent doesn’t qualify because he has his share of Hall support. I like the idea of Dick McAuliffe, but that forty year stipulation kind of cuts him out. And other “nice” players are either in the Hall – Evers, Lazzeri, Schoendienst, Fox – or they just played too long ago, like Dunlap, Pratt, Frey, Bishop, and McDougald. I’ll take Knoblauch by a shade over Davey Lopes and Ray Durham. His slashing of .341/.448/.517 in 1996 is something that neither of the other two could match.
Joe’s Pick: Buddy Bell
My Pick: Ron Cey
Joe’s pick here is the reason I chose to write this post. I can’t say enough how clearly I believe Buddy Bell, if you’re not a small-Hall guy, is a Hall of Famer. Joe does a good job in his post comparing Bell to Brooks Robinson. He uses data that’s useful and interesting, which leads him to a conclusion I don’t think is right. Bell, for my money, ranks a tiny, tiny bit behind Brooks. If Brooks belongs in the Hall, and you don’t think he’s one of the last 20-30 guys who belongs in, I think you have to support Bell. Among retired 3B, I rank Buddy Bell #11 all-time. And that’s calling Paul Molitor a 3B. Bell danced into the Hall of Miller and Eric on his first ballot in 1995. So some people, people who I think really know their stuff, think Buddy Bell is an easy call for the Hall.
That brings me to Ron Cey. In a way, Cey is a bit like Chuck Knoblauch, a really nice player who played at a time of much better guys and was outshined. Cey had to contend with Schmidt, Brett, Boggs, Santo, Molitor, Brooks, Bell, Nettles, Evans, and Bando for some part of their careers. He also had a bunch of Dodgers, including Garvey, Sutton, Baker, Smith, Lopes, and John who took away his potential for a spotlight. Toby Harrah and Matt Williams are also good choices at third. And Robin Ventura is too, though there are those who I’ve heard support his Hall candidacy.
Joe’s Pick: Jim Fregosi
My Pick: Jim Fregosi
I prefer Bert Campaneris, but he has his Hall supporters and probably should. Fregosi seems to be one of the perfect guys in all of the game’s history for this distinction. We remember him as a manager, where he ranks #58 in all-time wins. And we remember him as the guy who was traded for Nolan Ryan. And we remember that trade as an absolute bust for the Mets. But we forget the tumor in Fregosi’s foot (he got hurt, he didn’t just stink up the joint). And we forget how great he was for a time. As I wrote in his 1984 HoME obituary, Fregosi averaged more WAR per year than Ryan did with the Angels. Shout outs to both Julio Franco and Nomar Garciaparra here.
Joe’s Pick: Brian Downing
My Pick: George Foster
I want to choose Brian Downing sooooo badly. I think he’s my favorite player ever who never played for the Red Sox. (And isn’t named Mike Trout). But I have to do this fairly, and my system ranks Foster just a little ahead of Downing. Foster was the 1977 NL MVP after posting 52 homers and 149 ribbies. He was also pretty great for the two years before and four years after that, averaging about 5.7 wins over that span. And then, Met fans, he was traded to Queens and began to stink up the joint. In his four full seasons in New York, he had less total value than he averaged over his previous seven campaigns.
Maybe Albert Belle would be a good pick here, but I have an issue with calling Belle “nice.” And there are those who support Joey’s Hall case. I also really like Luis Gonzalez at this position, an underrated player who seems already to be forgotten. Some might think Jose Cruz is a good call here, but after 2004, the HoME thought him much better than nice.
Joe’s Pick: Cesar Cedeno
My Pick: Chet Lemon
I think Cesar Cedeno has his Hall supporters, no? If I’m wrong, I think I like him ever so slightly more than Lemon. But if I’m right, Lemon is a really good guy here. In fact, center field is packed with nice players. Willie Wilson, Bret Butler, and Johnny Damon all come to mind. Anyway, a perusal of Lemon’s BBREF page probably yields a yawn. He topped 20 homers just once. He also only reached 80 runs scored or batted in just once. But looking deeper, we see that Chet the Jet could play some premium defense at a key position. That and finding a way to get hit by so many pitches helps keep him underrated compared to his actual value. In fact, my eqWAR has him averaging almost 4.8 wins over an eleven-year fun from 1977-1987.
Joe’s Pick: Jesse Barfield
My Pick: Brian Giles
Part of me says that I can’t vote for Giles since there are some who consider him Hall-worthy. On the other hand, there’s the 2015 Hall of Fame results where he received the same number of votes as Eddie Guardado. So I guess I’m not underrating Giles by much when I say he doesn’t have Hall support. In his four full seasons in Pittsburgh, Giles averaged a shade over 6 WAR. It felt like he was starting a Hall of Fame career. But he was actually so good at the start in part because he was in the minors during his pre-prime and then then didn’t quite break out in Cleveland. By the time he became a Pirate, he had reached his athletic peak.
I like the creativity of Joe’s Jesse Barfield call here. What a beautiful arm on that guy! I’d also be happy with a Jack Clark or Tim Salmon mention in right.
Joe’s Pick: Mark Langston
My Pick: David Wells
In some ways, this is the most difficult position on the diamond because there are camps for tons of pitchers. I really wanted to go with Dwight Gooden, but many, including Adam Darowski, put him in their personal Halls. Then I wanted to go with Wilbur Wood, but his best years were just over 40 years ago. Same with Mickey Lolich. That brought me to Mark Langston and David Wells, two guys who I have within a hair of each other in terms of value. I was going to go with Langston as a nod to my partner at the HoME, who kind of supported his HoME candidacy for a while. Then it hit me. If Eric kind of supported Langston’s candidacy, he’s better than nice. So Boomer Wells it is.
Wells reached double figures in wins with six different teams. He pitched a perfect game. He wore a hat of Babe Ruth’s during a game. He had gout, which is exacerbated by booze and certain foods. And he was a really nice player. He only reached 5.4 wins twice, but he had at least half that on fourteen occasions. There are only eighteen other pitchers who can match that number.
So there you have it, Joe’s list and mine. Which do you like better? Or worse? Or which do you find nicer? Thanks for reading.