The Hall of Fame Debate Has Grown Tiresome

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Barry Larkin was the only player elected by the writers.

Jack Morris’s percentage has risen to 66.7%.

With two years left on the writers’ ballot, Morris might get enough support to make it in by conventional vote. If not, he’s got a great shot on the Veterans Committee.

The debate will rage on until then.

You can make an argument for Morris (post-season hero; innings-eating winner and one of the dominant pitchers of the 1980s) or against him (high ERA; stat compiler).

Nothing’s going to change the minds of those who are for or against him.

Tim Raines received 48.7%.

Raines is seen as a no-brainer by stat people; others think he became a part-time player from his early 30s through the end of his career and he’s a “floodgate opener” whose election would necessitate the serious consideration of the likes of Johnny Damon and Kenny Lofton which would diminish the specialness of the Hall.

Lee Smith received 50.6% of the vote.

I don’t think anyone with an in-depth knowledge of baseball and from either faction whether it’s stat-based or old school thinks Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame.

No matter how convincing or passionate an argument made for the supported players, the other side is unlikely to put their prejudices, personal feelings, stereotypes or ego aside to acknowledge that they may be wrong; and they’re certainly not going to change their votes.

So what’s the point?

What’s made it worse is the proliferation of the younger analysts who may or may not know much of anything about actual baseball, but think they do based on calculations and mathematical formulas who are so adamant that they’re right, it’s impossible to even debate with them.

Bert Blyleven made it to the Hall of Fame, in part, because of the work by stat people clarifying how he deserved the honor and wasn’t at fault for a mediocre won/lost record because of the teams he played for. Another part of his induction, I’m convinced, is that a large chunk of the voters were tired of hearing about him and from him—Blyleven was an outspoken self-advocate and it worked.

I’m wondering what’s going to happen with a borderline candidate like Curt Schilling. Blyleven had likability on his side; Schilling doesn’t; and it’s going to be hard for Schilling to keep his mouth shut if he doesn’t feel he’s getting his due in the voting process. He’s not going to get in on the first shot.

Short of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Ty Cobb and the other luminaries, you can make a case against any player no matter how great he was; on the same token, you can make a case for a player like Bobby Abreu, who is not a Hall of Famer.

Even Greg Maddux went from being a dominating pitcher from age 22-32 and became a durable compiler with a high ERA who begged out of games after a finite number of pitches and benefited from pitching for a great Braves team to accrue wins.

Of course Maddux is a first ballot, 95+% vote getter when he becomes eligible, but could a motivated person come up with a case against him? How about “he only struck out 200 batters once; he had superior luck with amazingly low BAbip rates; he only won 20 games twice; his Cy Young Awards all came in a row and he never won another; and he pitched for a great team in a friendly pitchers’ park for most of his career.”

It can be done for and against anyone.

Does Tommy John deserve recognition for the surgery that bears his name? I think he does. Others don’t.

Then there are the PED cases like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds—Hall of Famers both—who are going to have trouble getting in because of the writers’ judgments that they “cheated”.

At least they were implicated. Jeff Bagwell never was and he’s on the outside looking in with 56% of the vote this season. (He’s going to get in eventually.)

So which is it?

What makes a Hall of Famer?

Is it being “famous”? (Reggie Jackson)

Is it a long and notable career? (Don Sutton)

Is it the big moment? (Bill Mazeroski)

Is it being great at a particular part of the game? (Ozzie Smith)

Is it numbers? (Hank Aaron)

Is it propaganda? (Blyleven, Phil Rizzuto)

Is it the perception of cleanliness? (Al Kaline)

Is it on-field performance? (Carlton)

Is it overall comportment? (Stan Musial)

Is it domination over a time period? (Sandy Koufax)

There’s no specific criteria, so there’s no single thing to put someone in or keep them out.

But the back-and-forth has become vitriolic and dismissive with eye-rolling and condescension. If you even dare to suggest that Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer, your case is automatically ignored regardless of how organized and intelligent it is.

That’s not debating. That’s waiting to talk.

Simply because you disagree with someone doesn’t make the other side “wrong” especially in a judgment call like the Hall of Fame.

But there’s not much hope because few—especially in sports—are willing to listen to the other side, let alone allow themselves to be persuaded.

This is where we are and there’s no use in fighting it.

So why try?

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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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The Difference Between Ron Santo and Jim Rice is…?

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Ron Santo‘s and Jim Rice‘s numbers are almost identical, so are the stat people who loathe Rice going crazy with their objective analysis over Santo’s Hall of Fame induction as they did when Rice was on the cusp, excluded and eventually voted in?

Or are they feeling sympathy for Santo’s illnesses, health problems and death and justifying Rice’s longtime battle to garner support because he was a jerk to reporters and finding statistical reasons to keep him out?

Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape:

Rice:

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB Awards
60 223 223 57 9 5 5 .256 .256 .408 .664 91 WPT · NYPL
130 563 491 80 143 20 13 17 87 58 108 .291 .373 .489 .861 240 WHV · FLOR
129 463 460 7 148 27 4 31 10 3 7 .322 .326 .600 .926 276 BRI,PAW · EL,IL
117 470 430 69 145 21 4 25 93 38 84 .337 .391 .579 .971 249 PAW · IL
24 75 67 6 18 2 1 1 13 4 12 .269 .307 .373 .680 89 25
144 613 564 92 174 29 4 22 102 36 122 .309 .350 .491 .841 127 277 MVP-3,RoY-2
153 624 581 75 164 25 8 25 85 28 123 .282 .315 .482 .797 120 280
160 710 644 104 206 29 15 39 114 53 120 .320 .376 .593 .969 147 382 AS,MVP-4
163 746 677 121 213 25 15 46 139 58 126 .315 .370 .600 .970 157 406 AS,MVP-1
158 688 619 117 201 39 6 39 130 57 97 .325 .381 .596 .977 154 369 AS,MVP-5
124 542 504 81 148 22 6 24 86 30 87 .294 .336 .504 .840 122 254 AS
108 495 451 51 128 18 1 17 62 34 76 .284 .333 .441 .775 116 199
145 638 573 86 177 24 5 24 97 55 98 .309 .375 .494 .868 130 283 MVP-19
155 689 626 90 191 34 1 39 126 52 102 .305 .361 .550 .911 141 344 AS,MVP-4,SS
159 708 657 98 184 25 7 28 122 44 102 .280 .323 .467 .791 112 307 AS,MVP-13,SS
140 608 546 85 159 20 3 27 103 51 75 .291 .349 .487 .836 123 266 AS
157 693 618 98 200 39 2 20 110 62 78 .324 .384 .490 .874 136 303 AS,MVP-3
108 459 404 66 112 14 0 13 62 45 77 .277 .357 .408 .766 101 165
135 542 485 57 128 18 3 15 72 48 89 .264 .330 .406 .736 102 197
56 228 209 22 49 10 2 3 28 13 39 .234 .276 .344 .621 70 72
2089 9058 8225 1249 2452 373 79 382 1451 670 1423 .298 .352 .502 .854 128 4129
162 702 638 97 190 29 6 30 113 52 110 .298 .352 .502 .854 128 320
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2011.

Santo:

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB Awards
136 573 505 82 165 35 3 11 87 56 54 .327 .390 .473 .863 239 SAN · TL
71 305 272 40 73 16 1 7 32 33 21 .268 .348 .412 .759 112 HSN · AA
95 382 347 44 87 24 2 9 44 31 44 .251 .311 .409 .720 96 142 RoY-4
154 655 578 84 164 32 6 23 83 73 77 .284 .362 .479 .842 121 277
162 679 604 44 137 20 4 17 83 65 94 .227 .302 .358 .659 74 216
162 687 630 79 187 29 6 25 99 42 92 .297 .339 .481 .820 128 303 AS,MVP-8
161 686 592 94 185 33 13 30 114 86 96 .313 .398 .564 .962 164 334 AS,MVP-8,GG
164 704 608 88 173 30 4 33 101 88 109 .285 .378 .510 .888 146 310 AS,MVP-18,GG
155 672 561 93 175 21 8 30 94 95 78 .312 .412 .538 .950 161 302 AS,MVP-12,GG
161 697 586 107 176 23 4 31 98 96 103 .300 .395 .512 .906 153 300 MVP-4,GG
162 682 577 86 142 17 3 26 98 96 106 .246 .354 .421 .775 126 243 AS,MVP-24,GG
160 687 575 97 166 18 4 29 123 96 97 .289 .384 .485 .869 131 279 AS,MVP-5
154 655 555 83 148 30 4 26 114 92 108 .267 .369 .476 .844 115 264
154 642 555 77 148 22 1 21 88 79 95 .267 .354 .423 .778 109 235 AS
133 547 464 68 140 25 5 17 74 69 75 .302 .391 .487 .878 139 226 AS
149 604 536 65 143 29 2 20 77 63 97 .267 .348 .440 .788 112 236 AS
117 417 375 29 83 12 1 5 41 37 72 .221 .293 .299 .591 69 112
2243 9396 8143 1138 2254 365 67 342 1331 1108 1343 .277 .362 .464 .826 125 3779
162 679 588 82 163 26 5 25 96 80 97 .277 .362 .464 .826 125 273
2126 8979 7768 1109 2171 353 66 337 1290 1071 1271 .279 .366 .472 .838 127 3667
117 417 375 29 83 12 1 5 41 37 72 .221 .293 .299 .591 69 112
2126 8979 7768 1109 2171 353 66 337 1290 1071 1271 .279 .366 .472 .838 127 3667
117 417 375 29 83 12 1 5 41 37 72 .221 .293 .299 .591 69 112
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2011.

Home and road splits? (One of the proffered reasons to exclude Rice.):

Rice:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB IBB BAbip tOPS+
Home 1048 1036 4507 4075 681 1304 207 44 208 802 348 691 .320 .374 .546 .920 2223 50 .340 115
Away 1041 1023 4551 4150 568 1148 166 35 174 649 322 732 .277 .330 .459 .789 1906 27 .296 85
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2011.

Santo:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip tOPS+
Home 1136 1127 4724 4075 659 1208 194 39 216 743 577 646 .296 .383 .522 .905 2128 .305 118
Away 1107 1083 4673 4069 479 1046 171 28 126 588 531 697 .257 .342 .406 .747 1651 .279 82
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2011.

If you’d like to start referencing defense, Rice was dealing with the Green Monster for which nuance and understanding quirks are more important than standard metrics; Santo was a Gold Glove winning third baseman whose defensive metrics were okay, but not close to Brooks Robinson, Graig Nettles or even Adrian Beltre.

Both men saw their careers end early, Rice at age 36 after 16 seasons; Santo at age 34 after 15 seasons. Both of their careers ended abruptly without a massive decline. They were good, then they weren’t; then they were done.

Santo made it in via the Veterans Committee so the writers who sought to keep him out on their ballots did so, but he’s in now and he’s in with Rice who made it through the conventional vote.

But if Rice—with six top 5 MVP finishes—was so fervently excluded based on supposed numbers, why wasn’t Santo? Where’s the anger?

Where’s the objectivity?

Does it really exist?

Both men should be in the Hall of Fame because both men belong in the Hall of Fame.

Those who seek to keep either/or out have to show consistency and not pay attention to such irrelevant issues as illness or perception because they shouldn’t matter one way or the other.

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