This week’s Hall of Fame election has left us with several unanswered questions, some inconsistencies, and some flat-out perplexing voting patterns. Let’s take a look at some of the peculiarities.
*A total of 28 voters did not deem Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time, worthy of the Hall of Fame. To my knowledge, only one (a writer named Corky Simpson) has explained his no-vote for Henderson, saying that Rickey wasn’t “his kind of player.” Let’s hope that a few other writers are brave enough to tell us why Henderson didn’t merit their votes. If they did it as a protest against Henderson’s occasional malingering, a problem during Rickey’s stays with both the Mets and Yankees, I can somewhat understand the reasoning. But if they did it for some other reason, such as the antiquated belief that no one deserves a unanimous vote, they deserve the public ridicule.
*Of the 28 voters who left Henderson off the ballot, two actually submitted entirely blank ballots. Of the 23 players listed, they deemed absolutely no one worthy of the Hall. No Henderson, no Jim Rice, no Bert Blyleven, no Andre Dawson. Methinks their standards are a bit too high. The Hall of Fame has never been about honoring only the game’s immortals–the Babe Ruths, the Ty Cobbs, the Ted Williams, the Willie Mays. There has always been room for other tiers of players, players who don’t quite reach the godlike quality of Ruth and Mays. I understand the argument about a “small Hall,” but when a superstar like Rickey Henderson doesn’t merit inclusion, the standards for election have become a bit too lofty.
*The voters once again completely missed the boat on Tim “Rock” Raines, who was basically the equal of Tony Gwynn. (If you don’t believe me, consider that Raines reached base as much as Gwynn did during his unquestioned Hall of Fame career.) Not only did Raines finish well down on the ballot, his level of support actually dropped to 22 per cent. That’s shameful support for the National League’s best leadoff man of the eighties, a legitimate four-tool player who did everything well but throw.
*Mark McGwire’s voting support fell off by four per cent, dropping from 25 per cent, the level it had been during his first two years on the ballot, to 21 per cent. Why the falloff? Some writers have theorized that a few voters took their votes away from Big Mac and gave them to Rice, who happened to enjoy a four per cent increase. Without seeing individual ballots, the theory will be hard to prove, but it’s an interesting theory nonetheless.
*Two voters decided that Jay Bell–yes, that Jay Bell!–was somehow deserving of the Hall of Fame. I’d be curious as to whether those same voters put Alan Trammell’s name on their ballots. If Jay Bell merits the Hall of Fame, then Cooperstown will need to open its doors to Dave Concepcion, Bert “Campy” Campaneris, Leo “Chico” Cardenas, Mark Belanger, Eddie Brinkman, Shawon Dunston, Greg Gagne, and a few other shortstops of yesteryear. Jay Bell? He must have been a good to interview–or something.
*Finally, one voter deemed Jesse Orosco worthy of a vote. I suppose these token votes are harmless, but what if over 400 other voters had come up with the same idea, deciding to reward old Jesse just for kicks? The folks in Cooperstown would have to come up with some interesting explanations every time a child asked his or her father why Orosco’s image was featured on a plaque in the Hall of Fame Gallery.
Monday’s Hall of Fame election will surely bring glee to the city of Boston while stirring outrage from many of the Sabermetric types who write and post on the Internet. The candidacy of Jim Rice, which has been hotly debated for years by Sabermetricians and mainstream writers, finally concluded on Monday afternoon with the announcement that Rice will join Rickey Henderson on the Cooperstown dais this July.
Stepping aside from the controversy for a moment, my predictions about a Hall of Fame election–for once–actually came true. (Perhaps that makes up for my hunch that Ron Santo and Gil Hodges were going to win election last month.) I felt Rice would barely squeeze by, and that’s exactly what he did, gaining 76.4 per cent of the vote. I’ll have to do some checking, but that may be the smallest margin by which anybody has won election to the Hall through the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The election of Rice not only means a victory for Rice, the city of Boston, and Red Sox Nation, but a victory for those mainstream writers who have supported his candidacy for years, based on the belief that his high RBI totals, high batting average, and peak period of performance meant more than his lack of walks, his tendency to ground into double plays, and his lack of longevity. It’s an argument I support; I’ve felt that it’s fair to regard Rice as a borderline candidate, but I’ve also considered him worthy because of his sheer dominance as a professional power hitter during the late seventies and early eighties.
In regards to Henderson, there was never any doubt that he would win election in his first year of elegibility. The only question involved the final percentage of the vote that he would receive. Henderson checked in at 94.8 per cent, about where I thought he’d be, and just a bit short of the Tom Seaver-Cal Ripken stratospere of voting percentage. Somewhat remarkably, 32 writers felt Henderson, the greatest leadoff man the game has ever seen and arguably one of the top five left fielders of all time, was not worthy of the Hall of Fame. I’m guessing that some of those no-votes decided to penalize Henderson for his occasional lack of hustle, his repeated late entries to spring training, and some of the general nuisance he caused most of his managers (at least not those named Billy Martin, who absolutely loved Rickey). If there are any other reasons for leaving Henderson off the ballot, I’d love to hear them. Hopefully, it’s not the inane first-ballot nonsense that we sometimes hear, or some contrived argument that Henderson somehow was not a Hall of Fame performer. Anybody offering those lame arguments will have some serious explaining to do.
Then there is the case of Andre Dawson. I felt he’d come in at about 70 per cent, but I overestimated his total, as “The Hawk” finished at 67 per cent. That doesn’t bode well for Dawson next year, even in a year when there are overwhelming first-year candidates and no holdovers that appear close to Hall of Fame inspection. It’s probably too much to expect an eight per cent jump for Dawson in 2010, which could result in a very empty Hall of Fame class for the Baseball Writers one year from now.
Finally, the injustice of Bert Blyleven needs to be addressed. Blyleven has been the subject of some wonderful Sabermetric articles on the Internet, pieces that make a compelling case for “The Dutchman.” Given the number of shutouts and complete games that he posted, given the lack of run support he received in all those 1-0 and 2-1 losses, and given his superior performance in World Series play (for both the Pirates and the Twins), Blyleven deserves the call to the Hall. Yet, his vote total actually remained virtually the same, going from 61.8 to 62 per cent of the vote. Unfortunately, too many of the mainstream writers just don’t get it when it comes to Blyleven’s dominance in both the regular season and the postseason. Even with average luck and average run support, Blyleven would have won more than 300 games, a total that becomes even more impressive considering how mediocre-to-bad the Twins were during his early major league career.
So, with the good news comes some bad news. Rice makes it, which brings the added bonus of larger crowds that will travel from Boston to Cooperstown this summer. Blyleven doesn’t, with his candidacy seemingly hitting a plateau and perhaps even taking steps backward.
I guess it’s one battle at a time when it comes to the Hall of Fame election–and how the writers evaluate what is truly greatness.
Barry Bloom of MLB.com asks the question that many baseball fans will be contemplating over the weekend: “Who will be joining Rickey Henderson in the Hall of Fame?” The answer will come on Monday afternoon, supplied by Hall president Jeff Idelson on the newly formed MLB Network.
My answer is simple: Jim Rice. According to two Hall of Fame sources, the vote will be very close. One thinks that Rice will barely reach the 75 per cent needed for election; the other thinks that Rice will just miss in what is his final year on the Baseball Writers’ ballot. My hunch is to go with the former prediction, based partly on the precedents of history. Anyone who has ever received at least 72 per cent of the vote has eventually made it to the Hall of Fame. Rice will continue that trend of momentum, though it will be perilously close, with Big Jim getting somewhere in the 76 to 77 per cent range. By a whisker.
Here’s another factor that I believe will help Rice. There will be a backlash among members of the BBWAA in response to all the criticism that Rice has received from Sabermetric analysts on the Internet. Many of those analysts have been so shrill in their critiques of Rice (he didn’t walk enough, he hit into too many double plays, his career lacked longevity) that some of the mainstream writers will want to flex their muscle in response. During his career, Rice was generally regarded as a Hall of Fame player by many of those same BBWAA writers, who will want to see that judgment carried through on election day.
Will anyone else join Henderson and Rice on the Cooperstown dais? Andre Dawson, who earned 65 per cent of the vote last year, has been gaining support among the electorate and will jump over the 70 per cent barrier, but will ultimately fall short in this year’s election. Dawson’s poor career on-base percentage (under .330) and lack of sustained excellence, caused mostly by knee injuries, will keep him out of the Hall–at least for one more year.
So the Hall’s class of 2009 will grow by two, with Henderson and Jim Rice joining the late Joe Gordon, the sole electee from this year’s Veterans Committee. And that will be it.
At a time when the hot stove remains arctic-like frigid, we can thank the Hall of Fame for providing us with a spot of baseball warmth on a damp winter night in Cooperstown. On Monday, the Hall of Fame released its 2009 ballot, which will be mulled over by the 700-plus members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. It’s a strong ballot, but one that will probably only produce two new Hall of Famers by the time that results are announced in early January. Here are a few observations on the ballot:
*A record-low 23 players are featured on this year’s ballot. Why so few? I believe that the Hall of Fame’s screening committee has become much tougher in recent seasons, making it more difficult for the Mel Halls and the Dion Jameses of the world to make it to the final printed ballot. That’s probably a good thing, since so many of the first-time eligible candidates (like Jay Bell, Greg Vaughn, and Dan Plesac, on this year’s ballot) already have zero chance of being elected.
*Of the first-time eligibles, only Rickey Henderson has a legitimate chance at election this year–and he will be a slam dunk selection receiving at least 90 per cent of the vote. Henderson has a decent shot at reaching 95 per cent, though some members of the BBWAA may attempt to penalize him for some of the controversial moments in his career, including his chronic lateness for spring training, his Manny Ramirez-like dogging for the Yankees in 1989, and his infamous card-playing episodes with the Mets. But those are relatively minor quibbles on what is clearly an overwhelming Hall of Fame resume.
*If I had a ballot, I’d certainly vote for Henderson; he’s both the greatest leadoff man and the most phenomenal base stealer I’ve ever watched. My ballot would also have check marks next to the names of the following holdover candidates: Alan Trammell (a very good defender at shortstop and an even better hitter), Tim Raines (a poor man’s Henderson, but that’s still plenty good), Jim Rice (a professional hitter who adapted well to his home park at Fenway), Dale Murphy (at his peak, the game’s best player, circa the mid-1980s), and Bert Blyleven (an underrated workhorse and a terrific World Series performer). That’s six players in total, more than the two who will be elected (Henderson and Rice), but less than the ten names that can be placed on any single ballot.
*Finally, we all know we’re getting old when we see Jesse Orosco’s name on the ballot for the first time. It’s hard to believe that the ageless Orosco, whose career spanned seemingly centuries, has now been out of baseball for five years. Wasn’t he just in someone’s spring camp trying to make it as a non-roster reliever? And why would I not be surprised if someone invited him to spring training next year?
It’s Opening Day, simply one of the best days of the calendar year, and a time when baseball news is flowing in every direction. So let’s get to it…
The final weekend before the regular season produced a trade–and hardly an insignificant one at that. The Rangers traded David Dellucci, though it wasn’t to the Angels, as had been rumored. Instead, the Rangers sent the underrated outfielder-DH to the Phillies for a package headed up by Robinson Tejeda, who figures to join the back end of Texas’ rotation sometime in 2005. (Tejeda is an intriguing talent, but is that the best that the Rangers could do in trading Dellucci when his value seemed to be at its highest?) I love Dellucci’s game–he reached career highs in home runs (29) and walks (76) last season, can play all three outfield spots, and is a hard-nosed grinder whom Philly fans will appreciate–but it’s hard to see where he fits in Philadelphia’s outfield. With three excellent starters and Shane Victorino available to back them up, Dellucci could become a glorified pinch-hitter–unless the Phillies are planning to unload Bobby Abreu later this season… The Phillies’ sudden glut of outfielders may put them in better position to make a deal for a third baseman. Three teams might be suitable trading partners for the Phils: the Angels (Dallas McPherson), the Indians (Aaron Boone), and the Blue Jays (Shea Hillenbrand), all of whom could use an outfielder with some punch…
One of the feel-good stories of the Yankees’ camp was the sudden emergence of career minor leaguer Wil Nieves, who surprisingly made the team’s Opening Day roster. With Jorge Posada missing time due to a broken nose, Nieves seized the opportunity to play more and impressed Yankee officials with his defensive skills behind the plate. Originally, the Yankees had planned to sneak Nieves through waivers and send him to Triple-A Columbus, but they realized the Mariners would have claimed Nieves with the idea of making him their backup to Kenji Jojima. Not wanting to lose Nieves on waivers, the Yankees decided to keep him as their No. 3 catcher… The “feel-bad story” of the Yankee camp may have been the continued regression of $40 million man Carl Pavano. Pavano’s latest injury borders on the ridiculous; he has a bruised “backside,” which the Yankees say will keep him out definitely. Why do I get the feeling that Pavano has little interest in pitching in New York?…
Although it escaped the attention of most of the mainstream and internet media, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America recently announced the names of 200 players and 60 managers/executives who have made it to the preliminary round of next year’s Hall of Fame Veterans Committee election. (Perhaps the media has decided to ignore the story because of the two most recent Veterans elections, which have produced a total of zero Hall of Famers.) The two lists, which were put together by the Hall’s Historical Overview Committee, contain some intriguing choices. Among the 60 managers/executives are President George W. Bush, a selection that is sure to rile some of the political types that frequent Baseball Primer. (Bush was selected for his tenure as principal owner of the Texas Rangers.) The most surprising name on the managerial list is that of Don Zimmer, who has skippered the Rangers, Cubs, Red Sox, and Padres during a 55-year career in baseball, but whose work as a manager has never been associated with that of a Hall of Famer. And then there’s the players’ list, which features the likes of two-time felon Denny McLain, whose continued inclusion by the overview committee has rankled more than one Hall of Fame official…
I don’t recommend good baseball web sites as often as I should, so hopefully this will mark the start of a new trend. One site in particular has caught my attention in recent weeks. It’s “Steve’s Baseball Photography Pages,” which can be found at the URL www.geocities.com/dewing19. The site, which is run by a gentleman named Steve Dewing, features rarely seen, and in many cases, never-before-published photographs from the 1950s, sixties, and seventies. For those who enjoy baseball from that era and tire of seeing the same black-and-white photos over and over, Dewing’s site comes as a refreshing change. Constantly updated with newly found images, the site includes some new West Coast material–photos of Willie McCovey with the Padres, Bobby Murcer with the Giants, and Reggie Jackson with the A’s. For those who like action photos, there are some wonderful shots of Johnny Bench and Pete Rose with the Reds circa 1970. There’s an intriguing photograph of Hank Aaron (as a Brewer) chatting with Willie Davis (as a Ranger); making you wonder what they were talking about. In addition, Dewing features some rarely seen Rangers shots from the seventies, including photos of Texas-sized failures like Rico Carty and Alex Johnson. He also has posted several photographs for Rangers players he’s trying to identify, which may generate interest among fans of the franchise during the Ted Williams, Whitey Herzog, and Billy Martin years. So if you’re looking to spend some time at the internet on a new site, visit Steve’s Baseball Pages, send him an e-mail at email@example.com, and soak in some old-fashioned baseball photography…
To celebrate Opening Day–and to promote my latest book venture–we’ll be introducing a trivia contest on Mondays during the regular season. The book, The Team That Changed Baseball, is scheduled for release in May and examines the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, who overcame long odds to win the World Series against the seemingly invincible Baltimore Orioles. Each week, we’ll feature a trivia question about the ’71 Pirates. The first person to post the correct answer (and provide his or her e-mail address) will receive a 1972 Topps Pirates baseball card.
Without further delay, here’s the first trivia question of the new season:
Which member of the ’71 Pirates became a minor league coach with the Houston Astros and helped Jeff Bagwell make the transition from third base to first base?