Monday, January 12, 2009

Watering Down The Product

Come January of every year, I fear that The Baseball Writers Association of America, or The Veterans Committee before them, will elect just another VERY GOOD BASEBALL PLAYER to The Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown, New York--not one of The VERY BEST THAT HAS EVER PLAYED THE GAME. The Hall of Fame should be for the Elites of the game, not players that were just All-Stars or Team Leaders for a period of time during their careers. Or, players that were important cogs to Championship Teams.

Yet it seems The Baseball Writers and The Veterans Committee gets all caught up in the pressure of HAVING, NO ACTUALLY NEEDING, TO ELECT SOMEONE--no matter what. I am not comfortable with that.

Rickey Henderson is a NO-DOUBT First Ballot Hall of Famer. Any of the few writers that didn't vote for Henderson in the tally released today are just foolish people who should have their voting rights taken away. Whatever "I Am The Greatest" Rickey was off the field, there is no question that Old Number 24 was a game changing, revolutionary player in the leadoff spot. He used skill, athletic ability and tremendous speed to put fear in his opponents--at the plate and on base. No One Has Ever Been Better.

You can't say that about Jim Rice. Rice was a middle of order slugger--an excellent player, no question about it--you can not deny his importance to The Boston Red Sox. But is he really Hall of Fame worthy? Well, he's probably a far better choice than some of those that preceded him--like Jesse Haines, George Kelly, Red Schoendiest, Bill Mazeroski and even Phil Rizzuto. I am sure there are others that fit this dubious distinction, but those are a handful that pop out of my head while writing this post.

And this is where the problems lies. The deluding of the product.

Every player must wait five years after retirement to be considered for Hall Of Fame Election. Then each has up to 15 years of belonging on the ballot--as long as you have received just 5% of the vote each year--75% of the vote gets you into Cooperstown. You would think the sportswriters of any particular player's era would have the best understanding of how much that candidate meant to the game during their time playing. Those Writers covered that player. He is fresh in their minds. They would know how great Mr. "Such & Such" was. Yet, here we are 20 years after Rice retired and we have some sportswriters who were barely teenagers, or even possibly youngsters, at the time of his accomplishments, deciding whether Rice Is Hall Worthy.

That's not right. Some are choosing players whom they may have never seen play a Major League Game--in person--and that's important too. These voters tools of choice today are just the stats, and the ever escalating and grander stories re-told about the careers--probably by the player's friends. We have Hall Of Fame picks passed on perception, not always fact. And it doesn't help when former ballplayers are baseball analysts now pining for their buddies--year after year. It's a conflict of interest.

Feelings which are similar to what I had growing up with My Washington Senators.

I can tell you for a fact that My Favorite Player of All Time!! Frank Howard, would be a shoo-in for The Hall of Fame--if I had a vote--a tally based on adoration. But realistically I know his work falls short--even now.

There are too many outside influences affecting proper voting.

Until Hall Of Famer Joe Morgan got better control of the situation, you had former players pressuring The Veterans Committee members to vote for their friends and teammates. It's how Mazeroski got elected in the first place. Thankfully, Joe Morgan changed the rules and voting procedures to make election far more difficult--and reduced some of the politics--but not all.

Look, if any player is not good enough to be elected by a group of his sportswriting peers in just a few short years after becoming eligible for election into The Baseball Hall of Fame--then that player probably wasn't worthy in the first place. No One should be debating whether anyone is worthy of selection 20 years after you played your last game. How can you not be worth electing in 1994, or 1999, or 2004, but you are in 2009?

That makes no sense to me and why I fear The Hall of Fame voting each winter. Too many Very Good & Excellent Players are being enshrined into The Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum to stand alongside The Greats. Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven fit perfectly into this issue. Excellent players, long gone from the game whose playing careers overlap some with Rice. But, they are really not Hall worthy.

Yet, now based on the many others that have come before him, Jim Rice is today a Hall Of Fame Baseball Player. But what he is not--is One Of The Greatest Of All Time. And that's not his fault, it's the system.

The product has been watered down for far too long.

PS--And I will add this: despite how much I disliked his Home Run Splurge & HR Record Run--Barry Bonds was a Hall Of Fame Player before anything ever developed off the field with performance enhancing drugs. That man belongs in the Hall Of Fame, five years or so after he officially retires. He may not get in his first year as a protest vote from writers, but no one can deny how great a player Barry Bonds truly was. Old Number 25 was a Game Changer--just like Rickey Henderson was in his time.

PSS--What I don't have a problem with is The Veterans Committee approach to enshrining a larger group of Negro League Players and Executives over the past few years. Those whose rights to play and compete on a level playing field for many years were denied. That's history correcting itself.


Chris Needham said...

Interesting. If I had had to guess, I'm not sure I'd have figured you as anti-Rice.

Any opinion on Tim Raines?

Interestingly... even if you're fairly small Hall kind of guy, Howard's got a pretty strong case. His stats really need to have their era factored in. He played his home games at Dodger's Stadium for a big chunk of his career -- the best pitcher's park in the best pitcher's era in baseball. Can you imagine what he'd have done were the pitcher's mound not as high as his eye level?

And despite how massive his homers, he can't have been helped by playing at RFK.

If you want to get an example, go to baseball-reference, and on his page, click the neutralize stats button and be amazed by the numbers -- which tries to adjust them for what they'd look like had he played in a more 'normal' time.

He's a HOFer.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Chris: Neuralizing The Stats, that's interesting, I have not looked at that before. I actually talked to Hondo about this. He, like me, believes that you play the cards you are dealt with. Great players most always overcome the obstacles. The very good players don't always adjust. Hondo was an excellent player, in fact feared, but had some holes in his game. I think he would agree with that. Into his late 20's he struggled, then turned out three wonderful seasons in DC. But he wasn't consistent enough over an extended period of time.

As for Tim Raines. I thought when he was in Montreal he was one of the best players in The National League. After he went over to The White Sox and on to The Yankees, he progressively became lesser each year. He wasn't feared nearly as much as he was as an Expos.

So no--not one of the greatest.

Thanks for the comments.

Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

If you had seen Jim Rice play in person, you'd understand why he was voted into the Hall of Fame.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Jim Rice was not a true Hall of Famer. I did see him play in person many times and he was amazing, as were others that are not enshrined such as Fred Lynn, Steve Garvey, Andre Dawson, Lee May, Dave Parker etc. Based on stats he falls short. Remove Fenway from his stats and he was an above average ballplayer. Perhaps the post steroid backlash helped him, as in his prime, he was as strong and complete as any hitter. Too bad there we too few of those years. FWIW I was a Jim Rice fan as a kid.

Chris Needham said...

I agree with Frank, to an extent. You can only play with the game that's in front of you. But look at him in context of his era. Even before his stint with hte Dodgers, he was one of the biggest power threats in the league.

You've gotta look at it the same way that you' look at Vinny Castilla's stats with the Rockies. What's the context for the performance? We look at his stats and know that they came with park advantages so we adjust them in our mind. We know he's not as good as his superficial numbers indicate. We've gotta kinda do the same thing in the reverse with Howard. Because of the context of his time, he's better than it seems.

I know you're not much for the new stats, but take a look at something like OPS+ at baseball-reference. It attempts to adjust for some of those differences. Howard's career OPS+ (I'm too lazy to look) is something like 145. That's a HUGE number, especially when you consider that it includes the downside of his career. At his peak, he put up numbers that only someone like Ryan Howard today would put up. He wasn't Pujols, really, but he was the second best thing.

Edward J. Cunningham said...

I think that at best, Frank Howard is probably a borderline Hall of Famer. I'd like to see him inducted someday---he's the only member of the expansion Washington Senators worthy of consideration---but it would not be a terrible injustice if he didn't get in. Hondo does not neet to be a Hall of Famer to deserve the statue in his honor outside Nationals Park next year.

Joe Judge and Mickey Vernon are different stories. To me, their stats tell me they belong in Cooperstown.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Chris: Our conversation here actually relates to my original point. If you and I are on each side of the discussion--for or against Frank Howard or whomever is being debated for Hall inclusion, then in my book, you can't be considered one of the greatest of all time.

There is serious doubt on a large group of people, whether they are fans or writers to enshrine Hondo. Or Blyleven, Dawson and even Jim Rice.

And as you mentioned, I am not a big stats guy, looking at .ops and whip and all that stuff. I've always trusted my visual judgement of any player. Frank Howard was an excellent player, but was a poor fielder. And he wasn't one of the greatest of his generation. Pretty darn good, but just not enough. He's not in the same league with Clemente, Mays, Aaron or McCovey, more complete players--just to name a few from his era. Hondo was an American League star at the time The National League dominated.

I really believe to be a Hall of Fame Player you should rise well above everyone else. Would I love to see Hondo inducted. Absolutely. But as much as it pains me to say about My Favorite Player!! He falls short. No park adjusted stats are going to help him.

Screech's Best Friend said...

One more point. Rocky Colavito was equally as feared as Frank Howard. In fact, their final career stats are pretty similar. Colavito was a perennial All Star & MVP Candidate for 11 of his 14 seasons in The American League. He was an excellent player. No one mentions him as a Hall Of Famer. You can't re-adjust history to fits the needs or desires of today.

That's what is happening in the Hall of Fame voting.

Chris Needham said...

Colvatio's an interesting superficial comparison. Their overall stats are relatively similar, but that's a perfect example: He played a pretty good chunk of his career in Tigers stadium, which was a pretty good place to hit homers. Had Hondo played there, instead of in RFK and Dodgers Stadium, their stats wouldn't be nearly as similar.

You DO need to adjust for era. We make those adjustments for players in Coors, but sometimes we need to adjust more for players who were DISadvantaged by their park.

Again, using OPS+ just as a shorthand (because it helps make those adjustments), Colavito only had two seasons better than Hondo's CAREER mark.

Howard's run from 68-70 was on a level higher than anyone in the game today, except for Pujols (who's putting up no-doubt, inner-circle seasons). The numbers just don't seem as impressive as they would in the context of today's game.

Anonymous said...

One point that is missing here is that it is a Hall of Fame, not necessarily a Hall of Greatness. Now, often fame comes from being great. But sometimes fame comes from different means, like being pretty good and popular.

Now, many would argue this, and it does have a lot of problems, such as bigger markets can help generate fame, as can playing for good teams. Fame can also grow or shrink over time. I think in Rice's case his fame, especially among HOF voters, has grown. I don't know why though I suspect there was some marketing there.

Mark L. said... and NYYFans are both quite into the idea of a Maxwell for Nady swap
You figure Maxwell is blocked in CF by either Dukes or Milledge and he won’t be dislodging Willingham.
How does that look on the Nats end of things?kl

Unknown said...

Why isn't Frank Howard in the HOF? I definitely think he has the numbers to be there, what with a lifetime EqA of .308 and an OPS + of 142. I think what hurts him is that his WARP3s are all really really low...he never had a season above 10, and his highest WARP3 was 9.1 in 1969.

Rice belongs nowhere NEAR the HOF. His lifetime EqA is exactly the same as Roy White's, and worse than Dewey's, and those two are NEVER getting in. Furthermore, he was a Fenway Baby...his home/road splits are insanity.

Anonymous said...

Bert Blyleven should be in the Hall of Fame.

He had 242 complete games in 685 starts and his 60 shutouts, making him the only pitcher with at least 50 not in the Hall of Fame.

He is one of only five pitchers that EVER totaled more than 3700 strikeouts with 3701. His 22 year career ERA was 3.31.

He had 287 and writers just focus on that number and him being 13 games shy of the "magic number."

Bert is a HOFer and hopefully he gets in next year.

Anonymous said...

Do I dare ask about Pete Rose? He played more games than anyone in Major League history (561 more than Cal Ripken). He has more hits than anyone in Major League history (1576 more than Ken Griffey Jr). He was more plate appearances than Don Mattingly and Joe DiMaggio combined, and he was on base more than anyone ever.

If you think Bonds is worthy before his steroid conflict, is Rose worthy before his gambling incident? I vote yes.

Screech's Best Friend said...

ND--Rose. Yes. Defintely.

Anonymous said...

I agree somewhat with your overall premise, but some of your facts got twisted in the midst of your passion.

Joe Morgan was an advocate for Bill Mazeroski being elected. It takes 75% of the electorate to be enshrined. With the old 15-man panel, you only needed 4 dissenters to keep someone out. Ted Williams was known as a stubborn Vet's Committee member and usually could sway one or two others. The year that Ted didn't attend the ekection was the year Mazeroski got elected.

If you don't think Mazeroski belongs in the Hall, then you never saw him play - or you don;t value defense as an important part of the game. When the entire AL all star team stops their warm-ups to watch Maz take warm up reps on turning the double play, then you have something special there.

And the article your referenced said this:
>"It may make it easier for a player like Ron Santo because a lot of members of the committee played with him (Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams) or against him (Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Willie McCovey, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver). They know what he brought to the game."

Ron Santo is still on the outside looking in.

First ballot: I need to check, but I don't think either Joe DiMaggio nor Ted Williams were first ballot HoF'ers. I think that says more about the baseball writer's electorate than it does the ballplayer.

I agree that Jim Rice is probably a great player, but a border line HoF candidate. What is the difference between him and Dave Parker? (besides the World Series ring - otherwise the Red Sox nation fans will fall on the floor in a convulsion).

I think Blylevan is a HoF'er. But I liked Jim Kaat's record and Tommy John too for his total contribution to baseball.

Rose, Bonds - what about shoeless Joe? He has banned for life from baseball and he has been dead how long now?

Hall of Fame discussions are great. Not even 100% of the reporters agree on Ricky Henderson, so some discussion is always warrented. Who had the highest all time election percentage? Tom Seaver? No one is a 100% vote candidate.


Anonymous said...

It is an absolute travesty that Ron Santo isn't in the hall of fame. I can't understand the veteran's committee coming five votes short on him two years ago then nine votes short in December. How can he lose votes? Which committee members changed their votes? The process is just flawed.

Take Me Out To The Ballgame!


An Briosca Mor said...

Unfortunately for Pete Rose, the decision's not up to the voters as it is for the steroid guys like Bonds, Sosa, McGwire et al. Selig or one of his successors would have to release him from the lifetime ban first. But what happens after Rose is gone and by definition the lifetime ban will have expired? Can the veterans committee vote him in then? Anyone know?

Smirkman said...

Teddy Ballgame was a firt ballot Hall of Famer. Joe D not so. Below is the list through the 70's when it was a bigger deal than now. (Of course this list doesn't include the 1st class which by default were 1st ballot entries)

Willie Mays 1979
Ernie Banks 1977
Mickey Mantle 1974
Warren Spahn 1973
Sandy Koufax 1972
Stan Musial 1969
Ted Williams 1966
Bob Feller 1962
Jackie Robinson 1962

Anonymous said...

The voting process is definitely flawed. Many of the writers who vote don't even know the game they are covering. There also appears to be a huge New York bias that is slowly becoming a New York/Boston bias. In spite of his shortcomings with the glove, if Hondo had played in New York or (Fenway Park aside) Boston, he would have been a first or second ballot Hall of Famer. And look at Bert Blyleven's numbers. No Cy Young Award, but those numbers do top many of those already in the Hall. The list goes on and on ... Ron Santo, Tommy John, Jim Kaat...