Santo vs Rice and the Hall of Fame in Full Context

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This is a reply to the numerous comments on my prior posting about Jim Rice and Ron Santo.

Brooks Robinson, if he had the same defensive history as Santo, would not be in the Hall of Fame.

Ozzie Smith, without his glove, would not be in the Hall of Fame.

There is a place in the Hall of Fame for those who are the best at their position defensively and aren’t mediocre offensively. Smith became a good hitter; Robinson was a useful power hitter. Had Keith Hernandez hung on for a few more years and put up reasonable offensive stats, he would’ve been a Hall of Famer. Bill Mazeroski made it because he was brilliant defensively and had the “big moment” with his World Series winning homer.

The mistake you’re making is comparing transformative defensive figures with players who aren’t in based on their defense alone—they’re in based on other aspects of their games.

There’s not a bottom line rule for a player making or not making the Hall of Fame.

When you reference the “top 10” third basemen assertion for Santo, it’s not unimportant, but to say that’s why he should be in the Hall of Fame and Rice shouldn’t be because he’s not among the “top 25” left fielders it’s ignoring how hard it is to find a good third baseman. Third base is the most underrepresented position in the entire Hall of Fame, for whatever reason.

Santo’s defensive metrics are good (career Rtot—Total Zone Total Runs Above Fielding Average of +27), but not on a level with Robinson (a ridiculous +293); Graig Nettles (+134); Mike Schmidt (+129); or Adrian Beltre (+114). If you’d like some of Santo’s contemporaries, look at Ken Boyer (+70); Clete Boyer (+162); and Eddie Mathews (+40).

Then there are the players from latter eras who, based on Santo’s election, could say “what about me then?”

Ron Cey was putting up similar if not better offensive numbers while playing his home games at Dodger Stadium and was +21 at third base; Tim Wallach was a +61 for his career.

When you mention the number of left fielders to whom Rice is compared, there are greater—historic—ones to say Rice wasn’t on their level, but this is unfair.

If you look at Rice next to Barry Bonds or Rickey Henderson, he has no chance. Bonds could be called one of the best players ever and probably the best defensive left fielder we’ll ever see. Henderson was terrific out there too.

But Bonds and Henderson are first ballot Hall of Famers; Bonds probably won’t get in on the first ballot because of the off-field controversies, writer hatred and PED allegations.

Rice had to wait 15 years to gain election.

There’s a difference between the “just passing” player and the “oh, he’s in” player.

If you’d like to say that it’s the “Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Very Good”, then you’ll have to start kicking players out and make the criteria and process more stringent—you can do that—but under the current circumstances, Rice and Santo both belong in the Hall for different reasons with offensive stats that are nearly identical.

If Rice were actively seeking Hall of Fame induction, what was to stop him from looking forward to that end and asking to be shifted to third base and becoming an adequate or slightly below adequate third baseman—would that alter the discussion because of the position he played?

The position is irrelevant unless the player is the aforementioned transformative defensive figure who changed the way the position was played. Rice was dealing with a quirky wall and short field; Santo was a good, but not great, defensive player.

It’s a wash in one hand; an apples and oranges debate in the other.

I look at a player who played his position without concern as to his future Hall of Fame chances as an act in unselfishness. Knowing the writers’ feelings about voting DHs into the Hall based on them only being a DH, what was to stop Edgar Martinez or Frank Thomas—qualified candidates both—from demanding to play the field so they look like they’re playing the full game and aren’t a placekicker-style specialist?

They could’ve done that and gotten away with it.

So it’s better to have a player who’s thinking of his own status and hurting the team by playing the field when there are better defenders and he’s incapable of doing it serviceably? Or is it a team-centric decision to be the DH, know his limitations and do his job?

You can absolutely make the case that there are a great many players who should not be in the Hall of Fame for whatever reason; you can say “if this guy, why not that guy?”; or you can exclude anyone who isn’t an automatic mental click to the yes; but to say that because Santo was a pretty good third baseman defensively, is comparable to his contemporaries and was a good guy, he should be in; and that Rice was awful defensively (he wasn’t), wasn’t among the top left fielders in history, or was a jerk to reporters, is not a convincing argument.

I’m for a reasonably inclusive Hall of Fame with plenty of wiggle room for many reasons; you may not be. But to say, “oh he’s out because of <BLANK>” and digging for a reason is shifting the goal posts to suit yourselves. You can’t have it all ways when one blocking attempt fails. It’s either all-in or all-out.

Both should be in with the way the Hall is currently structured. And now, both of them are. Rightfully.

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Donnieball

Books, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Podcasts

There is not one player on the entire Los Angeles Dodgers roster that can make a claim to having been better than an in-his-prime Don Mattingly.

Not one.

Even those who have superstar potential like Matt Kemp can only hope to be mentioned in the same breath with Mattingly.

That’s how great he was; how dangerous he was. In fact, you can make the Koufax/Puckett argument for Mattingly’s Hall of Fame candidacy. Both Sandy Koufax and Kirby Puckett had their careers derailed by injuries. Koufax’s arthritic elbow forced him from the game at the height of his powers at age 30; Puckett had glaucoma and was done at 35.

They’re in the Hall of Fame because of Koufax’s dominance over a 5-year period and Puckett’s combination of greatness and what he “would” have achieved had he played another 3-5 years.

Because Mattingly was sabotaged by back problems, his production took a dive from its tremendous heights; but from 1984-1989 there was not a better player at the plate or in the field than Mattingly.

Trapped as an innocent bystander in the Steinbrennerean purgatory of the Yankees in the 1980s, he never got the chance to show his wares on the big stage.

As the Yankees turmoil mounted and the revolving door of teammates and managers spun and spun and spun, Mattingly was at the center of the clubhouse—the hapless victim of circumstance—as things came apart.

It was only when he was a mere shell of his former self; when those back injuries limited him to being good as opposed to great and robbed him of his power and George Steinbrenner was suspended that the foundation of the late-90s championship teams was able to break ground under Gene Michael and Buck Showalter.

In a cruel irony, Mattingly retired the year before the Yankees 1996 championship.

Passed over for the manager’s job following Joe Torre’s ouster, he left and joined Torre with the Dodgers. It can be said—reasonably—that Joe Girardi was the wiser and safer choice because of his experience; but it can’t be discounted that had GM Brian Cashman chosen Mattingly as his manager, he would never have been able to fire him.

Ever.

No GM wants a manager he can’t fire.

Now that he’s the manager of the Dodgers, we’ll see whether the lack of experience will be mitigated by his status as a megastar player who’s seen it all; done it all; experienced it all. Mattingly can look at the swirling drama of the McCourts’ divorce, shrug and say, “You wanna know about nuts? I’ll tell you about nuts.”

How does this translate to managerial success?

Easily.

For every player who’s willing to play as hard as possible and respect his manager and coaching staff, there are those who try to exert their perceived authority and use a large contract and big numbers to bully their “bosses”. We saw it with Hanley Ramirez and Fredi Gonzalez last year.

After years of tolerating and dancing around Ramirez’s diva-like behaviors due to the player’s skills and close relationship with owner Jeffrey Loria, Gonzalez punished Ramirez for an egregious lack of hustle and engaged in a public spitting contest with his star player. In the short-term, Gonzalez was supported by the players, contemporaries and public opinion; eventually he was fired in no small part because of Ramirez. He landed on his feet with the Braves with his self-respect intact.

The attitude of certain star players was exemplified in Ramirez essentially saying, “Who’s he to say anything to me? He never played in the big leagues.”

Well, Mattingly not only played in the big leagues, but he was the MVP in 1985 and, as said earlier, was better than anyone on the Dodgers roster. In what would be an unsaid retort, Mattingly could put forth the aura of, “I was better than each and every one of you, so don’t come at me with that ‘who are you?’ horse(bleep).”

He wouldn’t say it because it’s not in his personality; but it helps that he wouldn’t have to say it.

If you saw Kemp’s hustle on Friday night in which he went from first to third on a hit-and-run ground out, it’s a good sign for the Dodgers that they’re playing hard and smart—the enigmatic and hard-headed Kemp in particular.

What people fail to understand when selecting a manager is that strategy is sometimes a small part of him doing his job; it’s not just about “I’m the manager, do what you’re told.”

As was shown with Ramirez, a star doesn’t have to exert much effort (literally and figuratively) to get the manager fired.

Controlling the players and the clubhouse can be far more important than the negligible lineup choices, pitching changes and whom to pinch hit—many of the results of said maneuvers are based on luck.

Mattingly knows what it’s like to be a superstar player and doesn’t have the peacock ego and rampant insecurity to make sure everyone knows he’s in charge by repeatedly saying it; he’ll be able to defer to pitching coach Rick Honeycutt on what to do with the arms; to ask coaches Trey Hillman, Davey Lopes and Tim Wallach (whom he beat out for the job) what they think without being threatened.

He’ll make his mistakes, but the players not wanting to let Donnie down will overcome them.

And he’s accustomed to lunacy.

That’s why he’s going to make it as a manager.

My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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