Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Hall of Fame Ballot: The returnees

With the Hot Stove burning slowly, much of the attention has shifted to the Hall of Fame discussion.  What possibly could have been one of the greatest Hall of Fame classes has shifted to a controversial one, in which many players who have used or been implicated as having used are eligible.  Over the next month or so, this debate will heat up.
Since I have a lot to say on the subject, I will break this down into two parts: The returnees and the first year eligibles.  On this one, I will give my thoughts on each of the returning players on the ballot.
Obviously I don't have a vote (even though there are a lot of people that do get to vote that are clearly less qualified than I am, but that's how it goes):, but this is what I would do if I have a ballot, in order of how many votes they received in 2012:

Jack Morris:  It seems likely that he will get in this year.  The record for highest percentage of anyone that didn't get the eventual 75% percent needed to get in in future years was Gil Hodges 63.4% in his final year on the ballot in 1983.  Morris received 66.6% last year, and has this year and next year to get in.
Does he deserve it?  Not really.  He was a good pitcher, but not great pitcher.  His career best in ERA was 3.05, and his lifetime ERA was slightly below 4.00, never finishing in the top ten in the Major Leagues.  His lifetime record of 254-186 averages out to about 14-10 over 18 seasons.  Good, but not great.  Morris did manage to make the All Star team four times, but for most of his career was nothing more than an average pitcher.  His 104 ERA+ is slightly above average. 
His supporters cite his five championships and post-season performances as the reason as to why he should make the Hall of Fame, but 18 seasons in which he was a little above average outweigh a few post-season gems.
And in reality, he wasn't as great a post-season pitcher as he was made out to be.  Yes, he was 3-0 in the Tigers 1984 run, and pitched the classic 10 inning complete game shutout in game seven of the 1991 World Series.  But look outside of that.  His lifetime post-season record was 7-4.   That's good, but not enough to be considered one of the greatest post-season pitchers of all time.  He got rocked in game 2 of the 1987 ALCS and didn't get to pitch in the World Series.  In 1992, he pitched horrible in all four starts, going 0-3 with a 7.43 ERA in 23 innings and the team won despite him.  In 1993, "Mr. Clutch" was left off the post-season roster entirely.  So all in all, he had two really good post-seasons, and two horrible ones.  Doesn't sound like a Hall of Famer to me.  If that makes someone a Hall of Famer, does that make Josh Beckett one? 
Definite no to Morris.

Lee Smith: Having retired as the all time saves leader, Smith lost a lot momentum on the path to Cooperstown after the saves record was broken twice, once by Trevor Hoffman, and again by Mariano Rivera.   However, many feel his 478 career saves are sufficient enough for him to make the Hall of Fame.
Considering the scarcity of relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame, for one to make it to the Hall of Fame, he should have had to pitch at an elite level for an extended period of time.  Hoyt Wilhelm was ahead of his time, being the first dominating reliever, and one of the first have his role not because he couldn't make the rotation, but because he was so valuable in the bullpen.  In addition to many outstanding years in the bullpen, he also served as a stellar starting pitcher for several seasons.  Roller Fingers became the first reliever to win an MVP, after already having been far and away the best fireman in baseball for over a decade.  Dennis Eckersley revolutionized the position, and retired as the greatest ever in that role.  Goose Gossage was somewhat iffy, but was a dominating for over a decade, and after Bruce Sutter got inducted two years prior despite arriving to the big leagues later, retiring earlier, spending a much shorter time as an elite reliever, and being less effective than their respective primes, Gossage had to get in.  Sutter was the one that really wasn't deserving, but letting one guy lower the bar for everyone using the logic "if player x is in the hall, so should player y" set's a dangerous precent and slippery slope that eventually devalues the hall altogehter.
Smith was never an elite closer.  He was just good.  He was consistent and had a lot of longevity, which enabled him to get the saves record, but consistency and longevity alone is not enough for Hall of Fame worthiness.
Perhaps if the saves statistic wasn't essentially worthless, perhaps holding the record at one point would make him a hall of famer.  But it is, so he's not.  Plus, what if John Franco broke the record?  In the middle of the 1999 season, Franco was just 62 saves away from the saves record.  But the Mets wanted to promote the up and coming "stud" Armando Benitez to the closer role (it seems laughable now, but at the time everyone thought he was going to be one of the greatest closers ever).  Franco was still an effective closer, and could have very easily demanded a trade, or bolted elsewhere when he became a free agent in the off-season.  But he didn't, he chose to stay with the Mets, and only got eight more saves in his career.  Had he left, he likely would have easily broken Smith's saves record long before Smith was eligible for the Hall of Fame.  Smith likely would have been off the ballot in a year or two, and people would be clammoring for Franco to get inducted into the hall instead.
The day someone gets inducted in the Hall of Fame based on saves alone is the day it should be closed down.  So Smith is definitely not a Hall of Famer.

Jeff Bagwell: The first of likely many victims of the "steroid era" in Hall of Fame voting.  Even though he will eventually get in, the baseball writers will make him wait because he was a power hitter during the steroid era, even though he was never actually implicated.
At face value, Bagwell is definitely a Hall of Famer.  From 1993-2002, he was consistently one of baseball's best hitters, and that was while playing most of that time in the Astrodome, one of the toughest ballparks in baseball for hitters.
That being said, and this may become a recurring theme, but the era he played in cannot be ignored.  You can't assume that Bagwell is innocent now that we know there was a wide scope of the players that have been used and there are likely many more that haven't been caught or implicated than there are that have.  So if you're going to excommunicate any known or suspected steroid user from the Hall of Fame, you have to leave out the whole era.  Otherwise, you are basically sending the message that it was ok to use as long as you haven't gotten busted, and leaves open the possibility of someone being outed as a user after being inducted.
That being said, the era was what it was, and steroids were such a widespread aspect of the game that weren't even against the rules, and even accepted within baseball's inner circles, both in the front offices and the clubhouses, until the public become more aware of it, the accomplishments of any player from that era need to taken at face value.  Therefore, Bagwell belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Tim Raines: He certainly wasn't on the level of Rickey Henderson, but he was still one of the greatest leadoff hitters ever.  Someone who has a lifetime batting average of .300 over a 23 year career is pretty much a lock for the Hall of Fame.  Raines may have fallen just short of that (.294), but he was a leadoff hitter, and a leadoff hitter's primary job is to get on base.  The OBP equivalent to a .300 batting average is .375 (approximately the number of players who get that is about the same as the number of .300 hitters during a typical year).  Raines had a .384 OBP, in over 10,000 plate appearances.  Only 22 players have a higher OBP in that many plate appearances.  Six of them are active or not yet Hall of Fame eligible.  The other 16?  All Hall of Famers. 
If you're one of those old school people who still think a leadoff hitter's job is to steal bases, well, Raines had 808 of those, making him fifth all time, fourth since 1901.
There's no doubt  Rains belongs in the hall.

Alan Trammell: When he was first eligible, I probably would have supported him in the Hall just on the basis that he was eligible for the first time the same year as fellow shortstop Ozzie Smith, who was a shoo-in to get inducted based solely on his tremendous offensive prowess.  While he wasn't the defender Ozzie was (although he wasn't no slouch himself), his offensive superiority more than made up for it.  However, it has been over a decade since then so Ozzie's induction has become irrelevant to Trammell's candidacy.
You can pretty much sum everything up the same way as most of the remaining players I'm about to mention: He was a pretty damn good player, but there is nothing about him, be it his stats, accomplishments, career body of work, or "intagibles" that make him a Hall of Famer.

Edgar Martinez: In the past, I have always believed that anyone who spent the majority of their career as a designated hitter should automatically disqualify them from the Hall of Fame.   Over the years I have come to realize that even though I hate the DH, it is a part of the game, so I've softened my stance to that where if someone's offensive numbers are among the best of their era, they belong in the hall.  That isn't the case with Edgar Martinez
He may have been the greatest designated hitter of all time before David Ortiz came along (Paul Molitor doesn't count since he did in fact play the majority of his career in the infield before becoming a DH in his mid-30's), but he still wasn't an elite hitter.  He only reached 30 home runs one time, playing most of his career in the home run friendly Kingdome.  In his 12 years as a DH, he only won four silver sluggers, so for most of that time, there was some DH that was better than him.  On top of that, he was injury prone, only playing seven full seasons without at least one stint on the disabled list.
In addition, even though I stated that everything from the steroid era should be taken at face value, it can come into play on someone that is a borderline or questionable Hall of Famer, so in the case of someone like Martinez who already has a weak case, gets completely knocked out due to being implicated having used steroids.

Fred McGriff: In any other era, 493 home runs would have been more than enough to get someone enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  When he made his MLB debut in 1986, only 13 players had hit more home runs than that.  Now that number is at 25.  Taking out two players from previous generations (Mike Schmidt and Eddie Murray), there are ten players from his era or later that have hit more homers, making it no longer an automatic trip to Cooperstown.
So the question is, are his other numbers and accomplishments enough to make McGriff a Hall of Famer?  The answer is a simple no.  Like I said for Trammell: He was a pretty damn good player, but there is nothing about him, be it his stats, accomplishments, career body of work, or "intagibles" that make him a Hall of Famer.

Larry Walker: Read my last line on the Trammell and McGriff entries.

Mark McGwire: More so than anyone else, the steroid issue hurts McGwire's hall chances more than anyone else.  And while there is a lot of hypocrisy and inconsistencies to go along with way
For one, aside from getting a bunch of walks, McGwire was the one guy that was nothing but a home run hitter.  Accurate or not, most people associate steroids with home runs.  McGwire was a lifetime .263 hitter and hit very extra base hits other than home runs- his 22 doubles per 162 games are unimpressive for anyone, but especially low for someone with his kind of power.  Aside from somehow managing to win a gold glove award, his defense was subpar. 
And McGwire wasn't just a user, he, along with his fellow Bash Brother Jose Canseco, were the players responsible for bringing steroids into the game.  And it was the 1998 home run chase that motivated many of the players all across baseball to jump across to the dark side.  So if anybody deserves to be punished, it's him.
That being said, like I said, we need to accept that it was an integral part of the era and take everything at face value.  And McGwire put up the greatest power numbers of all time.  He averaged 36.4 home runs in his 16 seasons, second only to Ralph Kiner's 36.9 over 10 seasons.  Per 162 games, he averaged 50 home runs, as well as one homer every 10.4 at bats, both major league records, by a longshot.
It wasn't all steroids either.  According to Canseco (who, as pathetic as he is, has proven to have a lot of credibility over this after being proven to be right time and time again), McGwire began juicing during his second year in the big leagues.  So what did McGwire do when he was a rookie, without the steroids?  He lead the major leagues with 49 homers, still the record for a rookie.
So because he was the greatest power hitter in the history of the game, McGwire belongs in the hall.

Don Mattingly: Here was a guy that was destined for greatness. From a 23-year-old in 1984 up until 1987, he was consistently one of the best hitters in baseball, making the All Star team every year up until 1989, the top year being his 1985 MVP campaign. On top of all that, he was the best defensive first baseman in baseball and the most popular Yankee since Mickey Mantle.
Then he started to suffer from back problems, and even though he could still field, his bat began to deteriorate, forcing him to retire following the 1995 season at the age of 34.  What could have been one the greatest careers ever turned out to be a huge disappointment.
Regardless, his combination of offense and being arguably the greatest defensive first baseman of all time gives him a strong case towards the hall.  Overall though, I'd have to say no.  What he did in his prime was not sufficient enough to make up for his lack of longevity.

Dale Murphy: Thankfully this is his last year of his eligibility.  I really don't get how this guy even continues to get the 5% needed to return to the ballot every year.  Murphy was a decent player, but had extremely underwhelming numbers for the Hall of Fame to the point where he doesn't really belong with the other returning candidates, let alone those enshrined in Cooperstown.  Huge no.

Rafael Palmeiro: Nobody in baseball went from sure-fire Hall of Famer to no chance in hell as fast as Palmeiro did when a positive steroid test caused him a 10 game suspension.  The big difference between him and the rest of the users is that he got busted for using after it got banned, and actually served a suspension.
It would be one thing to overlook if he was, in fact, one of the greats, but he wasn't.  He achieved the rare combo of 3,000 hits and 500 homers, but it was because he was a consistently solid player for close to two decades.  
He would have been a classic "milestone" Hall of Famer, which is a player that gets into Cooperstown solely on the backs of one (or in his case, two) of those milestones that nets a player automatic enshrinement.  However, it has gotten to the point where the numbers no longer make it automatic, and without those milestones, Palmeiro isn't a Hall of Famer.

Bernie Williams: Read my Larry Walker entry.

So of the returning candidates, only Bagwell, Raines, and McGwire belong in Cooperstown.  Within the next couple days I will do the main write up on the first year inductees, particularly Barry Bonds.


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