Hall of Fame 2012—Larkin and Raines and Pray for the Sane?

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Let’s talk about the Hall of Fame candidates for 2012.

I use every aspect of a player to assess his candidacy from stats; to perception; to era; to post-season performances; to contributions to the game.

Any of the above can add or subtract credentials and provide impetus to give a thumbs up/thumbs down.

Because the Lords of baseball, the owners, media and fans looked the other way or outright encouraged the drug use and performance enhancers, that doesn’t absolve the players who used the drugs and got caught.

Regarding PEDs, here’s my simple criteria based on the eventual candidacies of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds: if the players were Hall of Famers before they started using, they’re Hall of Famers; if they admitted using the drugs—for whatever reason, self-serving or not—or got caught and it’s statistically obvious how they achieved their Hall of Fame numbers, they’re not Hall of Famers.

As for stats, advanced and otherwise, it’s all part of the consideration process; certain stats and in-depth examinations make players (like Bert Blyleven) more worthy in the eyes of open-minded voters than they were before; the era and what they were asked to do (i.e. “you’re here to swing the bat and drive in runs” a la Andre Dawson and Jim Rice) fall into this category of not simply being about the bottom-line. Their career arcs; their sudden rise and fall and other factors come into the equation.

In short, this is my ballot and what I would do if I had a vote. If you disagree, we can debate it. Comment and I’ll respond.

Barry Larkin

Larkin should wait a bit longer.

He was overrated defensively and only played in more than 145 games in 7 of his 19 seasons. Larkin was a very good player who’s benefiting from certain factions promoting him as a no-doubter with the weak-minded sheep unable to formulate a case against him and joining the wave of support.

Alan Trammell is in the same boat as Larkin and is barely getting any support at all.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Yes.

Alan Trammell

Trammell was a fine fielder and an excellent hitter in the days before shortstops were expected to hit. He’s being unfairly ignored.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Maybe, but not by the writers.

Jack Morris

Morris was a durable winner who doesn’t have the statistics to get into the Hall of Fame. To be completely fair, his starts on a year-to-year basis have to be torn apart to see whether his high ERA is due to a few bad starts sprinkled in with his good ones and if he has a macro-argument for induction. It was that endeavor which convinced me of Blyleven’s suitability and I’ve yet to do it with Morris.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? His percentage has risen incrementally but with three years remaining on the ballot, he’s got a long way to go from 53.5% to 75% and probably won’t make it. The Veterans Committee is his only chance. They might vote him in.

Tim Raines

Are you going to support Kenny Lofton for the Hall of Fame?

By the same argument for Lou Brock and Raines, you have to support Lofton.

And how about Johnny Damon? And if Damon, Lofton and Raines are in, where is it going to stop?

The Hall of Fame building isn’t going to implode with Raines, but it might burst from the rest of the players who are going to have a legitimate case for entry and going by: “if <X> is in, then <Y> should be in”.

Let Raines wait.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Yes.

Jeff Bagwell

How does this work? Someone is a suspect so they receive a sentence of exclusion when nothing has ever been proven? Bagwell’s name has never been mentioned as having been involved in PEDs and the silly “he went from a skinny third baseman to a massive first baseman who could bench press 315 pounds for reps” isn’t a convincing one to keep him out.

Bagwell’s a Hall of Famer.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No. Bagwell is going to get caught up in the onrush of allegations of wrongdoing and people will forget about him.

Mark McGwire

Under my Bonds/Clemens criteria, McGwire wasn’t a Hall of Famer without the drugs, so he’s not a Hall of Famer. McGwire admitted his steroid use and apologized as a self-serving, “yeah, y’know sorry (sob, sniff)” because he wanted to work as the Cardinals hitting coach.

An apology laden with caveats isn’t an apology. He’s sorry in context and that’s not good enough.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No.

Juan Gonzalez

Gonzalez won two MVPs and his stats weren’t padded by playing in Rangers Ballpark to the degree that you’d think because the numbers were similar home and road; Gonzalez has a viable resume but will get caught up in the Dale Murphy category and be kept out.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No.

Edgar Martinez

I’ve written repeatedly in response to those who say a pure DH shouldn’t get into the Hall of Fame: it would’ve been more selfish for Martinez to demand to play the field for the sake of appearance so he’d have a better chance at the Hall of Fame.

He was a great hitter without a weakness—there was nowhere to pitch him.

Martinez is a Hall of Famer.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Maybe.

Larry Walker

He batted .381 in Colorado with a .462 on base and 1.172 OPS. That’s going to hurt him badly.

But he was a Gold Glove outfielder who rarely struck out and had good but not great numbers on the road.

He was never implicated in having used PEDs.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? I don’t think so.

Rafael Palmeiro

In my book, arrogance and stupidity are perfectly good reasons to exclude someone.

Palmeiro could’ve kept his mouth shut or not even gone to speak to Congress at all—the players weren’t under any legal requirement to go. He didn’t jab his finger in the faces of the panel, he jabbed it in the faces of you, me and the world.

Then he got caught.

Then he piled sludge on top of the gunk by offering the utterly preposterous excuse that he didn’t know how he failed the test.

This is all after he began his career as a singles hitter…in Wrigley Field!!

Conveniently, he got to Texas and came under the influence of Jose Canseco to become a basher.

Don’t insult my intelligence and expect me to forget it.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No.

Bernie Williams

Combining his stretch of brilliance from 1995-2002 and his post-season excellence, he’s not an automatic in or out; over the long term he might garner increasing support.

He was never accused of PED use and is a well-liked person. Looking at his regular season numbers, he falls short; memorable playoff and World Series moments will help him as will his Gold Gloves (in spite of the numbers saying he wasn’t a good center fielder).

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Possibly.

Larkin and Raines might get enshrined in 2012 by the “we have to have someone” contingent which pretty much proves the silliness of the way players are voted in, but it will only be those two.

Ron Santo is going in via the Veterans Committee and he’s dead; Tim McCarver is deservedly going in via the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting and a large crowd won’t gather to see McCarver as the only one speaking in August. So politics and finances may play a part for this class.

Raines and Larkin had better hope they get in this year because in 2013, Clemens, Bonds, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Craig Biggio are on the ballot.

I’m quite curious about Sosa to the point of supporting him because: A) I’d like to see the color of his skin now after a strange Michael Jackson-like alteration from what he once was; and B) I want to know if he learned English since his own appearance (alongside Palmeiro) in front of Congress.

It’s worth the vote in a non-linear sort of way.

Apart from that, it’s 2012 or wait, wait, wait for Larkin and Raines.

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The Red Sox Come Apart

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How long ago it seems that Eric Ortiz of NESN wrote that ridiculous piece suggesting that the 2011 Red Sox were going to challenge the 1927 Yankees for the title of greatest team in history.

Not only was it was tempting fate at the time, but it’s absurd in retrospect.

Even with that, no one—even the most fervent and obnoxious Yankees fan with a mandate to knock their rivals down a peg—could have suggested that the Red Sox would stage the greatest collapse in the history of baseball and blow a playoff spot; that in rapid succession both their manager and general manager would be gone; and the team would be in utter turmoil during the playoffs and making headlines off the field instead of on.

But it happened.

The Red Sox blew that playoff spot with a humiliating fall that was stark in its creativity; they couldn’t pitch; couldn’t hit; and were fighting amongst themselves.

Manager Terry Francona—he of the two World Series wins and the skipper of the club for eight seasons—left before the team could make the decision not to exercise his contract options.

And the GM, Theo Epstein, has agreed to a 5-year contract to take over the Chicago Cubs.

At the very least, Eric Ortiz’s column was possible.

If what actually happened were presented by anyone as a prediction as to the outcome of the 2011 season for the Red Sox, they’d be treated as a deranged pariah with an intense and delusional loathing of the Red Sox.

But it’s real.

It happened.

The Red Sox have to endure the firestorm of angry fans; circling vultures in the media while finding a new GM and a new manager; they have to clear out the clubhouse of those that were divisive, destructive, disinterested in team harmony and simply cannot play anymore.

The Red Sox became a mirror image of what they was supposed to be.

The dysfunction was horrific. The backbiting and self-preservation began during the collapse and multiplied when the season ended; it’s gotten worse as Francona’s reputation is being besmirched publicly by those who chose to take the lowest of the low road by accusing him of overusing pain medication and that his divorce influenced what was seen to be an absence of focus that permeated the club.

This is nothing new. When a manager leaves of his own accord or there’s a mutual and “friendly” split, the underlying acrimony bubbles to the surface as the participants seek to have their own version of events as the prevailing history whether it’s true or not.

Joe Torre had to endure the vindictive and petty savagery of Michael Kay as the unsaid mouthpiece of the Yankees organization.

Dusty Baker had his financial laundry aired by the Giants after the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement after a season in which the Giants won their first pennant in 13 years.

Lou Piniella, Tony LaRussa, Jim Leyland—all had breakups that were supposed to be clean but wound up as referendums on them as human beings and not as baseball men.

The off-field Francona stories are his business and no one else’s; for some angry person to be relating them as fact to the media is, at best, inappropriate; at worst, it’s despicable.

With Epstein, before judging him for leaving, put yourself in his position.

He’s 37-years-old; is working in his hometown for the team he rooted for as a kid and brought them something they hadn’t achieved—a World Series win—since 1918.

This was his life. And that was the problem.

It must’ve been claustrophobic to have his dream job and be entrenched and expected to remain there forever (and ever…and ever…and ever) like some tortured ghost at the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Neither he nor Francona appeared to be having fun anymore. When there’s no joy in winning and criticism, second guessing plus misery in losing, what’s the point of staying?

In the intervening years since the last Red Sox championship in 2007, the returns on Epstein’s work had become narrower and narrower. No longer was it good enough to make the playoffs; no longer was an ALCS appearance considered a successful season. Now, he had to: A) beat the Yankees; B) make the playoffs; C) win the World Series; D) acquire players to make the team the favorites to win the World Series next year.

For both Francona and Epstein, it had become a case of diminishing returns. They’re not blameless here; it’s entirely fair for ownership to look at the manager/GM and say perhaps it’s time for some new voices and fresh eyes to make the necessary alterations to try and fix this mess. There’s a lot to clean up. But the ancillary issues were factors not only in the departures of both men, but in the team fracturing in the first place.

It was circular. They won; they were expected to win again; they didn’t have the luxury of acceptable and necessary valleys to reach the peaks; they spent more and more on players who were available and might not have been perfect fits for the clubhouse or the town; they didn’t mesh; panic set in during times of trouble; and their world came apart under adversity.

As much as the Yankees are despised in Boston; as George Steinbrenner was reviled for his win at all costs attitude, the Red Sox have morphed into that which they hated most.

To maintain control, there have to be changes—painful changes that aren’t easy to explain through stats, spin-doctoring or self-indulgent justifications. Epstein was there for 9 years; Francona for 8. Most of the same players have been in the clubhouse for chunks of that time.

Bill James can formulate all the numbers he wants as a credit-taking exercise or self-absolving “reason” why they did one thing and didn’t do another, but that’s not going to placate the masses who want to know why.

Why did this team collapse?

Why is Francona gone and now treated as if he was lucky to have been employed in the first place?

Why did Epstein jump ship rather than repair it?

Maybe it was time for fresh blood, but it didn’t have to be drained so brutally from the prior regime at feeding hour.

Nearly a decade is too long for any group to stay together in a boss-employee relationship and repeat success. They became complacent, lazy and entitled. In order to freshen up the circumstances, drastic maneuvers have to be made. Either the core of the players has to be adjusted or the people running the show do. Static is untenable; it fails time and time again and is something the Red Sox missed when they continually brought back Jason Varitek when he could no longer play; when his reputation as the “leader” with that “C” on his jersey trumped what was one of the smart, ruthless baseball decisions they made when they traded Nomar Garciaparra and let Pedro Martinez leave. Why was Tim Wakefield still on the roster? How much clubhouse lawyering were they going to take from Kevin Youkilis?

They needed to tell some of these players to move on, but didn’t.

Is it any surprise that individuals were behaving as if they could do whatever they wanted to do in the clubhouse and in the dugout?

What were the consequences?

Francona, a players manager, couldn’t start disciplining the veterans out of the blue; nor could he rely on the likes of Varitek to police the clubhouse any longer.

It wasn’t working.

The payrolls increased; the need for star players at every position led to the trade for Adrian Gonzalez and signing of Carl Crawford; they spent on a player from Texas who’d spent his career in California and wasn’t ready for the Boston fishbowl in John Lackey; the lavish amounts of cash spent to fill the prominent holes in the bullpen created an atmosphere of unfamiliarity and sabotaged the team dynamic so they didn’t like each other, didn’t care about one another and behaved as if their statistics would carry them through.

Even the 2007 team, which had mercenaries of its own in J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo; self-interested loudmouths like Curt Schilling; bullies like Josh Beckett had others who kept the peace. A still relevant Varitek, David Ortiz and Mike Lowell didn’t take any nonsense from the diverse egos. The clubhouse still housed people who would go through a wall to win a game and protect their teammates; they wore the BOS-TON emblazoned across the front of their road jerseys with a pride that made them part of the fabric of the city and not just a player who worked there because they offered him the most money.

Where was the galvanizing force with the 2011 Red Sox?

There wasn’t one.

It was glossed over while the team was playing brilliantly throughout the summer and had they been able to win 2 more games at some point, none of this might have happened.

But it did.

Factional disputes and rampant disinterest grew more prevalent as things went poorly and Francona, despite his best efforts, couldn’t pull it together. On and off-field camaraderie with this Red Sox club wasn’t there. Independent of personalities, the team—on paper—should’ve been nearly as good as Eric Ortiz suggested. In practice, it was an arrogant and unlikable crew who thought they could throw their gloves on the field and saunter into the playoffs as a matter of divine right.

For all their reliance on numbers, the Red Sox had been a team of cohesion with a series of people that fit together. They succeeded on paper and in practice. If this season were played on a computer, these Red Sox were a sure bet for the World Series.

But it’s not played on a computer.

Good teams who have the group interests in mind close ranks when challenged. This club folded completely and started looking for people to blame so they wouldn’t have to take responsibility themselves.

Francona left before he could be dumped.

Rather than deal with a fallout that’s going to be worse before it gets better and be the man responsible for the decisions that will have to be made, Epstein took off for the exit as well.

There’s a big mess to clean up for whomever takes over as GM; for the manager who has to walk into that clubhouse and end the madness that was a large part of their undoing in 2011.

It was supposed to be a memorable year for the Red Sox.

And it was.

But it’s not memorable for a parade celebrating a championship.

It’s memorable because the tandem that led them to those glories left within two weeks of one another.

There’s a lot to repair. Odds are it’s going to get much, much worse before it gets better.

The wheels have come off. And there’s no going back now.

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