January 7, 2002
The Daily Prospectus
The booth is now closed, and tomorrow we'll be announcing the honorees in
the 2002 STATLG-L Hall of Fame balloting.
As much as I'd like to say that I'm running my personal ballot now because I
didn't want to impact the voting (as if it would), the truth is that I'm
only getting to it now. We're all busy putting the finishing touches on
Baseball Prospectus 2002,
which should start reaching people in about a month.
A Hall of Fame ballot, even an Internet one, is virgin territory for me.
This is the first year in which I've submitted one in this project. While I
still look forward to my first visit to Cooperstown, and I appreciate the
Hall as baseball's ultimate honor, the debates that are stirred around this
time used to leave me a little cold. I think the sentiment dates to 1984, a
player of whom I had absolutely no knowledge, Rick Ferrell, became a
Hall of Famer. I didn't understand, and what I learned about Ferrell didn't
help, but I did come to realize the massive difference between the Baseball
Writers Association of America and the Veterans Committee.
I eventually learned more about the process, in no small part due to Bill
James's The Politics of Glory. I'm certain that my interest is
increasing now because players are reaching the ballot who I grew up
watching. I think I have a Hall of Fame standard that skews much closer to
that of the writers. It's not entirely, "I know a Hall of Famer when I
see one," but I do recognize that if an argument has to be made
for someone, then that, in and of itself, is a strike against a player.
With that said, there are the players for whom I'm voting:
Bert Blyleven. He was a really good pitcher for a really long
time. That fact is hidden by a number of factors, including his peer
group--some of the best pitchers ever--the lack of a clear peak, and a
series of so-so won-loss records when he was young. He may have fallen just
shy of 300 wins, but Blyleven is fourth on the all-time strikeouts list, and
ninth in shutouts. He has some other markers, including a 2.35 ERA in four
World Series starts, all for winners.
Guys like Blyleven, Don Sutton, and Jim Kaat are the opposite
of the crop of pitchers from the late 19th century who threw 500 innings a
year and racked up massive counting stats in careers lasting 10-12 seasons,
Tim Keefe and John Clarkson and guys like that. Pitching
changed over time, and it's not entirely fair that because the guys in the
1880s pitched in such a way that set a magic number for wins at 300, that
pitchers who don't reach this figure are deemed less than those who do.
That said, I did not vote for Tommy John, who is in many ways similar
to Blyleven. John's won-loss record is superior, but it's all a function of
the his teams. His career ERA+ is 111, versus Blyleven's 118 in about 200
more innings. A small difference? Yes, but it's where I choose to draw the
line. The same goes for Kaat, whose case is weaker than John's, and whose
raw numbers benefitted from pitching in the 1960s.
I used to think John deserved credit for his impact on the game today,
becoming the first pitcher to succeed after having the ligament-replacement
surgery than now bears his name. On reflection, I don't think it's a major
point in his favor; if someone wants to advance Dr. Frank Jobe as a
candidate, though, there's a case to be made.
Gary Carter. He was the best catcher in baseball from whenever
he passed Johnny Bench--1980, I'd say--through 1986, and depending on
your taste, is between the seventh-best and tenth-best catcher of all-time.
I submit that those two factors alone--best at a key position for seven
years, top-ten all-time at a position--qualify a player for the Hall of
Fame, absent some significant problem with his candidacy. The big
justification above for Blyleven? There's no need for it with Carter; by the
established standards of the Hall of Fame, or even by a standard that calls
the 50 or so mistake selections what they are, he's qualified.
Carter's Expos teammate Andre Dawson does not make my ballot. He was
a fine player for a long time, and by all accounts, a good man. He also had
a career OBP of .323, which even for someone who played half his career as a
center fielder in a lousy hitting environment is a big black mark. Dave
Parker was a better player at his peak, but his career totals are low
for a corner outfielder as well, and he loses some credit for his
involvement in the drug scandals of the mid-1980s, so he's not on my ballot,
What's interesting about the ballot is the groupings. There are a handful of
long-career pitchers, three corner outfielders (Jim Rice being the
third, also not on my ballot) who have their backers, and two pairs,
relievers and shortstops. It's impossible to evaluate one player without
comparing them to the others, particularly because the players were all, for
the most part, peers.
Ozzie Smith. He was the greatest defensive shortstop of all
time, one of the very few players who ever deserved to be on the field
regardless of what he was hitting. Don't forget, though, that Smith became a
pretty decent offensive player in the 1980s, walking 60 times a year and
stealing 30-40 bases at a good percentage. It doesn't look like much now,
but Smith was putting as many runs on the board as any shortstop in his
Dawson won the MVP in 1987, but Smith (along with teammate Jack Clark and
about a half-dozen other people) was more qualified.
There is a very long discussion over on Baseball Primer regarding Alan
Trammell's qualifications, specifically vis-a-vis Ozzie Smith's. I'm not
going to get into the debate, except to say that I am not going to vote for
Trammmell. He was a very good player who was robbed of an MVP Award in 1987,
although that same season's inflated numbers contribute mightily to his Hall
of Fame case. I don't think his selection would be a mistake, and I believe
that a year from now, I might well change my mind about him.
Those three players: Blyleven, Carter, and Smith, are the only three for
whom I have voted. Trammell was a tough call. Dawson was a tough call (but
not Dale Murphy). Separating the starting pitchers, those discussed
as well as Luis Tiant, was difficult, and I don't know that I drew
the line in the right place. If all of them--Blyleven, Kaat, John, and
Tiant--were to be inducted, I don't know that it would be a bad thing.
They're real close.
I haven't talked about the two relievers. Bruce Sutter isn't a Hall
of Famer. His career was ridiculously short, and he doesn't get bonus points
from me for the split-finger or representing an evolutionary point in the
development of closers. Rich Gossage is a much better candidate, with
800 more innings (600 more in relief) and about 50% more good seasons. The
best argument for Gossage is probably that his two closest comps are the two
relievers in the Hall of Fame, Rollie Fingers and Hoyt
Wilhelm. On the other hand, Fingers isn't much of a Hall of Famer, and
Gossage isn't that similar to Wilhelm. For this year, anyway, Gossage is
I think that covers everyone of interest. It absolutely kills me not to vote
for Don Mattingly, who is my all-time favorite player, but I know
he's not even a viable candidate.
Any errors I've made in this process are on the side of exclusion, which
just fits my image of what the Hall of Fame should be. Like my bias towards
up-the-middle players in MVP voting or mid-major teams in college basketball
or John Cusack movies, it's just me.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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