On Wednesday, the HoME responded to the American League half of an article by MLB.com’s Will Leitch where he named the missing Hall of Famer on each team. For our money, he was right on nine of the fifteen calls. Today, we review his NL picks. Did he do better? Worse? Heck, did we do better or worse? Feel free to comment below.
Leitch’s call: Dale Murphy
HoME call: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. It’s so easily Andruw Jones. Murphy was a great player. Jones was greater. I would take Jones on my all-time defensive team. He’d be joined by Pudge Rodriguez, Keith Hernandez, Bill Mazeroski, Mark Belanger, Brooks Robinson, Rickey Henderson, and Roberto Clemente. What a boring list!
Leitch’s call: Gary Sheffield
HoME call: I don’t think of Sheffield as a Marlin, or as a member of any team, really. Without Leitch’s influence, I think I’d have called him a Brewer. Of course, he hit more home runs for six other teams, so my association with him can’t be right. He played a tiny, tiny, tiny bit more for the Marlins than the Dodgers. I guess he’s a Marlin, and I guess he’s the right choice. Had we not gone with Sheffield, the answer probably would have been Jeff Conine. Sheffield feels right.
Leitch’s call: Dwight Gooden
HoME call: Eric recommended we go with Keith Hernandez even though he played more and had more value with the Cardinals. But by Leitch’s rules, it’s not the team with whom you played the most or with whom you had the most value, but the team with which the player is most associated. Yes, Hernandez started with and won an MVP in St. Louis. But to me, he’s a Met. Maybe it’s my Red Sox bias or my coming of age as a baseball fan when Hernandez played in New York. Whatever the reason, that’s how I see him. And he was a better player than Gooden. When we talk about Hall of Fame injustices, by the way, I think we need to talk more about Hernandez. I rank him 17th at first base, ahead of Miguel Cabrera, Jim Thome, Dick Allen, Willie McCovey, Rafael Palmeiro, Joey Votto, Bill Terry, Eddie Murray, and Mark McGwire. By straight WAR, among those who played at least 50% of their career games at 1B, he’s 15th. While he is a defense-first candidate, he also had a pretty great bat. With the same BBREF filter, he’s 27th among 1B on offense. It’s strange that at glove-first positions like 2B and SS, voters sometimes choose to completely ignore hitting no matter how bad it was, as with Bill Mazeroski or Omar Vizquel. But at positions where a good bat is sometimes valued, amazing defenders like Hernandez, Andruw Jones, and Buddy Bell get no traction although they were excellent at the plate. Lesson 4,533,291: bias is weird.
Leitch’s call: Livan Hernandez
HoME call: The Expos/Nationals have had some pretty special pitchers over the years. Pedro Martinez and Max Scherzer come to mind pretty quickly, but one isn’t a Nat/Expo and the other still is. Stephen Strasburg is still active, and though he’s not at all the pitcher we hoped, he’s pretty good. Dennis Martinez was a special too, and I’d take him over Livan. But this is an easy enough call for me. Steve Rogers is the best pitcher in Nat/Expo history by WAR, and he’s the most important Expo outside the Hall. No, he doesn’t belong, but he belongs way before Livan Hernandez. We remember the home run Rogers gave up to Rick Monday to send the Dodgers to the 1981 World Series, but we forget the rest of his playoff run that year – three starts, three wins, 26.2 innings, and two runs. Had the immortal Jerry White hit a two-run double in the bottom of the ninth rather than grounding out to second, Rogers would have had his fourth win in the playoffs, would have been on his way to the World Series, and possibly would have had fans for decades looking at his career a little differently. By the way, do you know why White was hitting in front of Warren Cromartie in that lineup? I don’t. Larry Parish, a righty, was hitting fifth. White, a switch hitter with a .218/.293/.353 triple slash, was hitting sixth. And Cromartie, who I know you’re expecting I’ll tell you was a righty, but was actually a lefty, was hitting seventh. Had Cromartie and his .304/.370/.419 line in 1981 been up in White’s place, perhaps wed see Steve Rogers differently.
Leitch’s call: Curt Schilling
HoME call: It’s absolutely Schilling. I would more seriously consider Roy Halladay if I didn’t think he was getting into the Hall on his first try, though it’s possible Leitch wouldn’t have considered him eligible.
Leitch’s call: Cecil Cooper
HoME call: I was surprised to read this. I love Cooper, don’t get me wrong. But surely it has to be someone else. Research, research, research, research, research. Nope. Maybe you prefer Teddy Higuera, but I think Leitch is right. It’s Coop. By the way, I wrote a post almost two years ago thinking about what would make Cecil Cooper a Hall of Famer. Given the blurb above about Rogers and the reminder of Cooper, I think I should put together a series, by position, about what certain favorites would have needed to turn their careers into that which would have gotten them into the HoME. Yeah, perhaps that’s coming to a blog near you.
Leitch’s call: Jim Edmonds
HoME call: Edmonds here and Hernandez in New York is better than Hernandez here and Gooden in New York. Plus, it’s playing by the rules, at least as my mind understands the right spot for Hernandez.
Leitch’s call: Sammy Sosa
HoME call: I feel very comfortable saying it’s Rick Reuschel. If I could only take one of the two for the HoME, it would be Reuschel with ease – and I like Sosa. Yes, Sosa performed better in Chicago than Reuschel did, but the big righty was absolutely a Cub. And he was a better player than Sosa. This would have been a good place for Leitch to go out on a limb. Reuschel is known by his audience. At least I think he is. Might his audience skew too young for Reuschel? Might he only be able to go out on a limb for Cruz vs Cedeño because the two were contemporaries? Similar to Cicotte and Shoeless Joe? Ugh, I’m old! And Leitch is wrong. Search for “Reuschel” on this blog if you’re interested in more. He’s a fairly easy and completely ignored call for the Hall.
Leitch’s call: Dave Parker
HoME call: Without a doubt, it’s Tommy Leach. I don’t think the brilliant defensive third baseman and center fielder is familiar enough to Leitch’s audience, so he couldn’t go in that direction. The audience around here is a lot brighter, and we wouldn’t care anyway. We’d always go with the better player. I think Leach is the only player in the game’s history who might be called elite at two positions. Michael Humphreys, author of Wizardry and creator of Defensive Regression Analysis, calls Leach the ninth best defensive third baseman ever, and he calls him the sixth best defensive center fielder of the deadball era. What’s more, it seems the Pirates made the move from 3B to CF for Leach, not to accommodate another player. A 1905 collision at home plate, Humphreys tells us, broke a couple of ribs and made throwing more difficult. Sure, Leach is one of those guys whose record you need to dig into to appreciate. So dig! In a manner of speaking, he could be called the greatest defensive player in the game’s history.
Leitch’s call: Pete Rose
HoME call: Leitch is right. Our position on Rose and the HoME is an unusual one. Charlie Hustle is a member, but neither of us would vote for him if we had a Hall vote. Rose’s actions as a manager could have done irreparable harm to the game. That’s enough for us. The reason Eddie Cicotte is outside the HoME but Shoeless Joe Jackson has a plaque is that the former worked to make his team lose, while the latter, in our minds, did not. These calls are tough. Reasonable people can come to different conclusions.
Leitch’s call: Luis Gonzalez
HoME call: I want to go with Brandon Webb. He had more WAR for the D’backs. He was only good, great, or hurt too, so there’s some merit behind such a pick. However, he didn’t pay the requisite ten years in the majors, so I’ll be boring and agree with Leitch. Regarding Luis Gonzalez and players of his ilk, I wonder why we never hear PED speculation. He played with PED guy Ken Caminiti during the early part of his career without a great deal of power. Then he played with Sammy Sosa in 1995 and 1996. Then he began to hit home runs in Detroit in 1998 before beginning to go crazy when he reached his age-31 season and played with Matt Williams in Arizona. I suppose the speculation only exists for those above Gonzalez’ level. I guess that’s a good thing, and I shouldn’t add to the speculation.
Leitch’s call: Fernando Valenzuela
HoME call: Kevin Brown belongs in the Hall of Fame, and I mentioned in the AL version of this post that he’s not a Ranger. He signed a famously huge contract with the Dodgers. He had his most WAR with the Dodgers. And he’s better than Valenzuela. Brown is the correct call here. For 12 years, from 1992-2003, Brown trails only Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and Curt Schilling in pitching WAR. The four immediately behind him are Tom Glavine, Kevin Appier, David Cone, and Chuck Finley. All eleven are in the HoME. If we make it six years rather than 12, just focusing on 1995-2000, It’s Pedro, Maddux, Brown, Johnson, Clemens, Mussina, and Glavine. It is common for someone not elite to move to the top of the elite for a six-year period? Well, another period where the moundsmen were near the level of those who played with Brown occurred from about 1970 through the mid-1980s. Let’s check out each six-year run over that time.
1965-1970: Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Sam McDowell, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Bunning
1966-1971: Bob Gibson, Fergie Jenkins, Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Sam McDowell, Juan Marichal
1967-1972: Bob Gibson, Fergie Jenkins, Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Wilbur Wood, Steve Carlton
1968-1973: Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Wilbur Wood, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Steve Carlton
1969-1974: Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Wilbur Wood, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton
1970-1975: Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Wilbur Wood, Fergie Jenkins, Bert Blyleven, Mickey Lolich
1971-1976: Tom Seaver, Bert Blyleven, Gaylord Perry, Wilbur Wood, Phil Niekro, Fergie Jenkins
1972-1977: Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Bert Blyleven, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan
1973-1978: Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver, Bert Blyleven, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Rick Reuschel
1974-1979: Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver, Bert Blyleven, Jim Palmer, Rick Reuschel, Frank Tanana
1975-1980: Phil Niekro, Rick Reuschel, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Dennis Eckersley, Frank Tanana
1976-1981: Phil Niekro, Rick Reuschel, Steve Carlton, Bert Blyleven, Tom Seaver, Ron Guidry
Okay, so this little experiment didn’t really prove my point, as if it ever might have. There’s an interloper in every group, though I believe the Reuschel interruption isn’t an interruption at all. Anyway, it seems there should be a better way to argue for Brown’s Hall inclusion, like that he’s 33rd in history in WAR among pitchers.
Leitch’s call: Barry Bonds.
HoME call: Yeah, it’s Barry Bonds. I call him a Giant rather than a Pirate.
Leitch’s call: Andy Ashby
HoME call: Gene Tenace belongs to the Athletics. Though he played for the Padres more, I most associate Brian Giles with the Pirates. I very much want to say Trevor Hoffman here. Alas… I think Leitch must be right. Very sad. Andy Ashby? His best run was from 1994-1999. Coincidentally, that’s the same six-year period we considered above. Ashby was the game’s 16th best pitcher during those years.
Leitch’s call: Larry Walker
HoME call: I want to twist an argument to put Todd Helton here, but I can’t. It’s Larry Walker.
So that’s another 9 out of 15 for Leitch. Hey, 60% is passing. And it’s not like a mainstream writer can take positions too far outside the mainstream. Good work by Leitch.
We’re back after a week away to share some thoughts on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. It’s a good thing we had that week too. See, due to position eligibility differences, I had only 123 left fielders. And being a guy who likes symmetry, I needed to find two more to reach the 125 we’ve used at other positions. Enter Cleon Jones and Gene Richards. And enter a bit of a conundrum. It turns out we’re not actually offering the top-125 at each position. For me Jones and Richards slot in at #88 and #103 respectively. For Eric they’re #99 and #113. So not only do we not have the top-125, we don’t even have the top-100.
And that’s okay. The flavor of each position is correct, and I expect the lists will get more accurate each year as we add a few guys.
In terms of position differences, remember that Eric’s CHEWS+ puts players where they had the most value, while my MAPES+ slots them where they played the most games. For Eric, he puts Pete Rose, Joe Jackson, Brian Giles, Larry Hisle, Richie Zisk, Bip Roberts, and Jeff Conine, while I have all of those guys elsewhere. MAPES places Rose and Conine at first base, Roberts at second, Hisle in center, and each of Jackson, Giles, and Zisk in right. I put Jim O’Rourke on this list; Eric prefers him in center field.
If you’ve missed any posts in this series, check ‘em out!
That’s the list in left. On Wednesday, we continue our outfield tour in center. Join us then.
Joey Votto might be the coolest player in baseball. That’s one of the reasons I’ve spent a bit of time the last couple of years wishing his career has just a little different shape. See, Eric looks at him as the 16th best first baseman ever, while I have him at 23rd. He’s already in for Eric and certain to get there for me. Unfortunately, he’s only hit 30 homers twice, only driven in 100 runs three times, is below 2,000 hits, and is below 1,000 runs and runs batted in. In other words, there’s a shot the BBWAA could find a way not to support him. Here’s hoping two years from now those career totals are all on the more hopeful side. Votto has had an amazing career and will absolutely deserve induction.
Today we’ll examine Votto and the best 125 players ever to play first base. As you might expect, first base is home to our most disagreements regarding position. Please remember that Eric places a player where he was most valuable, while I place him where he played the most games. And lots of players move to first base when they’re less able to occupy a more meaningful place on the defensive spectrum. So as you might expect, first base is home to our most disagreements regarding position. I include Pete Rose, Rod Carew, Ernie Banks, Dick Allen, Pedro Guerrero, Darin Erstad, Mike Napoli, and Jeff Conine here. For Eric, those guys are placed all over the diamond. Rose and Conine are left fielders, Carew belongs at second base, Allen and Guerrero are third basemen, Banks is a shortstop, Erstad is a center fielder, and Napoli is a catcher.
Check out those catchers if you missed them, and make sure you check back for other positions. Without further ado, our top-125 first basemen of all time.
Second base is coming up on Monday. Please join us then.
We spend a decent amount of time here linking to and just generally sharing the greatness of Baseball Reference. By the way, you should subscribe to their Play Index. Because we’re frequent users and because ads are no fun, we pay BBREF a few bucks to run ad free. So it’s nice when I’m reminded of the site’s sponsorship possibilities. I think that they stopped taking sponsorships a few years back. And maybe they grandfathered in those who were sponsoring.
I say this because the Hall of Miller and Eric sponsor’s Bobby Veach’s page. Why Bobby Veach? Well, that’s a fair question. When we first looked into sponsorship, there were a few things we had in mind. First, the page had to be available. Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds weren’t. Second, the page needed to be relatively inexpensive. We weren’t using it to drive traffic so much as support a site we love. And third, the page needed to be one of an under-the-radar player who is in the HoME. Enter Bobby Veach.
Veach was a Tiger for most of his 14-year career that ran from 1912-1925. He had a very impressive bat, twice leading the league in doubles and once in triples. In a time essentially before Babe Ruth, home runs weren’t so common, and Veach only had 64 in his career. But his OBP was .370, and his OPS+ was 127. He was a plus fielder as well, +30 runs by BBREF’s Rfield. And his straight WAR numbers are solid – six seasons from 4.9-6.7 WAR, plus a 4.2, 3.1, and 2.5 added in there. The real greatness in Veach, however, comes when we adjust Rfield for Defensive Regression Analysis (DRA). His +30 turns into almost +189. He suddenly has eight seasons of 5.3-8.7 WAR, and he’s an easy call for the HoME.
If you don’t run BBREF without advertising, try clicking on one or two of the sponsorship links. Maybe you’ll run into something really cool.
And if you’ve missed any part of this series, not to worry. It’s all linked right here.
I’d like to tell you that they’re coming, but I’d be lying if I did. While we have an active guy on our list next week, left field is a wasteland if we’re hoping to find a future HoMEr. I guess Marcell Ozuna may be a pretty impressive player, but he’s 27 and will need a very nice year to reach 20 career WAR. Maybe Andrew Benintendi or Rhys Hoskins will be something someday. I don’t know. The real answer to the question is that these things come in cycles. Not so long ago Bonds, Rickey, Manny, and Raines patrolled left. Over the last two weeks, we reviewed catchers, and four of the best thirty ever, at least for my money, are active now.–Miller
Imagine that you were playing Baseball Family Feud. Richard Dawson says, “Top five answers on the board. We asked 100 people Who are the greatest five left fielders in baseball history?” You’re going to answer Bonds, Williams, Henderson, or Yaz without blinking. But would of those 100 respondents have named Ed Delahanty? Nope. Delahanty is known to have hit .400 three times and to have died by plunging into Niagra Falls after being forcibly detrained. But how many respondents do we think would name him a top-five left fielder? If Pete Rose is considered a left fielder, then you know Big Ed ain’t getting a vote. Probably no one alive saw him play a single inning of baseball, but a lot folks have seen Billy Williams or Willie Stargell. A few might have even seen Goose Goslin or Al Simmons. I’d be surprised if even one person out of a hundred dropped Delahanty’s name.—Eric
There are the DRA darlings, Jimmy Sheckard and Bobby Veach. Then there are the Hall of Famers Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell, Joe Medwick, Lou Brock, Heinie Manush, and Chick Hafey who don’t make this week’s list. Left field is a position where the Hall has messed up quite a bit, more than any other position both by omission and commission. I think it’s possible we disagree with conventional wisdom most on Jose Cruz. He had only three trips to the plate in his All-Star career and received just two votes when he appeared on the Hall ballot in 1994. To most, he’s just another guy form the 1970s and 1980s. I’ve written about him in the past, here and here, so I’ll be brief. The gist of it is that Cruz had almost everything working against him – cavernous ballparks, doubles power, value from walks, contribution across his game rather than dominance anywhere. His skill set wasn’t understood when he was playing, nor is it so well understood by “experts” today. If we’re being honest though, Cruz is right on the edge of the HoME. If we were to dump a dozen guys, I bet he’d be one of them. –Miller
There’s not a player on this list about whom we have any real disagreement, at least not by the numbers. I will mention Manny for a brief moment. If I had an actual vote, Manny would have my support, just as he’d have Eric’s. However, I believe my support to be less strong. I could be convinced that his cheating might have been problematic enough for me to withhold a vote. Eric is more from the camp that his punishment was his suspension, not something having to do with a museum. Again, I’m with him. I’m just less confident in my position.–Miller
Joe Kelley is probably our area of biggest disagreement. Miller thinks the Red Sox should start him, and I think he should pitch in relief.—Eric
PS: Just kidding, neither of us thinks he should start.—Eric again
I suspect that if we ever have the miracle of play-by-play data for most or all of MLB history, we’ll discover that we’ve underrated Fred Clarke. The guy had a really astute baseball mind, had pretty good speed, and probably took a lot of extra bases. Plus, as a lefty he gains the natural advantage for GIDP avoidance. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if those attributes earned him at least a win’s worth of runs above the -1 BBREF has for Rbaser.—Eric
Unless you dislike the DRA substitution we make, want Manny or Bonds off the list for PED use, or have found some way to hold a grudge against Joe Jackson, I don’t think there are any players in our top-20 who our systems overrate or underrate. Even if Eric is right about Clarke, and I suspect he is, how far up the chart would he move? One spot. That’s it.–Miller
We’ll see you in a week for the next installment of left fielders.
It’s hard to believe that the Hall of Miller and Eric has been around for nearly five years now. As transparently as we can, we’ve tried to determine the players, managers, executives, and pioneers who should rightfully be enshrined in Cooperstown. Also, we’ve tried to respond to what our readers have requested. With both transparency and commitment to our readers in mind, today we embark on the start of a 22-week journey where we reveal the top-40 players at every position based on Eric’s CHEWS+ (CHalek’s Equivalent WAR System) and my MAPES+ (Miller’s Awesome Player Evaluation System).
Each Monday until we finish the tour around our rankings, we’ll reveal half of a position’s top-40. As for pitchers, we’ll go 120 deep. Along the way, we’ll work on finding a place to store the information so you have quick access to it – and so you can see how our rankings compare to yours. So let’s get started!
Pujols is no longer a good player, and he’ll be 38 this year. The only way he moves from 7th on the list is when I change my evaluation system. –Miller
I project him speaking at a podium in Cooperstown about eight to ten years from now.—Eric
A lot depends on how done one thinks he is. Even if he can still play better than 2017, he’s at an age where a regression won’t be toward his career-average productivity, but to a rate somewhere between there and 2017. Maybe he’s got a couple three-WAR years left in him? Either way, he’s a HoMEr, it’s only really a question of whether he’s #20 or #16—Eric
I choose to be positive here. Miggy is “only” 35, and he was an excellent hitter as recently as 2016. He could pass two or three more guys, and that’s the optimistic point of view. –Miller
It’s kind of hard to say, actually. Votto is a very uncommon player type when you start to drill down into his profile. The reason he’s uncommon is that he’s far less athletic than other super productive hitters of his caliber. So I drew up a list using the BBREF Play Index (subscribe today! It’s cheap and amazing!). Critera: Ages any through 33, with baserunnning runs less than 0, sorted by batting runs. Votto has 428 batting runs, and here’s everyone above 350:
Before we talk about what happened after age 33, a note that on a per-PA basis, the only hitter on this list who outperformed Votto is the great Frank Thomas.
Next I plotted out what each of these guys did after age 34 and compared the group’s aggregate performance at each age to their overall performance through age 33. Then I used the age-by-age comparisons to project Votto through age 40 with simple math based on his career total through age 33. That added up to 550 batting runs for Votto. I wanted to account for those players whose careers ended before age 40, and for those seasons, I used Excel’s trend function to provide Rbat estimates for missing seasons, which, as you might surmise, weren’t very flattering in most cases. Even doing so, I got to 530 Rbat for Votto. So a range of 530–550 runs.
I ran a PI search in the expansion era to see how many players have cleared 500 Rbat. It’s just 16 total. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera are the only active players on the list. Alex Rodriguez is on the list but not yet eligible to be voted on by the Hall of Fame or the Hall of Miller and Eric. Here’s the list of every currently eligible player that the Hall of Fame hasn’t elected who exceeded 500 Rbat for their careers: Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Edgar Martinez. Two steroid guys and a DH who will be elected in 2018. We’ve elected all 14 eligible players so far. Heck, the only eligible players we haven’t elected among the 23 with 400+ Rbat thus far are Vlad Guerrero, Willie Stargell, Harmon Killebrew. Vlad has already drawn my vote, and he may get Miller’s someday soon as well. Jason Giambi and Lance Berkman are probably below the in/out line for us too, but they haven’t had to run the gauntlet yet. None of them is as good a hitter as Joey Votto.
Votto has, in my opinion, already done enough to get my vote. As long as the rest of his career progresses pretty normally, he’ll start climbing the ladder at his position and surprise a lot of people with how high he could finish.—Eric
I’m proud to say it’s Keith Hernandez. He belongs in the Hall, and it’s not a particularly close call. Oh, and voters next winter will show us by just how much we eschew conventional wisdom when 26 of them vote for Todd Helton. –Miller
For me, it’s clearly Keith Hernandez. A lot of people have talked him up, but I’m probably his best friend on the internet. I probably place more emphasis on fielding at first base than most observers. But Hernandez is the Ozzie Smith of first basemen with a good enough bat. Also, my 1985 Topps All-Star card informs me that he’s a leader in Game-Winning RBIs.—Eric
We basically don’t disagree at first base at all. The rankings are a bit different, but all are within anyone’s comfort level for margin of error. The thing we disagree on most as far as first base is concerned is selecting the guys who fit the position. I put Ernie Banks, Pete Rose, Rod Carew, and Dick Allen here, while Eric sees them as a shortstop, a left fielder, a second baseman, and third baseman, respectively. I place guys at the position they played most, while Eric prefers to place them where they accumulated the most value.—Miller
Ernie Banks is a good example that demonstrates why each of our positions makes sense. Miller says the place where a fellow played the most is his primary position, which makes a lot of sense. I look at the fact that Banks accumulated roughly 35 Wins Above Average and 54.7 Wins Above Replacement at shortstop, then added -1.5 WAA and 10 WAR at first base, and I think he’s a shortstop. Actually, I use my own adjusted WAA/WAR totals when I’m assigning positions, but in this case, it doesn’t matter much. But it’s not always cut-and-dried for me. Rod Carew is within tenths of a win, and I could put him at either first or second base. I chose to stay consistent and place him where he accrued the most value, second base.—Eric
Frank Thomas played more than half his games at DH. For the purposes of ranking players, we’ve chosen to place majority DHes at the position they fielded the most. Someday when there are enough DHes in the HoME to split them back out, we may find that Thomas (and Edgar Martinez at third base) are a little better or a little worse in our rankings when they are only compared to designated hitters. For now, it’s good enough. —Eric
I sometimes wonder if three of the seven best first basemen ever really could have played before the turn of the last century. Though I suspect they didn’t, I just don’t have a better way. —Miller
Is anyone wondering about Joe Sheehan’s Hall ballot? He doesn’t have a vote, but he shared the guys he’d have named through his Newsletter. While I’m not a subscriber, every couple of months a friend sends something to me if it’s particularly interesting. Since I’m receiving the content on occasion for free, I think I should advertise a little bit for Joe.
New subscriptions cost $34.95 for a full year and $59.95 for two years.
Bonds, Clemens, Chipper, Edgar, Mussina, Manny, Rolen, Schilling, Sosa, and Thome make 100.
He explains a lot. Joe’s great.
Onto the ballots!
Kirby Arnold: 65
Mark Hale: 100
Joseph Liao: 75
Bernie Lincicome: 15
Bob Sanvarese: 90
Mark Hale: 100
Mark Newman: 100
Mark Bradley: 95
Josh Dubow: 95
Janie McCauley: 95
Steve Politi: 95
TR Sullivan: 95
Anthony Andro: 90
Tim Booth: 90
Bob Sanvarese: 90
Chris Bahr: 85
Dave Campbell: 85
Jay Cohen: 85
Tom Dienhart: 85
Garry D. Howard: 85
Roch Kubatko: 85
Luis Rangel: 85
Lynn Henning: 80
Amalie Benjamin: 75
Joseph Liao: 75
Aurelio Moreno: 75
Garry Brown: 75
Barry Bloom: 70
Kevin Cooney: 70
Richard Justice: 70
Carl Steward: 70
Jayson Stark (preliminary): 70
Kirby Arnold: 65
Filip Bondy: 65
Roberto Colon: 65
Bruce Miles: 65
Ross Newhan: 65
Anthony Rieber: 65
Adam Rubin: 65
Willie Smith: 65
Paul White: 65
John Tomase: 60
Chuck Johnson: 55
Jack McCaffery: 55
Anonymous #1: 45
Clark Spencer: 40
Jay Greenberg: 35
Sadiel Lebron: 35
Jay Dunn: 30
Andrew Call: 25
Jon Heyman: 15
Bernie Lincicome: 15
Jose de Jesus Ortiz: -5
Chris Assenheimer: -15
Juan Vené: -25
Bill Livingston: -95
As we continue evaluating the evolving candidacies of active major leaguers for the Hall of Miller and Eric, today we take a look at second base. Check out our analysis of all the positions.
FIRST BASE | SECOND BASE | THIRD BASE | SHORTSTOP | LEFT FIELD | CENTER FIELD RIGHT FIELD | CATCHER | LEFT-HANDED PITCHERS | RIGHT-HANDED PITCHERS | RELIEF PITCHERS
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, and Roberto Alomar.
Trailing Bobby Grich, Frankie Frisch, and Charlie Gehringer.
Ahead of Lou Whitaker, Ross Barnes, and Joe Gordon
Trailing Frankie Frisch, Bobby Grich, and Jackie Robinson
Current career trajectory:
Even after 13 seasons in the majors, Robinson Cano remains a star, and a healthy star at that. Sure, he’ll be 35 next year, and things could end quite quickly. Even if they do, Cano is an all-time great. Before he’s done, I’m thinking he’ll reach the top-20 in doubles, best among 2B aside from Craig Biggio. He also has a somewhat quiet 300 homers, and he’ll get to 2500 hits.
There’s no question he’s going. The question is what he’ll do on the all-time 2B chart. Imagining seasons of 4, 3, 2, and 1 WAR, he’ll pass Bobby Grich and be nipping on the heels of Frankie Frisch for 6th all-time.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Hardy Richardson, Tony Phillips, and Bobby Doerr.
Trailing Billy Herrman, Bid McPhee, and Cupid Childs.
Ahead of Billy Herman, Tony Phillips, and Bobby Doerr
Trailing Cupid Childs, Willie Randolph, and Bid McPhee
Current career trajectory: It’s looking like we’re very close to the end of the line for the Bobby Grich of this generation.
HoME Outlook: Pretty good! Despite getting a late start at being a regular, Utley’s peak is impressive, and his athleticism and broad range of skills have kept him in the game longer than we might have anticipated. He’s still close to the borderline, however, and his election is no guarantee since one of us has him enough above it and the other of us has him much closer to it. But his outlook for the Hall of Fame is terrible because, you know….
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Johnny Evers, Tony Lazzeri, and Del Pratt.
Trailing Fred Dunlap, Jeff Kent, and Bobby Doerr.
Ahead of Sure Shot Fred Dunlap, Johnny Evers, and Tony Lazzeri
Trailing Bobby Doerr, Jeff Kent, and Hardy Richardson
Current career trajectory:
You don’t have to dig too deeply into Kinsler’s season to see what went wrong. A career BABIP before this year of .289 turned into .244 in 2017. But when we dig into Defensive Regression Analysis, we see someone who didn’t do as well fielding his position in 2017 as in the past. Kinsler will be 36 next year, and middle infielders of that age tend to hold little value. Still, I’ll bet the over on 2.0 WAR, even 3.0 in 2018. I have faith.
I thought he was going to seal the deal in 2017, but he didn’t. I still think he’s going, and the 3.0 WAR season I predict will help him get there. If he closes things out with seasons of 3, 2, and 1 WAR, he’ll end his career about 20th among second basemen all-time, and he’ll become a member of the Hall of Miller and Eric.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Ben Zobrist, Lonny Frey, and Gil McDougald.
Trailing Dick McAuliffe, Del Pratt, and Tony Lazzeri.
Ahead of Eddie Stanky, Gil McDougald, and Lonny Frey
Trailing Tony Lazzeri, Del Pratt, and Ben Zobrist
Current career trajectory:
Since Pedroia turned 30, he’s topped 135 games just once. When he’s healthy, he remains excellent, but he just hasn’t been healthy. And the clock says he’s not more likely to be free of nagging injuries in 2018 than in the past four seasons. He’ll get to 2000 hits and 1000 runs, nice round numbers. And he’ll probably be the heart and soul of the Red Sox whenever he’s in the lineup. For those really excited about Jose Altuve today, Pedroia is a bit of a cautionary tale.
It’s not looking good. Even three more 4-win seasons doesn’t get him past Jeff Kent. And if he doesn’t pass Kent, he’s almost certain not to get in. He’s a popular and respected player. Perhaps some incarnation of the VC puts him in the Hall someday, but I don’t think he’ll deserve it. You can love watching a player, really love it, but still realize he’s not ultimately of Hall calibre.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Lonny Frey, Gil McDougald, and Red Schoendienst.
Trailing Dustin Pedroia, Dick McAuliffe, and Del Pratt.
Ahead of Dustin Pedroia, Lonny Frey, and Eddie Stanky
Trailing Johnny Evers, Tony Lazzeri, and Del Pratt
Current career trajectory: Zobrist’s late run for the HoME appears to have petered out. His bat flat-lined at age 36. His BABIP fell about 40 points from his career norms, and more disturbingly, he shed 30 points of ISO from 2016. His power has declined considerably since 2012. If the BABIP bounces back, he’s still got a decent glove, he can still play just about anywhere on the diamond, and he still draws a lot of walks. If the BABIP is gone forever, he goes from Swiss Army Knife to utility guy.
HoME Outlook: He’s going to be 37. He needs to stuff a bunch more value into his career. It’s going to be hard. Specifically he needs about 10 more career WAR to get close enough for real consideration. His peak isn’t strong enough without that extra depth. Situation critical.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Brett Boone, Hobe Ferris, and lots of guys who don’t much matter.
Trailing Howie Kendrick, Davey Johnson, and Brandon Phillips.
Ahead of Howie Kendrick, Jose Offerman, and the rest of history
Trailing Frank White, Brett Boone, and Davey Johnson
Current career trajectory: Altuve might be your best bet for 3000 hits post-Pujols. Miguel Cabrera’s banged and no longer a sure thing. Robinson Cano is on track, but he had a down year. Altuve’s only entering his age-28 season, but he’s already got 1250 notches on this particular belt, including four consecutive 200-hit seasons, each of which led the AL. He’s hitting .334 since 2014. He’s also added power to his game. His leading comp is Billy Herman with Sandberg, Alomar, Rose, and Cano also appearing among his closest age-based comps. Sure seems like the sky’s the limit.
HoME Outlook: Despite a likely MVP award this year and the batting titles and hits, Altuve has a big Achilles heel: his glove. Where BBREF sees it as below average but not dangerously so, DRA sees a problem of near-Jeter proportions. If Captain Marlin could ride it out, maybe Altuve can too. But if Altuve’s defense really is that bad, then what? The Astros have stud youngster Alex Bregman at third right now. They have Yuli Gurriel signed through 2020 to play first base, the other position Altuve might be able to play. But he’ll only be able to play there if his bat holds up. And anyway, he’s only signed through 2018, so the Stros may have a tough decision to make. It probably all depends on what their internal metrics say about his defensive abilities. But if he doesn’t move, then he’s taking the Jeter path to immortality. Play poor defense and hit like crazy. Dick Allen did it. Mark McGwire and Gary Sheffield did it. Dave Winfield did it. Many more have tried and failed. Harmon Killebrew, for example. Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada for two more examples. All that said, Altuve has 30 career BBREF WAR, which places him well above the HoME average among postwar second basemen at the same age. Robbie Alomar, Willie Randolph, and Bobby Grich outpaced Altuve, and Lou Whitaker was beside him stride for stride. Then again, Chuck Knoblauch eclipsed Altuve by one WAR, and we know what happened to him.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Davey Johnson, Howie Kendrick, and Jose Altuve.
Trailing Pete Runnels, Mark Ellis, and Ron Hunt.
Ahead of Ron Hunt, Frank White, and Bob Boone
Trailing Mark Ellis, Claude Ritchey, and Pete Runnels
Current career trajectory:
Phillips is winding down, and he has only been a decent starter once since 2012 anyway. He’ll be 37 next year, so expecting that trend to reverse itself isn’t so wise.
HoME Outlook: No middle infielder with Phillips’ profile has ever gotten into the Hall. And you can just forget the HoME. I guess Phillips will just have to settle for the $100 million he’s made in the game. So far.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Jose Altuve, Bret Boone, and Hobe Ferris.
Trailing Davey Johnson, Brandon Phillips, and Pete Runnels.
Ahead of Jose Offerman and anyone below him
Trailing Bret Boone, Davey Johnson, and Jose Altuve
Current career trajectory:
On one hand I want to say that he’s about done entering his age-35 season. On the other, the guy can still hit, and a guy who can hit without destroying you at second base can have a role on most teams. Or maybe that .418 BABIP when he was in Philadelphia isn’t something he can replicate…
You know who he looks a decent amount like through age-34? It’s Omar Vizquel, though bat before glove. Of course, I don’t think Kendrick has another dozen years at about 1.1 WAR per season left in him. But maybe if he does, people will call him the best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith for reasons having nothing to with defense, which is what has happened to Omar. By the way, he’s also a lot like Orlando Hudson. That’s more like it.
2017 BBREF WAR:
We won’t worry about Schoop’s rankings. He’s here simply because he’s interesting. Schoop has earned 10.1 BBREF WAR through his age 25 season. The average postwar HoME second baseman averaged 16. The top runners up averaged 8. So he’s in a place in his career where if his breakout 2017 season is for reals then he’s going to be interesting to watch.
If this seems unlikely, check out Jeff Kent’s career. He earned just one-fifth the WAR Schoop has through age 25, but he had similar breakout moment around age 27. Like Schoop, he had shown some power in the majors before he busted out, but no one expected him to emerge as Jeff Kent All-Star. As hitters they are similar in that they hit for unusual power for a keystone man, but they don’t draw all that many walks. Schoop has the advantages of being a better baserunner and a much better defensive player. Kent drew more walks, but his walk rate increased over time as the league pitched him more carefully in his 30s than in his 20s.
So that’s Schoop’s model. The chances are very low that he succeeds. They are much higher that he’s a flash in the pan. But watch his walk rate to see if it starts inching up. You may see a sign of big things to come.
On Monday, it’ll be the third basemen. See you then!
In the second in our series of posts on underappreciated stars from the 1970s, today we take a look at Keith Hernandez. If you caught the Ted Simmons post last week, you will remember that the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s represent a depressed offensive era. Hall voters seem to have a good idea what milestones make a Hall of Famer. They do a perfect job identifying the very best at every position. But sometimes they’re blinded to a player who had superior contemporaries or who didn’t hit in the manner they hope.
The 1970s and 1980s are way underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. Today we’re going to explain how the Hall could right a wrong at first base.
Keith Hernandez was a first baseman who essentially never played elsewhere because he added so much value to his employers with his glove that they dared not move him. Hernandez debuted for the Cardinals in 1974 about seven weeks before his 21st birthday. Though he was an excellent player in St. Louis, and even co-MVP with Willie Stargell in 1979, he was shipped to the Mets in June of 1983 for Neil Allen. Hernandez played some of his best baseball in New York, helping them to a World Series title in 1986. After the 1989 season, he became a free agent and finished things up with one year in Cleveland.
It’s very possible, maybe even likely, that Keith Hernandez is the greatest defensive first baseman in baseball history. If there’s one reason he’s out of the Hall, it’s because voters don’t care enough about defensive greatness at first base. If we want a secondary reason, it’s because his defensive greatness helped to obscure his impressive offensive value. As an example, BBREF has a statistic called Offensive Winning Percentage. It represents a team’s theoretical record with average pitching and an average defense if all nine batting order slots were occupied by this player. For Hernandez, it’s .688. That means throughout his career, if a team had average pitching and defense and only him on offense, the team would go 108-54. That’s year in and year out, and it’s the same record as those World Series winning 1986 Mets.
In his first year on the Hall ballot, Hernandez just hung on with 5.1%. That year he was bested by 151 votes by the far inferior Steve Garvey. Two years later he peaked at 10.8%. By 2004, his ninth time on the BBWAA ballot, he fell to 4.3% and fell off the ballot. Don Mattingly, a lesser player, almost tripled his vote total that year.
With Hernandez, it’s not just defense. Even though there are 113 first basemen ever with 5000+ plate appearances, Hernandez is tied for 43rd in OPS+. The guy could hit. There are only 18 retired first basemen with 5000 plate appearances, an OPS+ equal to his, and positive rfield. But let’s not focus solely on fielding. There are only thirteen 1B who can match Hernandez in OPS+ and WAR. If we simply eliminate those who didn’t hurt their teams on defense and played more than half of their careers after the mound moved to 60’6” in 1893, we’re looking at just seven retired players: Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, Johnny Mize, Eddie Murray, and Todd Helton.
Defense counts though. And Hernandez is so clearly better than High Pockets Kelly, Jim Bottomley, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Frank Chance, and Harmon Killebrew. It’s debatable that he’s also better than Jake Beckley, Bill Terry, Eddie Murray, Hank Greenberg, Willie McCovey, George Sisler, and Ernie Banks. Keeping him out of the Hall is indeed a crime.
Tony Perez. Like the catchers discussed last week, Hernandez and Perez have the exact same AIR number, which represents the offensive environment in which they played. Unlike the catchers, it’s possible for someone not looking deep enough to get this call wrong.
Hernandez Perez ================================= PAs 8553 10861 Hits 2182 2732 Runs 1124 1272 Home Runs 162 379 RBI 1071 1652 BA .296 .279 OBP .384 .341 SLG .436 .463 OPS+ 128 122 So on one hand, it appears Perez had better numbers. Then again, despite 27% more trips to the plate, Perez wins by only 13% in R. Checking out the rate stats shows this comparison is quite close. ========================================================== Rfield 118 14 DRA 220.2 -0.9 The first is the defensive number at BBREF. The second is defensive regression analysis. I trust the second more. Either way, you see how Hernandez massacres Perez. ===================================================================== Actual WAR 60.0 53.9 My Conversion 69.5 53.7 MAPES 1B Rank 19 34 MAPES is my personal ranking system. Hernandez jumps up so much because of my DRA substitution.
I don’t believe I’ve necessarily convinced you that Keith Hernandez belongs in the Hall, but I hope you see that he’s better than Hall of Famer Tony Perez. Though Hernandez didn’t homer much, and though Perez hit behind the likes of Pete Rose and Joe Morgan, thus upping his RBI total, they were very similar hitters in terms of value. And then there’s defense. Hernandez destroys him. If this trade were made, the Hall would have a stronger roster.
In our next installment, we’ll get Bobby Grich into Cooperstown.
Look, first of all, when the Reds carve out their Rushmore, they’ll need to be sure they also write the Queen City’s name on the thing. Is it nn-n-t? Nn-n-tt? N-nn-t? N-nn-tt? N-n-t? N-n-tt? Who can keep it straight? At least with Mississippi, there’s a rule for the consonants in the follow-on syllables: always use two and stick an i between them.
But I digress. Our topic today is The Reds’ turn in our ongoing Friday Mount Rushmore series. Seems pretty easy to guess what faces contemporary fans would blast into rocky edifice. Billy Hatcher, Billy Hatcher, Billy Hatcher, and Billy Hatcher. When you bat .750 in the World Series you win its MVP and never have to buy a drink in Ohio again AMIRIGHT? Well, no, maybe we could make room for Jose Rijo who was the actual winner of the 1990 World Series MVP with a sparkling 0.59 ERA in his two starts. So Hatcher, Hatcher, Rijo, Hatcher.
I suspect that today’s fan has forgotten both of those fellows and is likely to want the faces of Barry Larkin and Johnny Bench up there too. I’d bet there’s even a fair amount of Pete Rose partisans too. (God knows why. I mean, have you seen him on Fox baseball telecasts? A-Rod’s a smart guy, but Rose makes him look like a Rhodes scholar…and I don’t mean Arthur Lee Rhodes either.) And I’d bet we’d round it out with a little Joseph Leonard Morgan action. Now that I think about it, all four of those Redlegs were baseball TV personalities. Larkin on MLB network, Rose as mentioned (with perhaps the weirdest live blooper ever), Little Joe infamous for his many fireable offenses as an ESPN commentator, and Johnny Bench for The Baseball Bunch. What, you’d forgotten about the Bunch? (My favorite episode appears to encourage stationing brick walls in the middle of the infield, which the Yankees actually implemented from 1995 to 2014.)
Of course, the Reds Mountain Flushmore is pretty gruesome. There’s Rose, of course, as well as bigoted slur-tossing, Hitler apologizing, and penny-pinching owner Marge Schott. Former GM Bill DeWitt isn’t as bad as those two, but assessing Frank Robinson as “not a young 30” and dealing him was, in a word, stupid. Like titanically stupid. And Eddie Cicotte. You know, because of the plot to throw the World Series, which tarnished the Reds’ championship.
But enough of this. We have rules here, unlike the spelling rules in Cincy, and the rules for a given team’s Mount Rushmore are thus: They spent their whole career with the team, and they finished among the top four in BBREF’s WAR for their career among such players.
Of course, we can’t include the likes of Rose (who has the most WAR in a Reds’ uniform of any MLB player ever with 77.8), Morgan, Frank Robinson (obviously), nor Billy Hatcher under our ruleset. But a couple fellows we’ve already mentioned make the grade.
Johnny Bench (74.9 WAR): That’s a pretty good catcher. If you asked me, and you didn’t, Bench was probably the single most important member of the Big Red Machine. How many teams have their catcher batting cleanup? The team started with a massive advantage over everyone else in the NL. The guy played more often than the typical catcher, hit like a first baseman, played outstanding defense, and was above average in handling pitchers. Now about that last one. Game-calling and pitcher handling have been studied by Max Marchi, and I rely on his findings. But I suspect that Bench, in tandem with Sparky Anderson, helped manage the Reds’ staff. The squad didn’t truly have a stud pitcher until it swapped for Tom Seaver in 1977. Anderson seemed to juggle a patchwork and injury-prone rotation with the fastest hook in the league, and you don’t do that by arguing with your catcher about whether a guy has anything left in the tank. But that’s just my guess. The Reds went to the big dance with Joe Morgan, and they went without him. Ditto George Foster. They didn’t go to the World Series with Tony Perez until Bench arrived. Same for Rose. You get my drift.
Barry Larkin (70.2): On the field, the only thing Larkin couldn’t do with consistent greatness was hit for power. The one year he hit 30 homers, he won an MVP. However, the one weakness in his game was a propensity for injury. I blame it on the hard turf at Riverfront Stadium, but whatever the reason, he missed more time than Johnny Bench usually did. That’s the only thing that kept him from being Derek Jeter with a good glove.
Bid McPhee (52.4): McPhee is probably remembered best today as the last important infielder to eschew a glove. He didn’t really need it anyway because he was an outstanding gloveman. Er, handman. Uh, let’s just say he had great hands. But he was on the first team in franchise history (1882 in the then-major American Association), and he stuck around for 18 years. He probably could have hung on longer if he’d wished to. He was still an average player at age 39. Probably his hands hurt. By the way, McPhee is among the least likely players to lead the league in home runs. His eight paced the AA in 1886, and represent 15% of his career 53 roundtrippers.
Now some of you are breathlessly anticipating our final selection. You’re thinking, hmm, it’s not Bruce Beryeni, nor is it Pokey Reese…. You’re probably thinking: DAVE CONCEPION! But no. At least not for now. It all depends on the future of:
Joey Votto (51.4): For all the absolutely lame talk in the area papers about how Votto doesn’t drive in enough runs (what is this, 1960-friggin’eight or something?), Votto has for years now been the axle around which the Reds’ offense turns. When he hits, their offense works, when he doesn’t, it doesn’t. The reason why is this simple: .424. That’s Votto’s career on-base percentage through July 24th when I’m actually writing this article. If you go to a Reds’ game, there’s roughly a 42% chance that Joey Votto will reach base in a given plate appearance. Think about what the means to an offense. The average hitter in Votto’s leagues has a .332 on-base percentage. If an average player bats 600 times during the season, he’ll be on base 199 times. Votto would reach 254 times. Votto bats third for the Reds, almost always does. So Votto, batting third, gets on 55 more times in front of your cleanup hitter than the average batter would. Fifty-five freaking times. Once every three games, your badass cleanup hitter will get one more shot to hit a bomb with at least one runner aboard. Stick that in your RBI pipe and smoke it.
So, now Dave Concepcion and his 39.9 career WAR. After him it’s a long way down to Long John Reilly (a teammate of McPhee’s) and his 24.4 WAR.
For my own little Mount Redsmore, I’d go in a couple other directions. First off, I have a little man crush on Heinie Groh. Yeah, that came out wrong, didn’t it. First off, I’m a retrospective fan of Heinie Groh’s. He’d make my Reds rock wall of fame. I’ve also always dug Jose Rijo. Man, like just one or two more seasons, and he’d be a HoMEr. Same goes for another odd-ball choice of mine, long-time Red Mario Soto. Last, of course, I’d reserve for Schottzie II. Schottzie I was overrated.
Not long ago I wrote a post about Roberto Clemente and what may have been had he not died in the plane crash. This sparked a conversation about great players who were even better people. Lou Gehrig’s name was mentioned. Dale Murphy’s too. Let me add Jackie Robinson’s. There are others, for sure, but the mention of Dale Murphy got me thinking about character and the Hall. I know I’ve written about this in other places, but it’s probably worth mentioning again how Eric and I have made decisions about character and up/down votes.
Since his playing career ended, Murphy has worked to help kids, curb steroid use, support his church, and Wikipedia adds the following about him, “In 2008, he was appointed to the National Advisory Board for the national children’s charity Operation Kids. Murphy serves as a National Advisor to ASCEND: A Humanitarian Alliance. Murphy is a long time supporter of Operation Smile and also currently serves on the organization’s Board of Governors.”
C’mon, he’s a great guy.
He’s also, for my money, about the 38th best center fielder ever. He tops Hall of Famers Earl Averill, Edd Roush, Earle Combs, Hack Wilson, and Lloyd Waner. But he’s behind some I think about just about no-brainers who aren’t in, guys like Paul Hines, Kenny Lofton, and Jimmy Wynn. Overall, his profile looks a lot like that of Torii Hunter or Mike Cameron.
So how much should Dale Murphy’s character count? For me, I don’t think it can. The real reason is that I can’t possibly quantify what character means to a team in wins or WAR or anything else. But let’s pretend I could. Let’s just say Murphy’s presence was worth exactly 1 WAR every year he played. That would move him from 38th at the position all the way up to 19th. He’d be within an eyelash of HoMEr, Willie Davis. And if we actually thought Murphy was worth a win every year, we’d very much consider him for HoME inclusion.
This is stickier. No I don’t think Jackson and Rose should be clumped together, but many do. So I will here.
My position on Jackson is simple. Even though I think he agreed to cheat, I don’t believe he actually cheated. Even with the lifetime ban before he could play his age-33 season, he’s 11th on my career left field list. To me, he’s an easy call.
As for Rose, I wouldn’t give him a Hall vote because he broke the one baseball law that cannot be broken. And he did it knowingly, even if it was because of a disease. But as a player, he reaches my mark. I don’t pay attention to his post-playing career as a HoME voter. And for a statistical Hall like the Hall of Miller and Eric, I don’t even hold betting while he played against him. It’s all about the numbers, and Rose ranks 10th at first base. He’s an easy call regardless of his gambling indiscretions.
If I had a Hall vote, I’d give it to them. And they’re both already in the HoME. They were fully formed Hall of Famers before anyone speculates they used PEDs. That’s good enough for me. I don’t even need to think about a character issue since such issues, if they even matter, came after each accumulated enough value to get in. Bonds is the best left fielder ever, while Clemens is the third best pitcher by my numbers.
To keep Bonds and Clemens off of your ballot, you have to believe at least two things. First, you have to believe that integrity, sportsmanship, and character somehow are more important to your voting decision than the player’s record, playing ability, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played. That’s stuff is straight from BBWAA Hall rule #5 that’s so foolishly mentioned by moralizing writers. Second, you have to believe that in their pre-PED years, they hadn’t yet reached Hall level. Clearly, they had. I suppose you could also believe that if a player fails on any of those levels, he cannot be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
This is far more difficult territory. All three of these guys are in the HoME. None are in the Hall. And all are borderline cases by their numbers. I have Palmeiro 17th at first base. That’s not borderline, but a reasonable person could point to the lack of peak in his case. McGwire is 26th at first base. He’s my lowest ranked guy who’s in. And Sammy Sosa is 22nd in right field, perhaps falling behind Ichiro this season.
Reasonable people could keep any of them out based on differences in the way we calculate greatness. And folks who try to measure the value of steroids could bump them below my in/out line without too much wiggling. Of course, to do so you’d have to believe that PED use has enough impact on character to matter.
Or you could ignore the character issue altogether and believe that PED use has enough impact on numbers. That’s not unreasonable.
Yeah, he’s a character.
Eric and I both rank the Black Sox star starter inside HoME-level, but we voted to write him an obituary as soon as he was eligible. It can certainly be said that we made a character call on him. Without spending the time to retell the story here, we believe that he helped to throw the 1919 World Series. Doing so could have destroyed the game of baseball. Yes, we drew a line. My decision, I must admit, was far more about the potential harm he could have done to the game than it was about throwing the opening game of the World Series.
Yes, I voted Cicotte down because of the damage his actions could have done to the game we all love. Maybe I’m just using that as a rationalization because I don’t want to judge others, and I think I can justify voting him down for a reason other than his character. But the truth is that I just don’t think I can make calls about the character of others. Who am I? I consider myself honorable and ethical, but I haven’t walked a mile in the shoes of Pete Rose or Barry Bonds or Eddie Cicotte.
Recently there was a controversy at my college when the Twitter account of a member of the Board of Trustees was found to have what some would call hateful thoughts in the form of tweets and likes on it. The Trustee said his account was hacked. About six months later, the prosecutor’s office in my county said there was no evidence of hacking. The Trustee finally did resign. Anyway, in the six months after this was discovered, many faculty members, such as myself, and many students spoke in public out against this person’s comments. But not one single administrator did. Not one. Not in six months.
If you think what the Trustee did was reprehensible, perhaps you think that administrators not speaking up was reprehensible too. I don’t. Not at all. Students have the protection of being students. Faculty have the protection of tenure. Administrators have no protection. They can be fired pretty much at any time.
Would you have the courage to speak up if you could lose your job at any time? What is more ethical, to speak your truth, or to make sure you can pay the mortgage and put food on your family’s table?
If I were a major league baseball player, I suspect I would have used PEDs. If I were a manager, I don’t think I would have bet on baseball games, but I’m not addicted to gambling either. What if I were? I don’t know what I would or would not have done. And as for throwing the World Series, well, I certainly wouldn’t if I were in the bigs today. But 100 years ago? When I didn’t suspect I’d get caught, when I thought I’d just fade away if I did, when I thought I was being cheated by my boss, when I had no union protection? I’d like to think I know what I’d do, but I don’t.
There are so many contributing factors to the decisions we make. I don’t blame my friends in administration at my college for not standing up against something they believed was wrong. And I don’t blame baseball players for not making the choices many of us would suggest they make. I don’t blame them because I don’t know what I’d do, or because I think I’d do exactly what they did.
In baseball, we like to make statistics context neutral. That’s a good idea. Too bad we can’t do the same thing with character.