Afternoon Baseball

Common-sense ruminations on baseball and culture.


Robb Nen, CP, Texas (1993), Florida (1993-97), San Francisco (1997-2002)
This year: No.
Deserving: No, though he's an intriguing what-might-have-been.
Will writers think he's deserving?: They don't thinki Goose Gossage is worthy. Of course, they think Bruce Sutter is better, so if only Nen had pretended to invent a pitch.
Stay on ballot: No.
Veteran's Committee: He might get snubbed by the Giants' and Marlins' Hall of Fames, if they even have them.

Robb Nen should be a cautionary tale and an example of how sports breeds determination and courage, if only in a limited environment. The man destroyed his shoulder and his career to aid in a World Series championship. Like every other Bay Area Giants squad, the 2002 version fell short. And at 32 years old, Robb Nen would never pitch again.
He had 314 saves in essentially eight years. Three years of an ERA under 2, and a 2.28 ERA in that final season despite half a year of torn labrums, cuffs, you name it. At least 68 games and as many as 88 innings in the last seven years, with more than a strikeout per inning and a career 138 ERA+. Eleven postseason saves in 20 appearances, and anchored the 1997 Marlins run.

There's just not enough years. His comparables rank with other great, but non-HOF, players: John Wetteland, Tom Henke, Troy Percival, Jeff Montgomery.

Plus, he faces the hurdle of being a closer. No one wants to elect them, and with good reason. Every year, you see a guy implode for seemingly no reason, or a nobody have a great year (Dan Kolb, anyone). The stalwarts are few and far between, and none save Mariano Rivera are locks (no, not even Trevor "Big Game" Hoffman).

So, sorry, Nen, you'll have to wait. But you were one hell of a player, one whose grit should be emulated with wariness of the single-mindedness that took years off a career that could still be going (he's only 38).



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Mark McGwire, 1B, Oakland (1986-1997), St. Louis (1997-2001).
This year: No.
Deserving: Honestly, without the homers, no.
Will writers think he's deserving?: No.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veterans Committee: Probably.

Mark McGwire's use of illegal substances will likely never be known. It's unlikely to be just the andro, and it probably goes back further than we think -- he was putting up unreal numbers from 1993 onward, but he was always injured until 1997-1999.

His big numbers? The home runs (583), the on-base % (.394) and the OPS+ (162). But the latter two are a product of his fearsome home-run power. No one's needed fewer at-bats for a home run.
Does using andro (the only thing for which there's full documentation) disqualify McGwire? Probably, though not entirely.
But there's enough uncertainty to hold off on voting yes for McGwire. Even if he's bounced from the ballot this year (unlikely, but go with me), he'll be eligible for the Veterans' Committee.

So don't vote for him, make him stew for 15 or so years, and maybe we'll know more by then. Because right now, we don't know if we're voting for McGwire the man or McGwire the lab creation.

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Alan Trammell, SS, Detroit (1977-1996).
This year: No.
Deserving: Well, he's definitely underrated.
Will writers think he's deserving?: He had big numbers for pre-Cal Ripken shortstops. But even Derek Jeter is a slugger by comparison.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veteran's Committee: Unlikely.

Alan Trammell spent 20 years with one club. He was the shortstop, the most glamorous fielding position, but also was a solid hitter. He should have won the 1987 MVP, hit .300 seven times, had 185 home runs, 236 stolen bases, walked as much as he struck out and had 1,200+ runs and 1,000 RBIs. In the awards department, he did garner three Silver Sluggers and four Gold Gloves before Ripken entered his prime, was a six-time All-Star and won 1984 WS MVP.

Here's the thing: His .285/.352/.415 line is good, but not incredible. And while he's a shortstop, and some accommodation should be made for that, letting things slide solely because of position is how Bill Mazeroski got induction (and Phil Rizzuto, though it's the Hall's fault for not including overall contributions). But, on second look, he's fairly similar to shortstop inductees Joe Sewell, Lou Bordreau, Robin Yount and Cal Ripken (112 OPS+ to Trammell's 110) and far above Ozzie Smith, Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese and Luis Aparicio.

His fielding versus the league, from a couple basic (if outdated) stats, are excellent: .977 to .967 fielding pct., 4.47 to 4.09 range factor. He remained league average or better until late in his career.

Trammell came up in an American League that was relatively starved for shortstops. Before Ripken (and at the end of Trammell's career, the wave of excellence that now exists), you had no-hit, all-field Mark Belanger winding down, Rick Burleson and a few others. Trammell was above that group for several years and at a young age.

Let's put it this way: Is Barry Larkin a Hall of Famer? Larkin was a better hitter, though not by a landslide, and in my opinion, a slightly lesser fielder. If Larkin's a Hall of Famer, so should be Trammell, who is, with Ozzie Smith and Larkin, the definition of how a shortstop of average size should play the game.

And so, a little bit with sentiment rather than data, say yes to Alan Trammell.

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In advance of the vote, I figured I'd take a look at the candidates as I did two years ago.

Here's the list of eligible candidates: Brady Anderson, Rod Beck, Shawon Dunston, Chuck Finley, Travis Fryman, David Justice, Chuck Knoblauch, Robb Nen, Tim Raines, Jose Rijo, Todd Stottlemyre, Harold Baines, Bert Blyleven, Dave Concepcion, Andre Dawson, Rich Gossage, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Jim Rice, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell.

Of the new class, Anderson, Beck, Dunston, Fryman, Justice, Knoblauch, Nen, Rijo and Stottlemyre are obviously not HOF-caliber. I've already discussed Blyleven, Dawson, Gossage, John, Mattingly, Morris, Murphy, Rice and Smith.

Back then, I favored induction for Goose, Morris and Rice. The Hall picked Sutter, one of the worst picks I can remember.

Who needs discussion? Alan Trammell (though I'm fairly sure of my answer), Finley, McGwire, Nen, Baines, Concepcion, Parker and Raines.

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Though literature has illustrated the beauty, elegance and difficulty of baseball more often and more successfully than it has with any other sport, baseball figures themselves are not known for their words.
Yet, the 2007 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony brought heartfelt appreciation, humorous and touching stories, a love of family and fans, and eloquence that reminds us how orators once commanded such crowds without the power of microphones.

As many as 70,000 filled the field back to the trees and over to the other side of the road. Most were orange -- Oriole orange, but San Diego brought a strong contingent for its greatest athlete, most wearing the brown hats and unis of the 80s-era club. Even Kansas City and St. Louis were represented in hats and jerseys for the Royals' broadcaster and Cardinals' writer (the game's most underrated player, 86-year-old Stan Musial, was not there, however, he, Hank Aaron, Carl Yastremski and Nolan Ryan being the most noticeable absences).
There were clouds on the horizon -- all 360 degrees of it -- and a few were gray, but none threatened and it was rare for one to be directly overhead.

So after much worry and advance planning, rain threatened the ceremony, but it could not deliver. Clear skies, relatively mild weather and tens of thousands of fans greeted Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn.
What the rain did do, however, was move Ripken and Gwynn to the beginning of the ceremony, switching with the Ford and Spink winners, who are usually put first because fans don't know or care about reporters and broadcasters. While, sadly, any group of American fans would have ditched the event after the big names, many thousands streamed out after Ripken, and they mostly were O's fans. It was disrespect to Denny Matthews and Rick Hummel, who have done much for the game and were far from boring. The disturbing thing, however, is that many of those fans may have left during Gwynn's speech should he had gone after Ripken.

As it was, Gwynn was the best performer of the afternoon. Ripken gave a polished speech, but did so in a tone that made it clear he was reading verbatim from a prepared text. Gwynn also had notes, but his was a conversational, jovial tone that felt more like a one-on-one talk rather than a luncheon keynote speaker. He detailed the life-changing moments of his professional and personal life -- watching videotape, for the former, and meeting his wife, for the latter.
Ripken was excellent, too, and his breaking down at the mention of his wife and children was extremely touching for someone who admittedly was a fanatic for baseball -- the type you might think would sacrifice family for the game.
Both men are students of the game, appreciative of those who came before them and wanting to learn about and from them. Both work to pass on what they know to those who play now. It is men such as them who preserve and extend what the national pastime is all about.

The crowds left having gotten quite a day, and lots of memories to ponder as they endured long waits to get to their cars and just-as-long waits to get those cars moving beyond a crawl. And a little village in upstate New York waits another year before it is again the center of sport.

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Doubleday Field is purposefully designed to be out of a different era. It doesn't have lights. It has the dirt path leading up to the mound, but it looks as if the grass died, not that it was marked.
There's a traditional grandstand with open seating the rest of the way around, and the only sign of electronics is the small, bare-bones scoreboard near the left-field foul pole.
It's a ceremonial place for ceremonial baseball, timeless yet not existing in any time. But for today's minor-league matchup between the local Oneonta Tigers and the Aberdeen IronBirds of Cal Ripken Jr., it was a showcase for the players.

Sadly, it was not a showcase for the fans. Twelve errors, about that many passed balls and wild pitches, several allowing runners home from third, and few hard-hit balls. The outfield grass slowed down every ball to an unreasonable degree, yet outfielders seemed unable to pick up the ball. Shortstops the size of David Eckstein repeatedly tried to heave flat-footed throws from deep in the hole, resulting in tosses nine feet high that couldn't break glass. Relievers threw high, low, hit batsmen, missed the catcher and generally underperformed.

Outside, there were a few ex-players signing (Denny McClain and Pete Rose have continued their convicts tour, you could call it), thousands of Orioles caps and but a few fans who seemed to be excited about the great Tony Gwynn.

Prices all along the food joints were jacked up to twice the price, or more, of what they are during the year. The locals have cleared out -- one told me he's in town for the induction for the first time in 35 years -- and price gouging is in full swing. On a trip to an ice-cream shop, the erasure marks on the chalk board were seen clearly on the prices and nowhere else. The menu remains the same, but inflation has done in three days what 30 years might take.

The big show tonight was the arrival of many Hall of Famers and the like, in a red-carpet ceremony of sorts. The crowds were gathered by 6, 6:30, though the guests of honor weren't to be there until as late as 9 p.m. One in the crowd freed up some spots by yelling, "Go this way!" and sending a few hundred folks in the opposite direction.

Parking is scarce -- the village is 1/20th to 1/30th the size of the expected crowd. In Cooperstown, people are selling their driveways for $15, $20, $25, $50 dollars -- one place had "one spot left!" for $1,000. Three zeros. Expect those prices to experience inflation tomorrow even more severe than that of the food joints. It's all business, and for those in the right place at the right time, business is good.

But baseball is king here, and for a weekend, at least, the national pastime is all there is to see. Other sports don't have the history, don't bring the pilgrimages, and rarely have the American heroes that many see in Gwynn and, especially, the Ironman. Nostalgia journeys near present tense with the induction of two men that even many children were able to see perform.

Tomorrow, a formality will take place. But it's likely to have echoing effects and memories. We can only hope the game itself feels those reverberations.

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ESPN.com -- Bagwell's injury

Looking at what Jeff Bagwell has done -- his numbers, impact on the Astros and the game -- doesn't automatically answer this question. He's played in an era inundated with first basemen (Frank Thomas, Carlos Delgado, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmiero, Fred McGriff, Todd Helton, Albert Pujols, Jason Giambi, Jim Thome, and probably a couple I've forgotten) who will all merit consideration some day. Not all can get in.

Oddly enough, for a player who may have to retire due to injury, he was one of the most durable athletes of his time. Four times he played every single game, and played at least 156 games on 10 occasions.

Bagwell has a batting title and an RBI title. No HR title, but he was top 10 in his league seven times without any steroid allegations. He was Rookie of the Year and an MVP. He's got a career line of .297/.408/.540. The latter two stats rank 11th and 18th among active players, and 44th and 35th all-time. He's also in the top 40 ever in RBI, HR, OPS, OPS+, BB, extra-base hits. He's got 202 stolen bases, twice being a 30-30 man.
No one since Lou Gehrig (167 runs in 1936) has scored as many as 152 runs in a season except for Bagwell in 2000. Bagwell's 295 runs in a two-year span are the most since Gehrig's 305 in 1936 and 1937.

The negatives? "Only" 449 homers, although he only had 7797 at-bats. A sub-.300 batting average, which is a stupid negative, but true. His OPS+ dropped every year starting in 2000, although it was as high as 127 in 2003. He was a terrible postseason player -- .226 in 104 at-bats with a mere six extra-base hits; four of those came in a series win against the Braves in 2004. He had 25 strikeouts, 24 hits in postseason play.
While All-Star games are popularity contests and Bagwell was an underrated force, he only made four contests, none after 1999.
He only played 15 seasons, which the stats-focused voters will undoubtedly hold against him.

Does Bagwell deserve to be in the Hall? Probably. But there's a lot left to be determined. He's probably going to have more surgery and could return, although it's doubtful he'll ever be a high-caliber player again. And five or six years from now, we'll have found out what the steroid allegations have done to the votes on some of his peers, and whether "clean" players such as himself can benefit.

For sure, though, Jeff Bagwell is the best player the Astros have ever had and one of the best players of the "offensive" era of 1993 to the present. That's worth a good deal.
Plus, the Red Sox could have had him and gave him up. That makes all his success that much cooler.

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Assessing the contenders, and here there are. I was going to include Alan Trammell, but I'm running short on time and I think he's not nearly enough of a lock to lose sleep over this year.
Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Steve Garvey, Rich "Goose" Gossage, Orel Hershiser, Tommy John, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Jim Rice, Don Mattingly, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter

Who belongs in the Hall?
The knee-jerk reaction is "nobody." But that can't be the case, can it? Baseball Toaster had a roundtable on the subject (4 parts, but this part lists final picks).
The Baseball Hall of Fame, surprisingly, gives a candidate list with bios.

There's legitimate discussion and disagreement over about 14 players, in my mind. For the super-quick analysis, here's how I selected:
Yes to: Gossage, Morris, Rice. Too conflicted to take a real opinion: Sutter. No to everybody else, but not naive enough to think that some of them won't get in, either through the ballot or the Veterans Committee.

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Bruce Sutter...Original post and complete player list
We dismissed the pretenders and spelled out the contenders. Here, we analyze each with a mix of stats and baseball POV from a dedicated fan.
Bruce Sutter, RP, Chicago (NL) (1976-1980), St. Louis (1981-1984), Atlanta (1985-1986, 1988)
This year: His time has come. Or it won't ever come by ballot.
Deserving: A very reluctant no.

Will writers think he's deserving?: I wouldn't mind seeing them say he belongs.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veteran's Committee: He'll eventually get in. The question, I think at this point, is when and how.

Bruce Sutter is championed by many who saw him as the guy who made modern-day closing possible, although when you look at his workload, he had more in common with Rollie Fingers or Goose Gossage.
He led the league in saves for 5 of 6 seasons, and finished with an even 300 despite only playing 12 years. He also won a Cy Young, although a pitcher would never win nowadays in his situation, mostly because we've gotten over the awe of a guy who pitches spectactular relief. Look at the Rivera-Colon vote this year for some sort of proof (also proof of how Johan Santana got 'robbed' because he padded his stats, with his team's season all but done, with another amazing second half). Speaking of robbing, J.R. Richard and his 313 strikeouts, 19 CG and 2.71 ERA got lost in 1979.
But I'm being unfair to Sutter, who had a brilliant run for most (1977-1982, and 1984) of his all-too-brief career. But I can't quite get myself past the idea that many want to induct him for his influence rather than his achievements. Is one Cy Young, 300 saves and a 136+ OPS enough to compensate for being washed up at 33? For not being a great strikeout closer in comparision to active closers?
In another year, I might feel differently. But looking at the situation pragmatically, for many writers, a vote for Lee Smith or Bruce Sutter is going to be a vote against Goose Gossage. And that's a terrible thing. But it's how this bizarre world works. So let's go with the absolute lock, but keep Sutter in the back of our minds for next year. Unless the writers are going to actually do the right thing and vote for two closers. Then, put Bruce in.

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Lee Smith...Original post and complete player list
We dismissed the pretenders and spelled out the contenders. Here, we analyze each with a mix of stats and baseball POV from a dedicated fan.
Lee Smith, RP, Chicago (NL (1980-1987), Boston (1988-1990), St. Louis (1990-1993), New York (AL) (1993), Baltimore (1994), California (1995-1996), Cincinnati (1996), Montreal (1997)
This year: No chance.
Deserving: Maybe, but not before Gossage, Sutter, Rivera and Hoffman.

Will writers think he's deserving?: Nope.
Stay on ballot: Most likely, unless Gossage and Sutter get so many votes that Smith is the loser in that fallout.
Veteran's Committee: By then, enough closers might be in who were more dominant. On the other hand, if he's 4th or 5th on the saves list, maybe never.


Lee Smith is the most prolific closer ever, at least for the moment. Struck out nearly a man per inning, with a 3.03 ERA that was just under a run below the league average. He pitched at least 62 times every year from 1982-1993, with 10 30-save seasons and 3 40-save seasons in a row. Three times he was Rolaids Relief man for the NL, and no one has finished more games in Major League history than Smith.
So why does he get no respect? Possibly because he only was under 3.00 for an ERA 6 times, or because he was 0-2 with an 8.44 in postseason play, playing on the meltdowns that were the 1984 Cubs and 1995 Angels. Possibly because although he was a durable reliever early in his career (1983: 66 games, 29 Sv, 1.65 and 1.074 WHIP in 103 1/3 innings), his big run of saves in the 1990s came when he was almost exclusively a 3-out pitcher.
The Hall has not decided in favor of such pitchers yet, and nor should they. At least not in favor of Smith. Yet.
Why? First off, Gossage remains eligible. As does Sutter.
Second, among the big-number closers, Smith is not the best. Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and John Wetteland clearly have the edge when you look at some of the numbers.

So, for now, we must wait on Lee Smith. A "no" vote now is merely a delay, until the old-guard closers can get in and/or the Hall can set the standard for the modern closer's entrance.

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In my serious discussion of who belongs from this year's ballot, I haven't covered Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter or Alan Trammell. I saw some of Smith, mostly when he was breaking career save records. I saw none of Sutter, but his stats are dynamite and those who saw him continually tout his importance in the rise of the modern closer. I only saw Trammell near the end of his career, but as someone who always thought Cal Ripken Jr. was overrated, Trammell is an appealing alternative. Plus, he's a one-team guy for an original team, which is also enticing.
I'll get those reviews up before they actually announce the results, I promise.

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Just kidding.

Sadly, Mattingly doesn't belong, even if some people disagree. The Kirby Puckett comparision is a valid one, but Puckett doesn't get in if he doesn't get glaucoma. He's a sympathy vote, plain and simple (and the WS MVP doesn't hurt, either). And given that he's basically blind, or partly so, it's not worth griping about the tradeoff.
Mattingly's problem is that his stats are so front-loaded. He was soooo good from 1984-1989 (leading the league in OPS+ twice and virtually every major stat save HR at least once) that it helped shield his final numbers from the pathetic drop that was the 1990s for him.
The Gold Gloves do help. He was a great first baseman. But did anyone say in 1996 or later, "Man, Tino just isn't cutting it at first base." Maybe Yankees fans just had short memories because they were caught up in winning titles and seeing Tino hit 44 HR in 1997. But it's odd that Mattingly could have been so legendary with the glove, but never have it mentioned again except in the context of a HOF apologia.

I'm not knocking Mattingly. He was the face of the franchise for 13 years, and while they never won much, they would have been far worse off without him. He also gave the team some stability in the personality department, which allowed for people like Buck Showalter, Jimmy Key, Wade Boggs, and many of the Joe Torre-era Yankees to come into the organization and feel comfortable. But he's not a Hall of Famer. A tragic result -- having such a back injury at age 29 -- but the result nonetheless.

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Jim Rice...Original post and complete player list
We dismissed the pretenders and spelled out the contenders. Here, we analyze each with a mix of stats and baseball POV from a dedicated fan.
Jim Rice, OF/DH, Boston (1974-1989)
This year: If not him, then no one.
Deserving: For the first time, I'm saying yes.

Will writers think he's deserving?: The steroids thing should help him, as well as time's distance from his supposedly surly demeanor.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veteran's Committee: He'll eventually get in. The question, I think at this point, is when and how.


Jim Rice hit 378 home runs in a 14-year stretch. He hit .298/.352/.502 for his career with 8 100-RBI seasons, and a three-year stretch where his worst numbers (cherry-picked) were: 201 hits, 39 HR, 114 RBI, 104 R, .315/.370/.596.
He led the league in total bases 4 times, HR thrice, RBI and slugging twice, and OPS, OPS+, triples, runs created, hits and times on base once each.
Basically, the argument at this stage, in my mind, comes down to whether you think Orlando Cepeda was a Hall of Famer. Compared to Cepeda, Rice has 298 more at-bats, 101 more hits, 3 more home runs, 86 more RBI, a BA/OBP/SLG line of 1/2/3 points higher, although Cepeda has 44 more doubles and an OPS+ that's 5 points better.
I think Cepeda is a marginal pick, but Rice is better. For a different argument in favor of Rice, follow the link on this post.

I'm not making this suggestion on the mere fact that Cepeda is in the Hall of Fame. It's a foolish thing to say that just because there are lesser players enshrined that someone else should also make it. Let's not repeat mistakes past. However, I don't think Cepeda is a terrible pick, and Rice was just as good -- and more importantly, considered (and largely correctly) as the best player on his team and league for a good 12 years. Cepeda, arguably, was the 2nd- or 3rd-best player on his team in San Francisco (Mays, McCovey), St. Louis (Brock,) Atlanta (Aaron, Rico Carty in 1970).

Let me qualify my endorsement of Rice. To fall apart at age 34 is not endearing to the Hall of Fame. Nor should it be. A slow decline? Yes. But out of baseball at 36 without disease or catastrophic injury? I would say that Rice is the benchmark for future mid-30s flameouts. You had to be better than him -- if not in dominance, which has grown tougher with the two rounds of expansion since Rice retired -- than in sheer numbers. Anything short of that, and you'll be the Al Rosen of your day.

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Dale Murphy...Original post and complete player list
We dismissed the pretenders and spelled out the contenders. Here, we analyze each with a mix of stats and baseball POV from a dedicated fan.
Dale Murphy, OF, Atlanta (1976-1990), Philadelphia (1990-1992), Colorado (1993)
This year: Doubtful.
Deserving: Not to me, but I wouldn't disparage a yes vote.

Will writers think he's deserving?: Outside shot.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veteran's Committee: One would think he'd have a good shot, especially if his peers start to get on the committee.

Dale Murphy
is the quintessential example of the players who have to contend with heightened expectations from the post-1993 era. He debuted in a year where the league slugged .384 (and the AL had one man, Reggie Jackson, above .500) and left in a year where that slugging percentage was .447 and the OPS 102 points higher than the previous season. Two players slugged 50 HRs in his entire career (the underrated, but not HOF-worthy George Foster and Cecil Fielder). This feat has happened 17 times since 1995.
So let's be fair to Murph. Let's stand him up against his peers and see how he fared in his day. 1 30-30 season, 2 MVPs, 4 Silver Sluggers, 5 Gold Gloves, 7 All-Star games. An average of 31 HR and 93 RBI in the 1980s. A league leader in HR (twice), RBI (twice), runs (once), slugging (twice), OPS (once), runs created (four times), power/speed (once), as well as not missing a game for over four consecutive years.
The downside? How can someone hit 30 homers six times and not hit 400 over an 18-year career? Murph was also never great after age 31, and useless after age 35. Even Jim Rice looks like he didn't slip by comparison.

As great as Dale Murphy was in the 1980s, we're still looking at a guy in the top 50 of no statistic save strikeouts (12th). We're looking at a .265/.346/.469 line, a guy who homered less than 1 in 20 at-bats, only 1266 RBI, and a guy whose best numbers after his age 31 season were .252/.318/.421 -- all from different seasons.
A great fielder, perhaps the most durable outfielder ever in his prime (save Billy Williams and maybe Hideki Matsui), and a tremendous hitter and player from 1979-1987. But is 9 great years and little else enough?

Let's not compare him to Duke Snider, either, as the 400-HR guy who fell apart young. Snider was better in his prime, and even in his part-time, supposedly terrible years after the move to Los Angeles, hit .300 twice and slugged over .500 four times in six years. He had an OPS+ under 113 in that stretch only in his final season. Murphy, however, was never over 105 after 1987, and was below league average in four of his final six seasons, with an astonishing -1 OPS+ in his 42 at-bats with Colorado in 1993.

I can understand a vote for Murphy. He may indeed be worthy when using some other statistical measures that I'm too lazy to find. But Murphy was simply not great for long enough, in my opinion. Not only that, he wasn't even average for long enough.

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Jack Morris...Original post and complete player list
We dismissed the pretenders and spelled out the contenders. Here, we analyze each with a mix of stats and baseball POV from a dedicated fan.
Jack Morris, SP, Detroit (1977-1990), Minnesota (1991), Toronto (1992-1993), Cleveland (1994)
This year: Doubtful.
Deserving: If I stay strictly consistent. Probably just short. But if I want a man who is the essence of the Hall of Fame competitor, I go with Jack.
Will writers think he's deserving?: Outside shot.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veteran's Committee: Very possibly, especially if someone like Curt Schilling ever gets in.

Jack Morris
was a man's man of pitchers. 175 complete games, including at least 9 each year from 1979-1991, and the most clutch complete game since Don Larsen's perfect game -- I'm speaking, of course, of his 10-inning, 1-0 shutout win to win the 1991 World Series.
Guys who get labeled as winners always seem to have a knack for being around winners. Morris was one of those guys: 19-11, 3.60 ERA, 9 CG, 240.3 innings for the 1984 WS-winning Tigers, 18-12, 3.43 ERA, 10 CG, 246.7 innings for the 1991 WS-winning Twins, 21-6, 240.7 innings despite a 4.04 ERA for the 1992 WS-winning Blue Jays. Even in 1993 and 1994, when he endured major struggles, he ended up a combined 17-18 and on a WS-winning club (1993 Toronto) and a team about to push to the next level (the strike-bitten 1994 Indians).

You often hear how Morris was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s. What you don't hear is that of the other great pitchers of that decade, Seaver and Carlton didn't pitch (well) in the second half of the decade, Clemens, Gooden and Saberhagen didn't pitch in the first half of it, Mike Scott was a few-years wonder, Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine all appeared at the tail-end, Guidry didn't make it through the decade, which left Morris' chief competition as Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser.
So while a nice trivia question, ignore that stat (although 160 wins is nice).

5-time All-Star. Top 5 in Cy Young voting 5 times. Twice the leader in wins. Never higher than 5th in ERA, but he outlasted you, he didn't overpower you. Only led in complete games once despite his impressive year-by-year total.
Jack Morris has all the intangibles. But his 3.90 ERA, however unmasked that stat may be nowadays, is still awfully high. But there is no doubt that from about 1981 to 1992, there was no better pitcher year in and year out in the American League than Morris. Maybe the league was a little weak in pitching, but I don't think that's all of it. I think he just was good.

Jack Morris may not quite be a Hall of Famer, but he's Hall of Fame-worthy. It's a judgment pick on my part, but that's how it goes. His image is strong enough, and his highlights true enough to push his record over that of similar, but less clutch, less dominating, less relevant pitchers.

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Tommy John...Original post and complete player list
We dismissed the pretenders and spelled out the contenders. Here, we analyze each with a mix of stats and baseball POV from a dedicated fan.
Tommy John, SP, Cleveland (1963-1964), Chicago (1965-1971), Los Angeles (NL) (1972-1978), New York (AL) (1979-1982, 1986-1989), California (1982-1985), Oakland (1985)
This year: Just maybe.
Deserving: I don't know. Love the wins, the ERA is solid, but he never led the league in anything.
Will writers think he's deserving?: Outside shot.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veteran's Committee: Very possibly, especially if there's a long stretch without a 300-game winner.

Tommy John is known more for the surgery which has completely changed the game of baseball, and athletics in general. No Mariano Rivera, no late-career John Smoltz, no Eric Gagne (a couple times over), no Tom Gordon, Pat Hentgen, and many more.
But as a pitcher, he was pretty damn good, and extrordinarily durable and resilient. His 700 starts are the 6th-most in baseball history, and he played for 26 damn seasons. To show how long he was around, Tommy John's last year was Ken Griffey Jr.'s first year. John had been in the league 10 years before Griffey's father started playing.

So does John have the numbers? Here's the good: 3.34 career ERA with an ERA+ of 111 (not great, but good considering those 7 years he played past 40 really hurt him). 288 wins, 3 20-win seasons (all after the surgery), 46 shutouts (thrice leading the league), a 6-3, 2.65 postseason mark.
The bad numbers? More hits than innings, a 162-game average of only 13 wins, never leading the league in a major category, and an abysmal K/9 ratio.
If I can't let Blyleven and Kaat in, then I can't let Tommy John in. Blyleven, for the beating I gave him, probably has the best overall stats of the bunch.
Here's my thing: If we lower the bar for guys who just happened to play so long that they had to have big win numbers, will we keep doing this? Will suddenly, a guy who wins 225, or 250 wins put pressure on voters to let him in because "the game's changed" and guys can't win 300 anymore? This doesn't exclude the Randy Johnsons, the Pedro Martinezes, the guys who were dominant. It's about the David Wells, the Mike Mussinas, maybe the Andy Pettittes.

Think of it this way: Does the name Tom Glavine strike you as instant Hall of Famer? For many of you, it won't. But with 2 Cy Youngs, 5 20-win seasons (leading the league each time), 275 wins and a 120 ERA+, he is indisputably a better pitcher than any one on the ballot this year. He's a Hall of Famer, no matter how much he'll regret throwing away the chance for 300 wins by joining the Mets. I think he's the standard for the guys who make their case largely on longevity. Tommy John doesn't match up, sadly.

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Orel Hershiser...Original post and complete player list
We dismissed the pretenders and spelled out the contenders. Here, we analyze each with a mix of stats and baseball POV from a dedicated fan.
Orel Hershiser, SP, Los Angeles (NL) (1983-1994, 2000), Cleveland (1995-1997), San Francisco (1998), New York (NL) (1999)
This year: Nope.
Deserving: He's a hard-luck case. Deserves an exhibit at the Hall, but probably not a plaque.
Will writers think he's deserving?: Not likely.
Stay on ballot: Yes, but only 90% sure of this.
Veteran's Committee: Late in his natural life, if at all.

Orel Hershiser will forever be remembered in baseball history. His 1988 season, which had 59-inning scoreless streak in the midst of a 23-8, 267 IP, 8 Sho, 2.26 ERA and 1.052 WHIP regular season and then being NLCS and MVP, is one the greatest single seasons by any player ever. He's also one of the great postseason pitchers of this era, and has 204 wins and a 3.48 ERA to his name.
But ultimately, HOF careers are nearly always based on a long record puncuated with greatness. Hershiser's is a bit of the opposite. The HOF indicators bear this out -- just a bit short.
Does he deserve consideration before voting against him? Certainly. The man was top 3 in ERA for 5 of 6 years, led the league in innings 3 times, shut-outs twice, won 14 or more games 8 times despite lacking run-support. Not to mention that he had a very respectable second career in the 1990s after his 1990 injury and was a vital, underrated and often-forgotten component in the 1995 and 1997 Indians and 2000 Mets reaching the World Series.
That's why he's included in this round-up of HOF candidates. But he ultimately is a bit short in numbers and greatness outside of his 1988 opus.


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Rich "Goose" Gossage...Original post and complete player list
We dismissed the pretenders and spelled out the contenders. Here, we analyze each with a mix of stats and baseball POV from a dedicated fan.
Rich "Goose" Gossage, RP, Chicago (AL) (1972-1976), Pittsburgh (1977), New York (AL) (1978-1983, 1989), San Diego (1984-1987), Chicago (NL) 1988, San Francisco (1989), Texas (1991), Oakland (1992-1993), Seattle (1994)
This year: Outside chance.
Deserving: Even if you hate relievers, he belongs.
Will writers think he's deserving?: Possibly.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veteran's Committee: If not through the ballot process.

Goose Gossage has big stats, even for a reliever. 1002 games, 1809 1/3 innings, 1502 strikeouts, 310 saves, 16 complete games in the 37 games he did start, 681 games finished, 124 wins -- four times in double-digits as a reliever, and a 3.01 ERA with a adjusted ERA of 126. While relievers have a different game situation, his 29th-all-time rank of Hits/9 inn is surely impressive.
Thrice did Gossage lead the league in saves, as well.

Gossage was a multi-inning reliever all year, someone almost never seen outside the postseason, and even then rarely seen outside of Mariano Rivera since 1996 or Brad Lidge in 2004. Gossage bounced around, surely, playing for nine teams, but the bulk of his career was spent with the Chicago White Sox, the New York Yankees and the San Diego Padres.
What it comes down to is: does a reliever do enough do deserve enshrinement with the greats?

I, personally, feel yes, but that the reliever must be especially great because of the limited, however important, role that they play in the game. Simply amassing saves is not an automatic -- there's no 3,000 hits or 500 HR parallel (and given who's reached those plateaus lately, those milestones may soon mean little). Postseason greatness takes on additional weight, as does absurd ERA, K/9 and H/9 totals. Gossage has all of the above, and he was not the simple specialist that a closer is today (whether they choose to be or not, to be fair). He still amassed 310 saves without the chance to save 40 or 50 in one shot.

Without Gossage and Rollie Fingers, the closer doesn't evolve quite the way it has. As important as people like Dan Quisenberry and Bruce Sutter were to the relief-pitching system, they too owe Gossage and Fingers. And since Fingers is already in the Hall, doesn't that make this choice that much easier?

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Steve Garvey...Original post and complete player list
We dismissed the pretenders and spelled out the contenders. Here, we analyze each with a mix of stats and baseball POV from a dedicated fan.
Steve Garvey, 1B, Los Angeles (NL (1969-1982), San Diego (1983-1987).
This year: Doubtful.
Deserving: Great player, great big-game player, but not even close.
Will writers think he's deserving?: Doubtful.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veteran's Committee: Maybe he can motivational-speak them into letting him in. Only if all those old guys have their hearing aids in, though.

Steve Garvey is another player I did not get to see in person. I'm sorry, I'm only 22. But he blows away Andre Dawson, whom I did briefly see play, for disappointment upon statistical review.
To whit: A sub-.300 batting average with no batting titles. Fewer walks in 2332 games than Barry Bonds from 2002-2004. No years with a .500 slugging average (though to be fair, only three years of his career had a league-average slugging pct. over .400), and an OPS+ of 116. Only 272 HR and 1308 RBI, and the only category he ever led the league in was hits, twice (a product, partly, of playing 162 and 163 games those years). His fielding is beyond question from looking at the statistics available at the time, although playing in the same league as Keith Hernandez (also an MVP) surely hurt his Gold Glove total.
His intangibles are very strong, and something I have to consider as a Derek Jeter fan. Four Gold Gloves, an MVP, 2 NLCS MVPs and 2 All-Star MVPs. A ridiculous .338 postseason batting average with a .550 slugging average and a strong sample size of 222 at-bats. Never losing an LCS (despite a 1-4 record in the World Series). A 10-time All-Star.

But I don't know how he makes it. I'm being harsh, I know. But this is a weak ballot for a reason. He ranks in the top 50 all-time in two categories: sac flies and GIDP. Garvey just happens to play the wrong position. If these are shortstop numbers, he gets in, most likely. Barry Larkin, for instance (and he's no lock, either). But as a first baseman, there's too many guys who were more powerful and hit for roughly the same average.

If you want to put him over the top for hitting pretty well in a weak-hitting league, fielding sweetly and being a monster come playoff-time, then that's not the worst vote you could make. But, it doesn't do it for me.

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Andre Dawson...
Original post and complete player list
We dismissed the pretenders and spelled out the contenders. Here, we analyze each with a mix of stats and baseball POV from a dedicated fan.
Andre Dawson, OF, Montreal (1976-1986), Chicago (NL) (1987-1992), Boston (1993-1994), Florida (1995-1996).
This year: Maybe.
Deserving: No, unless you place a premium on Gold Gloves and defense in general.
Will writers think he's deserving?: Possibly. He won an MVP for a terrible club, after all.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veteran's Committee: Depends on the steroids legacy. It may make guys from his era looks saintly, or it may blow over to the point that people just think his generation sucked.

"Hawk" had some terrible luck. Playing on Montreal, although in the decent years, then being on the Cubbies (although they made a NLCS), then a Red Sox team during two down years, leaving right before the 1995 playoff year to play out the string on the Marlins, retiring just before the World Series year.
Let's go big-picture first. Decent HR total (438, with 49, 32, 31 being his highs and the 49 being the best of the '80s), 1591 RBIs, 314 SBs, .806 OPS with 119 OPS+ (Derek Jeter is a 121, for cryin' out loud), 8 Gold Gloves, ROY and MVP with 2 2nds, 6th all-time in Power/Speed.

A mixed record. He was more of a Stan Musial HR hitter than even an Ernie Banks, to use a Cubbie. He was a top-line fielder, baserunner and run producer, but his OPS+ is pedestrian and was only at 127 in his MVP season. He never led the league in a major category outside of HR and RBI in 1987, and his .323 OBP is not HOF-worthy.
The final nail in the coffin (or, at least, my final nail) might be the player to whom Baseball-Reference says he's most similar to: Cubbie Billy Williams, a HOFer. Williams had slightly fewer HR and RBI (in 577 fewer at-bats), but had 5 30-HR seasons, a .361 OBP and .853 OPS and a 132 OPS+. I'll take Williams as a HOFer, but doing so means clipping the Hawk's wings. Haha, what a joke.

As an aside, it doesn't help that my personal viewing experience of Dawson is largely with the Red Sox. But I genuinely thought he was better than this before I researched it. Alas.

EDIT: I may have been a bit hasty in slamming Dawson. His defense does carry a lot of weight. But I still think as an offensive force, we're overrating him -- he doesn't match up to lots of players from more potent eras, yet even amongst his own era, he was nowhere near dominant save his 1987 campaign.

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Bert Blyleven...
Original post and complete player list
We dismissed the pretenders and spelled out the contenders. Here, we analyze each with a mix of stats and baseball POV from a dedicated fan.

Bert Blyleven, P, Minnesota (1970-1976, 1985-1988), Texas (1976-1977), Pittsburgh (1978-1980), Cleveland (1981-1985), California (1989-1990, 1992).
This year: No.
Deserving: Sadly no. And I love pitchers.
Will writers think he's deserving?: He's got big numbers. Not necessarily great, but big. Writers love that.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veteran's Committee: Yes. In his lifetime.

Bert Blyleven pitched many games. Completed a lot. Threw a lot of innings. Won a lot of games. Also lost a ton. People say he played for terrible teams. Well, he did win two World Series and made the playoffs a third time (1970). So they couldn't have been that bad. Walter Johnson won 400+ games with the Senators, right?
Here's my thing. His ERA+ is only 118, which is nice, but that ranks him below Kevin Appier, Derek Lowe, and Andy Pettitte among active players (to be fair, it puts him a whisker ahead of Bartolo Colon, Mark Mulder and Matt Morris, but they aren't HOFers either).
Also, wins and losses have diminished in value, and rightly so, in this computer age, but how can we elect a guy who won 20 games but once, but lost 17 four times? "He threw tons of innings and lots of complete games!" Great, but in 1985, maybe he could fallen short of 24 CG and 293 2/3 innings and the bullpen could have helped him go better than 17-16. His teams were atrocious that year, though.

Alright, so we're looking at a tough case here. Do we recognize that no one will be throwing 270, 290 innings any time soon? Certainly not in their mid-3os. He also struck out 3701 batters, but no one remembers him for that. Nor should we. His K/9 is 93rd in history, and he led the league in Ks once, but with a 6.31 K/9 ratio.
I've got to draw a line. I'll take dominant, slightly fragile pitchers (Pedro, a slightly better Schilling) over workhorses (Don Sutton, Jim Kaat) who just stuck around a long time picking up 14 wins a year. Nolan Ryan is in the Hall for his dominance that overcame his longevity and losses and walks and lack of great playoff performances. Blyleven never had that dominance. Even a silly stat like All-Star games (2?!?!) betrays that truth.
Don't say 287 wins. If that's the case, we're 40-50 wins away from David Wells being a consensus pick. And Mike Mussina. But we're still ignoring relievers.
Sorry, Bert. You're better than a number of pitchers in the Hall. But we can't let you in.

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Albert Belle...
Original post and complete player list
We dismissed the pretenders and spelled out the contenders. Here, we analyze each with a mix of stats and baseball POV from a dedicated fan.

Albert Belle, OF, Cleveland (1989-1996), Chicago (AL) (1997-1998), Baltimore (1999-2000).
This year: No.
Deserving: Maybe.
Will writers think he's deserving?: Not a chance.
Stay on ballot: Yes.
Veteran's Committee: Probably not, but you never know.

Belle is an odd case, because he had his career ended by a terrible injury (degenerative hip), yet no one feels sorry for him. He also only played 10 full seasons, which goes against a guy generally (Ralph Kiner being an exception) unless there's extenuating circumstances (Addie Joss's fatal illness, Hank Greenberg's WWII service being examples). The arc of Belle's career, if not his actual numbers, is much like Bob Meusel, a great part of the Ruth-era Yanks and a feared power hitter in his day, but nonetheless not a HOFer. Meusel pops up later on, by the way.
Belle, who's only 39 by the way, did have remarkable moments (a 50 HR-50 2B season, .357/.438/.714 with 36/101 in 106 games, two seasons of 145+ RBI), but inevitably suffers by comparision to the era he played in.
He won one HR title and 3 RBI crowns, but his best overall season (1994) was a strike year, and his 1998 monster campaign of .328, 48 HR, 48 2B, 152 RBI, league-bests with a 171 OPS+, 162 runs created and 1.055 OPS, was overshadowed by not leading the league in a Triple Crown category and having the McGwire-Sosa duel.
Belle, however, was an extremely durable player before his bizarre injury, and if not a stellar fielder, made up for it at the plate. He's 17th all-time in slugging, 37th in OPS, but only 60th in adjusted OPS (a haunting category for nearly every 1990s player).
His HOF charts place him generally borderline, and his two most similar players (Carlos Delgado and Juan Gone) don't do much to budge him.
There's a legitimate argument that he was the best pure hitter of the 1990s. Whether you think that decade's accomplishments are legitimate, whether you think Belle would have produced after 33, and whether you hate Belle or not are all major factors in deciding his Hall credentials.

I think you can be correct by not inducting him, citing a short career. But you can't knock his stats, and if you leave him out, there's an awful lot of players from that era who won't belong either. Starting with Fred McGriff and Rafael Palmiero.


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To those who missed this story...

Once again, the revamped Veterans Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame elected not to, ahem, elect a candidate to the hall. I had read the story, but not thought much on it before Mike IMed me today:

Isn't Santo like the Rizzuto of the Cubs, above average career but beloved for his 50 years in the game? And I guess as a whole Maris' career just wasn't good enough, even though he held the biggest single season record in sports for over 35 years and is one of just three eligible multiple mvp's not in the hall (i think).
I think he's dead-on with this. I love Ron Santo too, I think everyone does -- he was a dynamic force at a position that had nothing, and since then he's been a broadcaster and battled many ailments bravely. But should he get in merely because 3rd base has traditionally been the worst position in baseball, or on a pity vote? He did have 4 straight 30-HR seasons from 1964-67, and his 162-game average is 25 HR and 96 RBI. Even Baseball-Reference.com gives him a bad rap, however -- the "most similar" players to Santo are Dale Murphy, Ken Boyer, Gary Gaetti, Bobby Bonilla and Brian Downing -- fabulous players, but not a HOFer in the bunch.

I normally would rather err on the side of not letting players in -- better that than having a bunch of undeserving players (look up Rabbit Maranville sometime and explain that one to me). And I don't believe playing in a bad era (the 1980s, for instance) or a shallow position (3rd base) is an excuse either. But Santo retired with only 3 HOF third basemen enshrined (and you could argue that only Pie Traynor was better), and among active players only Brooks Robinson and Eddie Matthews had show equal or better ability. So if Santo was, at worst, the 6th best 3rd baseman of the first 100 years of organized baseball, he has to be in.

As for Maris, 275 HR is not that many, he only had 3 30-HR seasons, only 1 Gold Glove, and 3 seasons of a .500 slugging average. A great player -- very few players can match his 1960-61 campaigns for stats or team and cultural significance -- but not a HOFer.

Gil Hodges is puzzling. Sure he absolutely fell apart at age 36 (from .276-.513-25-80 to .198-.371-8-30), but he had 11 seasons where he hit 40 HRs twice, 100 RBI 7 times, and ranked in the top 6 in RBI 7 times and top 10 in HR 10 years in a row as well.
Let's not forget those last 3 awful years, he was the 6th, 8th, and 5th oldest player in baseball. Nowadays, the Yankees have 6 or 7 guys over the age of 36; Hodges was one of only 6 or 7 in the entire game. Give me another guy (besides Albert Belle) who had 11 seasons like his (and played in 7 WS) where you wouldn't put him in the HOF.

Plus he was the manager of the 1969 Mets.

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