There is no rationale for denying Jim Thome entry to the Hall of Fame, unless you are playing a very irresponsible game.
Jim Thome hit home runs number 599 and 600 last night, in the process raising his season’s rates to .254/.359/.497, very nice numbers for a 40-year-old in any season. The big round number will probably cue another recapitulation by handwringing Hall of Fame voters mooing that Thome should not be a Hall of Famer, or isn’t a Hall of Famer to them, or some variation thereof. It’s silly stuff on any level, particularly given the wide variance in standards the BBWAA voters have shown over time, never mind the various Veterans Committees. If the Writers could conceptualize Rabbit Maranville, Luis Aparicio, and Tony Perez as Hall of Famers, then it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to come up with a definition of Hall of Famer that applies to Thome, unless you’re playing politics of an entirely misplaced kind.
The knocks on Thome will be his lack of black ink and major award hardware, as well as the era in which he played. He didn't win an MVP award, and correctly so—look at his season by season WARP: In a big offensive era, he was often outgunned by other players (ironically, for some recalcitrant voters who will tar Thome with the brush of the steroids era just by dint of his having played through it, the fact that he did not ascend quite the same heights as some of his contemporaries should serve as a kind of negative proof that Thome himself was clean). In his long career, he had only four seasons in which he finished in the top 10 in WARP, and was only twice in the top five, in 1996, when he finished fourth, and in 2002, when he was a close second to Alex Rodriguez. The MVP voters chose Miguel Tejada that year. Thome hit .304/.445/.677 with 52 home runs to Tejada’s .308/.354/.508 and 34, but the latter was a shortstop on an A’s team that won 103 games, while Thome was a first baseman on an also-ran Indians club.
Because Thome so rarely led the league (he does have the 2003 NL home-run title to his credit, as well as three seasons leading the AL in walks) but was more often just “there,” he will be dismissed as a decent player, somewhat short of stardom, who simply hung around for long enough to put up big numbers. Yet, while the term "compiler" is often uttered with disdain by Cooperstown aficionados, I don't accept the stigma. In baseball, longevity is an accomplishment in itself, but Thome has been no mere Ancient Mariner (to invoke either Coleridge or Diego Segui, whichever you prefer) hanging balefully around the banquet, not a Bob Hope doing unfunny television specials into his late 80s, but a solid producer throughout. That is a different kind of accomplishment than dominating a league and winning the big awards, but it's an accomplishment nonetheless in a league in which most players flame out by their early 30s.
The Hall of Fame has quietly removed the writers and broadcasters from the annual Sunday ceremonies.
Technically, they're not Hall of Famers. The broadcasters and writers honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame are recipients of the Ford C. Frick and J.G. Taylor Spink Awards, the highest honors in their respective fields. Voted upon on an annual basis by a committee of previous award winners, historians, and columnists in the case of the former, and by the Baseball Writers Association of America in the case of the latter, they are recognized at the Cooperstown mecca not with the bronze plaques that players, managers, executives, and pioneers receive, the ones that hang in the hallowed Hall of Fame Gallery. Rather, a portrait of each recipient is included in the "Scribes & Mikemen" exhibit in the Hall's library. As the Class of 2011 is inducted this weekend, those honorees are being pushed even further from the limelight.
What's in an All-Star game or a career that spans 60 novels and 35 films? It all depends on the fleeting retention of public memory.
Every now and again in my career as an editor, I have come across a writer who thinks that they are Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare, by which I mean that they operate under the delusion that the little baseball doodads that they write will be remembered for more than three seconds after they stop doing them. It must be a pleasing delusion to feel so self-important, but it’s a blinding one. Better to believe, as Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” and then have time prove you wrong than to assume the opposite and go through life under the misapprehension that there is a Hall of Fame for scribblers.
Yes, I am aware there is a so-called “writer’s wing” at Cooperstown. I will get back to that in a moment.
Several years ago, I saw a television editorial by Harlan Ellison, an excellent writer I would hope will be remembered. His theme was that a writer’s glory is fleeting (you can see the second half of it here, though the clip largely omits what I am about to discuss; I would also like to point out that the bowdlerizing of, believe it or not, Lassie he refers to in the video is also being done today with The Great Gatsby). In it, Ellison mourns the total obscurity of one Clarence Budington Kelland. He returned to Kelland in a 2008 interview with the Onion’s A.V. Club:
Due to reader response, the annotated list continues with 21st through 31st best seasons of all time, featuring Mike Piazza, Ernie Banks, and more third basemen of the 1970s.
Our collection of BP-flavored single-season WARP scores currently goes back to 1950. Now that we’ve added fielding runs to the sortable choices, you can easily see the combination of offense and defense that made the top players during this period so valuable, and in some cases dragged them down from even higher perches.
On Monday, I used the newly revised list to take a look at the top 20 seasons of the last 60 years. Due to reader enthusiasm and the fact that I find this kind of thing to be tremendous fun, I’ve expanded the scope to include the top 50, continuing today with the player-seasons that rank 21 through 31.
21. Frank Robinson, OF, 1966: 11.0
Robinson, newly arrived with the Baltimore Orioles after the Reds called him “an old 30,” won the triple crown, joining Mickey Mantle ’56 and Carl Yastrzemski ’67 in the top 50. He picked up a unanimous MVP award, Given how much grief the voters have deservedly taken over the years, it’s reassuring to see how many of these great seasons have won. Of the top 11, the voters rewarded all but three, and one of those was Sammy Sosa's ’01, who the voters passed over in favor of Barry Bonds' ’01, which was even better. Here are the other occasions to this point in the rankings where the voters failed to reward one of the 20 best seasons in history:
The Duke of Flatbush departs the stage, but not without leaving his mark on the game, a city, and an era.
On Sunday, the baseball world learned of the passing of Duke Snider, who made his name for the Brooklyn Dodgers at a time when New York was the center of the baseball world, with its three teams each boasting a future Hall of Fame center fielder. "Snider, Mantle, and Mays," wrote the great Red Smith. "You could get a fat lip in any saloon by starting an argument as to which was best.”
The BBWAA's secretary-treasurer discusses voting and what it's like to notify players who have been elected to the Hall of Fame.
In Part II, Jack O'Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America, discusses annual awards and the Hall of Fame, including who votes for the MVP and Cy Young, who gets a Hall of Fame ballot, and why Rick Ferrell is enshrined in Cooperstown. You can read Part I here.
The former first baseman talks about his days in the big leagues, the Hall of Fame, and most importantly his commitment to Wolfram Syndrome.
To many fans, J.T. Snow is remembered as the slick-fielding San Francisco Giants first baseman who had to scoop up three-year-old batboy Darren Baker from harm’s way in the 2002 World Series. Eight years later, the now-retired six-time Gold Glove winner is committed to a far more important cause: helping children suffering from a rare disease called Wolfram Syndrome. Snow, who hit .268/.357/.427, with 189 home runs over 15 big-league seasons, shared his thoughts on a variety of subjects, including the importance of defense, steroids and the Hall of Fame, and athletes as role models. His foundation, The Snowman Fund, is named for himself and his late father, former Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Jack Snow.
One writer's favorites among those who haven't been immortalized in Cooperstown.
Fourteen years is a long time to wait, but that’s how long it took for Bert Blyleven to get into the Hall of Fame. He is a deserving selection, to be sure, but one that leaves you wondering about the others, those who straddled the line that runs between mere great and Hall of Fame great.
I've been a Hall of Fame voter since 1971, and it got me thinking about some of the players over the years who I had voted for but, for whatever reason, could not convince 75 percent of my BBWAA brothers and sisters that he belonged in the Hall of Fame. What a team they would make up, I thought, and why were so many of them first basemen, each in my mind qualified to go into the Hall of Fame? And that did not count Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire, each of whom is on my restricted list.
Two men finally get their due in Cooperstown, while several other qualified players are locked out.
Our long national nightmare is over. On Wednesday at 2 p.m., the National Baseball Hall of Fame opened its doors to Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, two overwhelmingly qualified candidates who missed gaining entry from the BBWAA last year by a combined 13 votes. Both cleared the mandatory 75 percent threshold with room to spare, with Alomar drawing 90 percent of the record 581 votes cast during his second year on the ballot, and Blyleven garnering 79.7 percent in his 14th year of eligibility. They'll join Pat Gillick on the dais in Cooperstown, New York on July 24.
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Character assassination, speculation, a commitment to process... ah, it has to be Hall of Fame season.
I doubt you've missed it, but the Hall of Fame announcement is coming next week. I should stress that I don't vote on the Hall of Fame because as of yet I cannot, and won't be eligible to for another eight years, if ever. As a result, I tend not to get as wrapped up in the annual frustrations with the process as some, having already long since despaired over the shabby treatment of the late Ron Santo for not getting voted in, not to mention the flabby gymnastics presented by way of explanation from that shrinking segment of voters determined to ignore Bert Blyleven. But I get asked about it often enough casually by people assuming that I must already be in the electorate; optimist that I am, I stick with the hope that, come the day, Tim Raines will never need my vote, and that justice will be done to the players who deserve election in the meantime, however fractiously, and with however many unhappy exceptions.