Monday, January 5, 2015

My Baseball Hall of Fame ballot isn't numbers crazy

Baseball, more than any other sport, revolves around numbers. We analyze them. We debate them. We even invent them.

A line of BA, HR, and RBI used to be the standard measuring stick yet now we have OBP, OPS, WAR, JAWS and seemingly countless other acronyms construed to determine a player’s worth and importance. ERA isn’t enough anymore so someone created PERA which I thought was a country in South America. Sabermetrics is now on steroids.

Hence, we have more statistical information and ballyhooed data as wide as Kim Kardashian’s behind at our fingertips to decide who belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and, lord knows, every talking head and blogger that doesn’t have a vote has an opinion, the most common being the HOF voting eligible members in the Baseball Writers Association of America are as clueless as TMZ without cell phone cameras and video.

What’s become concerning, however, is that we are relying more and more on these new-fangled numbers to compare candidates for the HOF with players already in the Hall of Fame. This amuses me because as a baseball society we have become so enamored with numbers and lists that we overlook awards and accolades. If the best actors are measured merely by Oscars and Golden Globes, why can’t HOF baseball players be measured simply by trophies and plaques?

One of the biggest determinants as to whom I, as an honorary member of the BBWAA, vote for for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame is how candidates rated and ranked among their peers that they played against in the era that they played in.  I try to examine how many All-Star Games they were chosen for and how many MVP, Cy Young , Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards they may have won in their careers because where they finished in voting for post-season awards is an excellent gauge of how dominant  they were when stacked up against like players in a similar period in their baseball lives.

For example, I never voted for Jack Morris for the HOF in part because, in 18 years in the big leagues, he made the All-Star Game five times, never finished higher than third in Cy Young voting and never finished higher than 13th in MVP voting. His post-season numbers were impressive, but that represents only about 2.5 percent of his career innings pitched. He was an outstanding pitcher, but not a Hall of Famer in my mind.

Yet too often now I see career statistics and -- how well they are presented and packaged -- being cited as the absolute, tell-all, slam-dunk determining factor as to why a player should be in the Hall of Fame or not.  The case for these players is built solely on where they fit into a certain statistical category with little if any regard for awards and All-Star Game appearances. And these numbers are usually being sized up and compared to players in the Hall of Fame, though they may have played the game 10, 15, 20 or more years ago when the game was different.

With that in mine, it was easy for me to vote for pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, first-timers on this year’s ballot. They passed the eye-test on the big stage better than Victoria’s Secret models.

The Big Unit won the Hall of Fame milestone 300 games, was second all-time in strikeouts and was a 10-time All-Star and five-time Cy Young Award winner. He also was a World Series MVP.

Pedro was an All-Star Game MVP and appeared in the Mid-Summer Classic eight times. He won three Cy Young awards and finished second twice. He also was second in MVP voting in 1999.

Smoltz , an eight-time All-Star, won a Cy Young award in 1996 and a Rolaids Relief Man award in 2002.  He is the only pitcher in baseball history to win 200 games as a starter and save 150 games as a reliever.

All three were clearly and consistently dominant players in their era. 
I checked five other names on my ballot this year:

Craig Biggio, who was an All-Star as a catcher and a second baseman, had 3,060 hits, including 668 doubles – the most by any right-handed batter in the history of the game.

Jeff Bagwell, his teammate, was a four-time All-Star who was the National League’s MVP in 1996. He averaged 32 home runs and 103 RBIs in his first 14 seasons, playing more than half of his games in the pitcher-friendly Houston Astrodome. He scored 1,517 runs and knocked in 1,529 and every other player who has ever reached the 1,500 plateau in those two categories is in the Hall of Fame.

Tim Raines was an All-Star for seven consecutive years. He won a batting title and four stolen bases titles and is considered the second best lead-off hitter of all time behind Rickey Henderson who just so happened to play in the same era.

Mike Piazza was a 12-time All-Star and 1996 National League MVP who is arguably the greatest offensive catcher in the game’s history. He won 10 Silver Slugger awards and finished his career with a .308 batting average, 427 home runs and 1,335 RBIs.

Jeff Kent, a five-time All-Star and the NL’s MVP in 2000, is arguably the greatest offensive second baseman in the game’s history. His 377 career home runs are the most of any player ever to play that position.

The only other acronym that enters into my HOF induction equation, unfortunately, is PED. That comes down to a gut, moral and somewhat educated decision that I reserve the right to change someday if more information comes to light. Until then, I rely on the Mitchell Report.

We can all go around and around arguing about who does and does not belong in the Hall of Fame and that’s the beauty of baseball. We argue about it more than Johnny Manziel’s practice habits. More people care passionately about the Baseball Hall of Fame than any other sport so there are naturally going to be more differing opinions, especially with so many statistical angles and oddities.

Mine is this:  Just because I can vote for up to 10 players doesn’t mean that 10 are Hall of Fame worthy each year. Baseball’s Hall of Fame is more special and harder to reach than other sports hall of fames. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has averaged seven inductees per year this decade. The NHL HOF has averaged four. The Pro Baseball HOF has averaged 11 in the 2010s
The Baseball Hall of Fame has averaged 1.4 players being elected to the Cooperstown this decade and 1.5 players the past 10 years. Baseball sets the standard for Hall of Fames and I like the standards high, not watered down.

For now for me the face value of a Hall of Fame candidate is all-encompassing measured in the era they played, how they played the game from April through October and what individual recognition they received for it afterward.

So please don’t declare WAR on me.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home