Friday, January 9, 2009

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Rickey!

When the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame announces their Class of 2009 on Monday, Rickey Henderson will become the 39th player to be inducted in his first year of eligibility. The only question that remains is whether or not the game's all-time stolen base and runs scored leader will break Tom Seaver's record, set when the pitcher appeared on 98.84 percent of his first-year ballots (425 of 430) in 1992. Considering Cal Ripken, Jr. only appeared on 537 of 545 ballots last year, in his first year of eligibility, I wouldn't count on it - I would also consider telling a certain eight people from last year that they are no longer receiving voting privileges. Players like Ripken and Henderson come around once in a lifetime, and if they're not elected unanimously, we seriously have to question voter motivations.

To put Rickey Henderson's electrifying career in perspective, there is only one active baseball player within 1000 of his record 1406 steals - Juan Pierre, who is 977 swipes away with 429. Johnny Damon is next with 362. And, as Dennis Eckersley recounts in this story, Henderson was one hell of a presence, too! But what about the guys on the ballot who aren't as obvious? Keeping in mind that, according to the Baseball Writer's Association of America, "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played," here's my take on the guys who are on this year's bubble, in the order that I feel they deserve consideration...

TIM RAINES is fifth on the all-time stolen base list with 808. Only five players have stolen more than 800 bases, the other four being Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb (all HOFers). Let's compare Raines' to Brock, who was a first-ballot inductee in 1985:

LB: 938 SB, .293 AVG, 149 HR, 1610 R, 900 RBI, .343 OBP, 307 CS
TR: 808 SB, .294 AVG, 170 HR, 1571 R, 980 RBI, .385 OBP, 146 CS

Apart from Rickey Henderson, what more could you want in a lead-off hitter? The argument will be made that Raines wasn't as dominant as Henderson, since they both played the game at the same time, but where does "dominance" come into the voting criteria? In 1460 fewer at bats, Raines has essentially the same metrics as Brock, with a stolen base percentage that is ten percent higher. He scored 80 or more runs in a season ten times in his career, and was elected to the All Star team seven years in a row, from 1981-87.

ANDRE DAWSON is in some pretty elite company - Only two players in the history of the game have more home runs AND stolen bases: Barry Bonds and Willie Mays. He's a member of the 400 HR club with 438, swiped 314 bases, and has a lifetime average of .279. He won the MVP award in 1987, was awarded nine consecutive Golden Gloves from 1980-88, and made eight All Star appearances. He was one of the most rounded hitters to play the game, and was just as good in the field. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? Yes.

BURT BLYLEVEN raises an interesting point for Hall of Fame voters: Should you penalize a player for the team he was on? Blyleven's win totals aren't overwhelming (he's 26th all-time with 287), but his strikeout numbers are filthy, placing him fifth all-time with 3701, behind only Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton. His peripherals are similarly superb, sporting a lifetime 3.31 ERA and 1.198 WHIP. The question that begs asking is, with numbers that good, why are his wins so low? Run support. Blyleven had at least 15 wins in 10 of his 22 Major League seasons. Not great, I know. Then consider that he had double-digit losses in nine of the seasons in which he didn't win 15 games. Put this guy on a contender, rather than the Minnesota, Texas, Pittsburgh and Cleveland squads that struggled to convert his 3.31 lifetime ERA (and 242 complete games) into wins, and he'd have been a lock for the Hall years ago. Don't agree? Add 20 more wins to his lifetime totals, and he'd have more than Tom Seaver and Gaylord Perry. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? Yes.

JIM RICE played all 16 of his MLB seasons with the Boston Red Sox, and in the 11 seasons where he had at least 500 AB never hit fewer than 85 RBI. He hit at least 100 RBI eight times in his career, was elected to the All Star team eight times, won the MVP award in '78 and finished in the Top 5 in MVP voting six times. In terms of all around hitting talent, only 14 players have more career home runs and a higher batting average. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? Yes.

DALE MURPHY doesn't have the same numbers as Andre Dawson, but he was the same type of player on both sides of the ball. That said, if Rice gets in, Murphy belongs in with comparable numbers. He may not have been the all-around hitter Rice was, and his lifetime .265 average is no doubt his biggest hurdle, but Rice never won a Gold Glove award. Murphy won five Gold Gloves in a row, and was also a starter in the All Star game each of those years, 1982-86. He was named league MVP twice, and was named to a total of seven All Star games in eight years. What Murphy lacked in average, he made up for with his leather. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? Yes.

LEE SMITH ranks third on the all-time Saves list with 478 (with no active pitcher within reach), and fifth all-time in strikeouts by a closer with 1251 (though it's worth noting that the four relievers with more strikeouts - Dennis Eckersly, Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhem and Rollie Fingers - all saw time as starters in their career, helping boost their totals). Smith may not have the charisma of Gossage or the career as a starter like Eckersly, but he was a dominant force and integral in redefining the role (and status) of closers in baseball. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? Yes.

MARK McGWIRE will forever be linked to steroids, which speaks directly to the character criteria when weighing votes. Fine, point taken. Babe Ruth was a womanizer and hard drinker, Gaylord Perry's main pitch was a spitball (cheater), and there is no shortage of claims that Ty Cobb was a racist. Ah, those were different days, one might argue. Okay, well so were the '90s. Baseball was slumping, and the historic 1998 home run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa revived the game on a worldwide level. Few can deny that baseball turned a blind eye to the problem of performance enhancing drugs, which in turn only encouraged the practice. We'll never know how many players that make the Hall actually did steroids, but we'd be burying our heads in the sand if we don't think there will at least be a few. Is it fair to make McGwire an example? His 583 career long balls place him eighth on the all-time list, he was the game's premier slugger for a decade, and he appeared in 12 All Star games in his 16 season career. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? Yes.

JACK MORRIS spent 18 years in the Majors. In his first 16 seasons as a full-time starter, he failed to reach the 15-win plateau only twice (and one of those times was 14 wins in 1981). He has four World Series rings with three different teams, was named to the All Star team five times, and finished in the Top 5 in Cy Young Award votes five times. He was clearly a great pitcher, and one of the most consistent of his era, but his peripheral 3.90 career ERA (he's got the highest ERA ever by a pitcher with at least 250 wins) and 2478 strikeouts aren't enough to truly merit elite status.

ALAN TRAMMELL had a Hall of Fame stretch from 1983-88, winning two Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger awards, earning Top 10 MVP votes and finishing in the Top 5 in batting average three times each, being named World Series MVP, and getting voted to four All Star squads. But those were only six years in a 20 year career. The reality is, those years made his name a lot bigger than his overall stats. If we let him in, we've got to open the door for guys like Don Mattingly, Dave Parker and Darryl Strawberry - As good as they were, the prolonged careers just weren't there. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? No.

TOMMY JOHN and his elbow should get a Hall of Fame exhibit opened in their honor, but not a plaque. He's got one more win than Burt Blyleven in four more seasons, and 233 fewer strikeouts than Jack Morris had in eight less seasons. He was a good pitcher, but not a great pitcher. SHOULD HE BE INDUCTED? No.

ALSO ON THE BALLOT: Harold Baines, Jay Bell, David Cone, Ron Gant, Mark Grace, Don Mattingly, Jesse Orosco, Dave Parker, Dan Plesac, Darryl Strawberry, Greg Vaughn, Mo Vaughn, Matt Williams.

2008 National Baseball Hall of Fame Vote Totals

Hall of Fame members, ranked by voting percentage
(Absent from the ranking is Goose Gossage, voted in last year.
He received 466 of 543 possible votes, for a total of 85.8 percent)


Adam Bernard said...

If Nolan Ryan and Cal Ripken Jr. weren't unanimous, nobody will be. (As a Mets fan even I'm curious as to how Tom Seaver holds the honor of the highest percentage of votes ever. I mean he was great, but... really?)

I disagree on McGwire, who I don't think should be in, and Jack Morris, who has, bar none, the greatest World Series game ever pitched (TEN innings of shoutout ball in a 1-0 series clinching win!?!?).

Tim Raines is truly one of the most underrated players of all time. Word is he started sliding head first because he kept a bag of cocaine in his back pocket and didn't want it to rip. Now THAT'S ingenuity!

Paul Gargano said...

I'd say that the best World Series game ever pitched, bar none, has to go to Don Larson, not Jack Morris. How can you get any better than perfect?

Are you saying that the ROCK had a ROCK in his pocket? Brilliant!

I added a link that ranks the Hall of Famers by voting percentage. It's pretty interesting seeing where some of the legends landed...

Adam Bernard said...

Larson had the perfect game, but I still rank Morris' performance slightly higher since it was 0-0 when he went back out to pitch the tenth and it was the seventh game of the World Series. Larson also had a two run cushion to work with, if Morris had thrown just one bad pitch the game would have been over and the Twins would have lost the World Series. Absolutely everything hinged on him being able to pitch yet another inning of shutout ball.

I don't have an issue with either performance being listed as the greatest, though, both were tremendous.