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November 22, 2011

Pebble Hunting

Can I Interest You in a Juan Gonzalez Hall of Fame Brochure?

by Sam Miller

One of the strange things about praise is that it sometimes works in reverse. You tell me Muse is the best band in the world, and I’m compelled to dispute this craziness, and before I know it I find myself saying and thinking horribly mean things about Muse, even though Muse is perfectly fine, just not my cuppa tea.

And this is what I found myself feeling as I read Juan Gonzalez’ Hall of Fame brochure. Yes, Juan Gonzalez has a Hall of Fame brochure. It is 12 pages, it is extremely glossy, it came in the mail, and in about 25 seconds I’m going to show it to you, because you should get to see what a Hall of Fame brochure looks like. But before I do, I want to say this: Juan Gonzalez was really, really good at baseball. He was way better at baseball than Chris Sabo and Mark Portugal and Bobby Higginson, and nobody is saying mean things about them today. Whereas I am quite likely to say mean things about Juan Gonzalez and about the brochure that is supposed to be helping him. I would say this means Juan Gonzalez’ Hall of Fame brochure has failed. But let’s consider it together. (Note: click on images to expand.)

Page 1: The Cover

There’s not much to the cover, so there aren’t many places to go wrong. But it is a curious decision, which we will see repeated time and again in this brochure, to make “Igor” the biggest word on the page. Did you know that Juan Gonzalez’ nickname is Igor? Does it make you more likely to support his Hall of Fame argument? Do you think it should be enlarged, bolded, made to overlap and partially cover his actual name? Do you think it should be so on every page of the brochure? Juan Gonzalez’ Hall of Fame brochure designers do.

Here’s the backstory on Juan Gonzalez’ nickname: when he was a kid he liked wrestling. There was a wrestler named Igor the Magnificent. Juan Gonzalez, as a nine-year-old, decided his friends should call him Igor. And so they have, ever since. As far as Hall of Fame nicknames go, this one has flaws. One is that he gave it to himself, which invalidates it completely. Another is that he went with Igor, which isn’t descriptive or promotional, instead of Juan the Magnificent, which would have totally fit on a Hall of Fame brochure.

Hall of Fame voter 1: You going to vote for this guy?
Hall of Fame voter 2: Depends on the nickname.
Hall of Fame voter 2: And the RBIs.

Pages 2 and 3: The Introduction

I’m mostly unconcerned by any typos or errors in Juan Gonzalez’ Hall of Fame brochure. We all make typos, and whether or not the person who wrote this brochure knows how to spell Hank Greenberg doesn’t really matter as much as Juan Gonzalez’ on-base percentage and Juan Gonzalez’ nickname (“Igor”). But this sentence is accidentally very honest:

“If it is a question of sheer numbers, it would be hard to argue that Gonzalez belongs in the Hall.”

Yes, it would be! Juan Gonzalez’ sheer numbers would make it extremely hard to argue he belongs in the Hall. This is why somebody had to make an entire brochure.

Also: Time for No. 2.

Page 4: Testimonials

Every quote on Juan Gonzalez’ testimonials page comes from before 2000, before Gonzalez turned 30. Nolan Ryan is quoted in 1993. Rod Carew is quoted making a prediction. And George W. Bush! Some other quotes they could have used:

“Pretty good for a rookie.”—Manger Bobby Valentine, 1990

“A future superstar! Probably as good as Kiki Jones and Eric Anthony!”—Baseball America, 1990

“‘It’s the year 2011, and Juan Gonzalez is, in my mind, a certain Hall of Famer,’ is something I expect I might say in 2011 unless he never learns to take a walk or stay healthy.”—Willie Mays, Hall of Famer, 1993

“Juan Gonzalez is the greatest player I’ve ever seen. A no-doubt Hall of Famer.”—The kid who first started calling him Igor, 1979

“Aw crud.”—Rod Carew, Hall of Famer, 2006

“Juan Gonzalez should absolutely be in the Hall of Fame.”—Sam Miller, 2011

“If he comes back and hits about 250 more home runs in his 40s.”—Sam Miller, 2011

“But that’s unlikely.”— Sam Miller, 2011

Page 5: Bio

Intern: OK, so we’re running out of things for this bio page. I’m going to put the steroid allegation stuff here now.
Editor: No! No steroids. Find something else. His favorite football team is the Ravens. Put that.
Intern: OK, but we still have a bunch of space left, so allegations about steroids…
Editor: He donated money to charity for every RBI he got.
Intern: Wow, he had 1,400 RBIs…
Editor: No, he only did it for, like, three years.
Intern: OK, still have blank space. Screw it, let’s just put the steroid allegations—
Editor: He played Little League when he was a kid! He got an award from a chamber of commerce! All his kids are named Igor! Are you listening to me? ANYTHING BUT STEROIDS!

Pages 6, 7 and 8: Year by Year

There’s really nothing in these pages to pick on. It’s his accomplishments. He accomplished a lot. He was really good! So we should just skip ahead, except this might be a good time to address the bottom two inches of each page.

This pattern is on the bottom of each page. Do you recognize it? It’s a bunch of his stats, cropped from his Baseball-Reference page. But they made a curious decision to use his defensive stats. It’s curious because Juan Gonzalez was a horrible defender. It’s more curious because none of these numbers would intuitively mean anything to anybody. They could just as easily be from anywhere—college football, the stock pages of USA Today, a receipt from a donut shop. It’s just a jumble. In my opinion, this would have been so much stronger:

You’ve got numbers bolded because they led the league, you’ve got .300 averages, you’ve got the string of MVP finishes on the right, and you’ve got a pretty recognizable sequence of numbers—runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBIs, just like every baseball card that Hall of Fame voters grew up memorizing. Instead, on every page of Juan Gonzalez’ Hall of Fame brochure, valuable real estate has been given over to Juan Gonzalez’ range factor per nine innings.

Page 9: In Fine Company

This is actually my favorite page, because for about four minutes I actually started thinking Juan Gonzalez might be a deserving Hall of Famer. I once watched Loose Change and, for an afternoon, I thought 9/11 was an inside job. I believe everything. Juan Gonzalez played more games than Jackie Robinson? Shoot, I can’t think of any reason why that’s not a solid argument!

But then I started thinking about creating some of these lists with Juan Gonzalez at the bottom, rather than at the top.

Runs scored:
Jay Bell—1,123
Bobby Bonilla—1,084
Ruben Sierra—1,084
Ron Gant—1,080
B.J. Surhoff—1,062
Gonzalez (1,061)

Hits:
Marquis Grissom—2,251
Orlando Cabrera—2,055
Mark Grudzielanek—2,040
Todd Zeile—2,004
Jeff Conine—1,982
Gonzalez (1,936)

On-Base Percentage:
Ryan Theriot—.344
Fernando Tatis—.344
Marty Cordova—.344
Michael Cuddyer—.343
Randy Winn—.343
Phil Nevin—.343
Otis Nixon—.343
Gonzalez (.343)

Ohhhh I get it now. Juan Gonzalez is a terrible baseball player*. Or else creating lists like these, and having them stand in for a comprehensive evaluation of a player’s overall performance, is a terrible and misleading way of comparing players.

*Juan Gonzalez is not a terrible baseball player. He was really, really good.

Page 10: Community Service

Intern: What are we going to do with this blank page?
Intern: Steroi—
Editor: What is wrong with you?

Page 11: Career Batting

Nothing to complain about here. Just a screengrab of his Baseball-Reference page. (The player value section—where we learn that Juan Gonzalez produced 39 WARP in his career, same as Don Buford and Steve Finley—didn’t make it in.) Career batting averages against various teams is a nice touch.

Hall of Fame Voter 1: You going to vote for this guy?
Hall of Fame Voter 2: Depends on how he did in two career games against the Marlins.
Hall of Fame Voter 2: And his nickname.

Also, the credits. These brochures aren’t very common, I’m told, and they usually come from third parties pushing the player’s candidacy. In this case, Luis Rodriguez Mayoral did the research and writing. Luis Rodriguez Mayoral is a baseball historian who worked as a Latino liaison for the Rangers and Tigers during most of the 1990s. According to Juan Gonzalez’ Wikipedia page, he accompanied Gonzalez to a meeting with President Bush in 2007. He was a confidant of Roberto Clemente, and wrote Clemente’s biography, and established a Roberto Clemente Award for the Latino baseball player who best carried on Clemente’s tradition. He’s way more knowledgeable about baseball than I am, and he is probably nicer than I am, and he actually cares about this. So now I want Juan Gonzalez to make the Hall of Fame because I find myself liking Luis Rodriguez Mayoral.

Page 12: Back cover

“These photos will be the last thing voters see when they read through our brochure. They need to be perfect. They need to tell the entire Juan Gonzalez story, and we have only nine spots, so we can’t waste a pixel. So let’s get one of him on the Rangers, because that’s where he had his best seasons. And one of him with Manny Mota, for some reason? Do we have any pictures of Juan being crowned by an old white man? What about his Detroit days? We absolutely must remind everybody of the year he spent with the Tigers. Also, all the good work he did. Show him working with kids. Then get another photo of him working with kids, but make it super obvious that it’s the same photo session with the same kids, because we don’t want people thinking he worked with kids twice. And another one of him with the Rangers. Use the center square to remind everybody of his nickname—big letters! And, finally, round it out with a picture of him in a Cleveland Indians uniform, with the number 16, because that was the year he missed the first two months of the season, then hurt himself running to first base in his very first at-bat, and never played again. Oh, yeah. That’ll tell the Juan Gonzalez story.” 
 

Sam Miller also writes for the Orange County Register.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

41 comments have been left for this article.

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