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Friday, December 06, 2002

The Baseball Hall of Fame 2003 Ballot is out. And since I have nothing better to do at the moment, here’s my take on the relative merits of people on the ballot.

We’re just going to start by eliminating the players who it should be obvious to everyone aren’t remotely qualified for Cooperstown. The list is:
Vince Coleman, Darren Daulton, Mark W. Davis, Sid Fernandez, Rick Honeycutt, Danny Jackson, Tony Pena, Danny Tartabull, Mickey Tettleton, Mitch Williams, Todd Worrell

And then we’ll divide this task into two parts. The hitters are below. The pitchers will be discussed later.

The Hitters:

Brett Butler (1st Year On Ballot) – Sort of a poor man’s Tim Raines (many SB, not much power, good BA and OBP, good fielder) except of course that he’s white. Had a solid career, but he belongs in the Hall of the Very Good, not the Hall of Fame. Of the ten most similar batters, only three (Richie Ashburn, Harry Hooper, and Lloyd Waner) are in the Hall, none of the other seven are ever going to be inducted, and of the three who are in, only Ashburn really belongs there. (The other interesting thing about his comps list – only Willie Wilson is a contemporary of his.) And no Raines; I was kinda surprised. I don’t vote for Butler.

Gary Carter (6th Year On Ballot) - His stats look like nothing special now, but he was a catcher whose career prime was in the late 70s and early 80s, when the standards, both for catchers and everyone else, were different. He did put up 2092 hits and 324 homers despite spending his entire career in the NL in poor hitters’ parks. He was an 11-time All-Star, won 3 Gold Gloves and was a mainstay of the HR and RBI leader boards. His “most similar” lists actually runs out of catchers to compare him to, a very good sign for a catcher, and includes four solid Hall of Famers (Bench, Fisk, Berra, Gabby Hartnett) and three other strong candidates - Ted Simmons, Joe Torre (even before any consideration of his managerial career), and Ron Santo. While I think it’s fair to say that Fisk deserved to get in before Carter, now that Fisk’s in, Carter belongs in too. I vote for Carter.

Dave Concepion (10th Year On Ballot) – Despite 9 All-Star appearances and 5 Gold Gloves, I don’t see it. He had a good defensive reputation, but not like Ozzie Smith’s or anything. He’s mostly well-known these days due to being on the Big Red Machine teams of the 70s. As a hitter, some of his best comps are in Cooperstown (Pee Wee Reese, Luis Aparicio, Bobby Wallace) but most of them (Tony Fernandez, Bert Campaneris, Garry Templeton, Frank White, Alan Trammell) are rough contemporaries, none of whom, other than Oz, are ever going to the Hall – unless Alan Trammell (who was a far more valuable hitter) surprises me. And yet Bill James’ HOF monitor has him as “likely,” due in no small part to the Big Red Machine’s run. I don’t vote for Concepcion.

Andre Dawson – I’ve gone back and forth on this one a few times. I’m in the “no” camp, but the “yes” argument isn’t frivolous. For the moment, he’s the man, other than shoo-in Eddie Murray, with the most RBI among eligible players not in the Hall. And he’s four homers short of the same distinction in that category. He’s got an (albeit undeserved) MVP award, a homer crown, and an RBI crown. Of his ten most comprable hitters list, five (Billy Williams, Tony Perez, Al Kaline, Ernie Banks, Dave Winfield) are in the Hall, and none of the other five (Dave Parker, Dwight Evans, Harold Baines, Rafael Palmeiro, Vada Pinson) would be awful choices to join them. He had power, he had speed, even hit for a decent average. So why am I down on him? Well, look at that list for a minute. Williams, Kaline, and Banks are from a different, less hitter-friendly era, and Banks spent half his career at shortstop. Winfield had better numbers, and Perez is a pretty marginal (not a huge embarrassment, just a questionable call) Hall of Famer. Of the five non-Hall guys, well, Dewey’s not getting in, Pinson is a longshot for the Veterans’ Committee, and Palmeiro’s still building a case. The big key for me is Dave Parker. (Harold Baines as a career DH is a different case.) If you let in Dawson, you can’t logically keep Parker out.
The tiebreaker for me is that I don’t see Dave Parker getting in. I don’t vote for Dawson.

Steve Garvey (11th Year On Ballot) - You know how every fan has their pet cause celebre for the Hall of Fame? Well, Garvey is my Bizarro Cause Celebre. A first baseman with a career .329 OBP? Even in Chavez Ravine in the 70s, unless you’re hitting 30 dingers a year, which Garvey only did once, nobody should get too excited about any first baseman with a .329 OBP. You realize those error numbers are low and fielding percentages so high because he had no range, right? Mediocrity defined. In a world where Dwight Evans and Lou Whitaker get dropped from their first ballot, Garvey should not still be here. I don’t vote for Garvey.

Keith Hernandez (8th Year On Ballot) – A legitimately excellent defensive first baseman, but defense won’t get you there at 1B. There’s just not enough offense here to get excited about – very little power for a first-sacker, despite the decent averages and good plate discipline. Few ever thought of him as among the best player in baseball, or even the best NL first basemen. Of the ten hitters considered most similar, none of the eight that are eligible are in the Hall (and Ken Griffey Sr. is the closest thing to a true candidate of the lot) and neither of the two active players (Mark Grace, Wally Joyner) are going to get much support when they hang up the spikes. I don’t vote for Hernandez.

Don Mattingly (3rd Year On Ballot) – Mattingly’s cachet as a Yankee is the biggest reason he’s discussed as a viable candidate. In many ways similar to Hernandez (high average solid defensive first sacker, trading the walks for some power) except that there were a couple of years when he hit well enough to be considered among the best in the game. But, due to injuries, he declined precipitously after age 28 and reputed sluggers whose career totals for HR, RBI , and SLG are 222, 1099, .471 respectively belongs in the Hall of the Very Good, not the Hall of Fame. His ten “most similar” hitters list has only Kirby Puckett (a fast centerfielder with more value than the slow Mattingly) and Jim Bottomley (whose selection was a clear-cut mistake) in the Hall. Of the other eight, there are good reasons to prefer Tony Oliva and Edgar Martinez to Mattingly, and the other six are weak candidates (including Keith Hernandez). I don’t vote for Mattingly.

Dale Murphy (5th Year On Ballot) - He was building a case as solid if not top-tier Hall of Fame choice when his numbers just hit a wall in 1988. He still finished with 398 homers and 1266 RBI but with a ho-hum .265 batting average. For some reason, his most similar hitter by Baseball Reference’s system is Joe Carter, who will become my other Bizzaro Cause Celebre (see the Steve Garvey entry above) when he becomes eligible. Murphy’s a lot better, in my opinion, than Carter, but still, his list of ten has nine people not in the Hall, and some of them (Don Baylor, Bobby Bonilla, Jack Clark) are weak candidates ; Gil Hodges is only viable when you consider his managerial career; and Ron Santo played third base. The lone Hall enshrinee is Duke Snider, who, let’s face it, is from a different era. (The sad thing about Murphy is that his best analog for much of his career was actually Reggie Jackson.) And if I said “no” to Andre Dawson, I have no basis for saying “yes” to Murphy. I don’t vote for Murphy.

Eddie Murray (1st Year On Ballot) – I’m just not going to spend much time on Murray, since it’s obvious he belongs, and his numbers (8th all time in RBI, 8th all time in total bases, 17th all time in HR, 12th all time in hits) speak for themselves. (Except to note that it’s odd that he got to 500 homers without ever hitting more than 33 in a season.) He’s the one sure thing in the entire group. I vote for Murray.

Dave Parker (7th Year On Ballot) – On his side, he’s got two batting titles, an MVP, and a career .290 average (290/339/471) to go with 339 homers and 1493 RBI. His ten best comps are a mixed bag – there’s two Hall inductees (Perez and Billy Williams) and some decent candidates (Jim Rice, Al Oliver), with a couple of serious longshots (Rusty Staub, Chili Davis) thrown in. On the downside, well, he’s now been on the ballot for 7 years and has never come particularly close to induction, and there’s nothing that suggests he’s really been underrated. His numbers are good everywhere, but there’s nothing in his dossier that would put him over the top. (Not to mention that he had a rep as moody, which will hurt him.) If Andre Dawson makes it, which he may well, the case for excluding Parker is pretty weak. I don’t advocate his selection, but it wouldn’t bother me much. I don’t vote for Parker.

Jim Rice (9th Year On Ballot) – He put up similar numbers to Parker (298/352/502, 382 HR, 1451 RBI), which you have to adjust downward for Fenway but upward when you consider Parker took five more seasons to produce his stats than Rice. So, is there any reason other than my Boston bias to recommend Rice over Parker? Unlike Parker, Rice never won a batting title, but won two HR crowns and two RBI titles to go with an MVP. Both played mostly on good teams, although Rice usually had better hitters around him. Both whiffed a fair amount, but Rice was slightly more patient. Rice’s most similar list is topped by Hall inductee Orlando Cepeda, and also includes Duke Snider, Billy Williams and Willie Stargell. The others are Parker, Dale Murphy, Joe Carter, Ellis Burks, and Chili Davis. Carter, Burks, and Davis are in large part products of the juiced-up 90s. I take Rice on peak value, but I admit it’s close and that I’d be willing to reconsider Parker if Rice gets inducted. I vote for Rice.

Ryne Sandberg (1st Year On Ballot) – Something tells me he’s a likely first-ballot inductee, based on his outstanding hitting for a second baseman, his many Gold Gloves and All-Star appearances, his 282 homers and 344 steals. He led the NL in runs three times and in homers once. His hitting was a bit inflated by Wrigley, but there’s little disputing he was the best-hitting second sacker between Joe Morgan and Roberto Alomar. He’s a bit overrated by some – especially Cub fans – but he’s certainly worthy of a Cooperstown plaque. (The most similar hitter to Sandberg is Lou Whitaker, dropped from the ballot with barely a mention.)
I vote for Sandberg.

Alan Trammell (2nd Year On Ballot) – Remember when .250 was a good batting average for a shortstop, and 10 homers from one was a lot? It’s too easy to forget just how valuable a shortstop who could hit like Alan Trammell was (only Cal Ripken could outhit him, and Trammell had better years sometimes) these days. His most similar list, including Jay Bell, Tony Fernandez, and Julio Franco, suggests that he doesn’t belong in the Hall, but I’m not sure the list is entirely fair to him. And even then, Roberto Alomar is a likely inductee, Craig Biggio is a decent Hall candidate, and Barry Larkin will get at least some consideration. And his double play partner Lou Whitaker got jobbed in a big way. I think Trammell’s facing an uphill battle for induction, but I’d support it. In my view, while there’s no shortage of shortstops in the Hall, but I think there’s a room for a third one from the 1980s besides Oz and Cal. I vote for Trammell.

Part Two (The Pitchers) to follow. Stat links courtesy of Baseball Reference. (If I had the dough, I would definitely be a sponsor. Great site; can’t say enough good things about it.)



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