Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
Loyalty to petrified opinions never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this worldand never will.
Inscription under Mark Twain's bust in the New York University Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame voting for 2009 is in the books, and the net result is that three new members will be greeted in the hallowed halls (or hall, actually) of Cooperstown: Rickey Henderson (a no-brainer), Jim Rice (in his last year of eligibility) and Joe Gordon (by the easier of the two bifurcated veterans committees).
Henderson was arguably the best player eligible not in Hall. It would be difficult to argue against that assertion given he is the all-time leader in stolen bases, times caught stealing, runs, and leadoff home runs (and walks when he retired) and he had 3000 hits and 535 Win Shares.
The only argument seemed to be how a handful of dolts could leave Rickey off their ballots. Henderson appeared on 511 of the 539 ballots cast or, rather, did not appear on 28 of them. However, his 94.81% voting percentage was twelfth all time and was just slightly ahead of Willie Mays, not such bad company after all. Also, Henderson was 106 votes above the number he needed for election (405). That's the five most votes over the number needed all-time (behind Ripken, Gwynn, Ryan, and Brett). Here are the top 15 Hall of Famers by voting percentage:
Henderson is behind some players, even contemporaries, who were clearly inferior players though Hall of Famers all (Gwynn in particular seems unfair), but it's hard to gripe when you reach such (deservedly) rarified air.
The other two men who will be enshrined were far more controversial because of their selection, not omission. The argument against Rice starts with his being a sentimental pick given he was in the last year of eligibility (on the Baseball Writers ballot at least). Some have argued that he played in a hitter's park and didn't produce on the road. Some will say his career was too short, he was a defensive liability, and that he was a slug around the bases. Some (including me) would argue that his teammate and follow outfielder Dwight Evans was a better player and he fell of the ballot years ago.
As Rob Neyer most acerbically put it, "[W]e can simply add him to the list of good players -- Bruce Sutter, Catfish Hunter and Orlando Cepeda come to mind -- who don't really belong in the Hall of Fame but are there anyway [T]he election of Rice will do little to lower the standards of the institution, as it's unlikely that players like Dave Parker, Albert Belle, Dick Allen and big Frank Howard now will be knocking on the Coop's door (even though, it should be said, all of them were at least Rice's equal)." To quote Tina Fey, "Cat sound!" Wow, Albert Belle is a hard case to make, but luckily for Neyer, he rarely deigns to make it. And what? No mention of the execrable choices like Tommy McCarthy or the spate of other Veterans Committee choices? (More on Joe Gordon later)
There are valid arguments in there. Clearly, Rice was not a first ballot-type candidate, but the question remains as to whether he was a viable candidate for enshrinement. Like Mr. Owl, let's find out
First, as a thumb rule (and a thumb rule only) where does Rice fall in the career Win Shares list for eligible players who are not in the Hall as of 2009? Henderson comes in first, nearly 150 Win Shares ahead of the next highest player with 535. Rice is tied for 69th with Boog Powell, a player who has more chance to land in the advertising hall of fame, at 282. Gordon is even lower tied at 155th at 242 Win Shares (but as I said, more on him later).
Next, we can look at some of the standards that Mssr. Neyer's mentor put together in his Hall of Fame book many years ago. These sorts of arguments are the ones that James cites ad nauseum to make a point in that work. The point is anyone can manipulate the facts to meet his opinion. James strove to set up some of independent set of tools to analyze candidates.
In addition, what makes Rice an ideal candidate for this treatment is that he is the perfect high-peak, short-career type player. James designed his tools to weight career milestones as well as single-season highlights.
Here are the results for all of the candidates on the 2009 BBWAA ballot. Note that I added one for meeting the criterion of average HoFer Win Share total (337):
|Name||First Year||Yrs Elig Left||Black Ink (Avg 40 P, 26 B)||>HOF Avg||Gray Ink (Avg 185 P, 144 B)||>HOF Avg||HOF Standard (Avg 50)||>HOF Avg||HOF Monitor (Likely >100)||Likely HOF?||# Similar in Hall||Sim Elig?||Similar in Hall >50%||Win Shares||> HOF Avg (336.89)||% Passed|
Note that Henderson and Bert Blyleven are "best" candidates by this method, meeting 83% of the criteria. Anyone who is familiar with ERA+ is already on the Blyleven bandwagon, so I will let that dog lie. However, the next set at 67% is comprised of Rice along with Andre Dawson, another oft-dissed candidate, and Mark McGwire, who would be in the Hall (probably first ballot as well) if not for the steroid scandal.
The next tier, at 50%, is Jack Morris and Dale Murphy, two more highly controversial candidates. Unfortunately, Tim Raines, who ranks second in Win Shares among the BBWAA candidates and who is the one candidate that I would champion above all the rest (if I went in for such things), comes in at just 33% along with Tommy John and Dave Parkerand yet more controversy!
Are these tests conclusive? No, but it's a preferable approach to searching for facts to fit ones opinion. It puts all the candidates on the same level playing field.
Is Rice a HoFer? Apparently so according to the standards established for the Hall by the players yet far selected.
Is he the best candidate? No, but one could make an argument that he was a "good" choice. He is better than the 69th showing he put up in career Win Shares.
As for my personal opinion of Rice (for full disclosure), frankly, me dear, I don't give a damn. I considered Rice a great hitter in my youth, but clearly he was not as complete a player as, say, Henderson. He is a borderline candidate, so why not the Hall members make the decision based on their own makeup.
And before I get to Gordon, I should mention a number of phantoms who stayed only too briefly on the BBWAA ballot before falling into a pre-Vets Committee purgatory. There are a number of very good candidates that got short shrift from the writers. Some seemed like writer faves (like Will Clark) so maybe it's not just personality that causes the writers to overlook, or underlook, a candidate (e.g., the 28 missing votes for Henderson).
Of the top 25 eligible candidates not in the Hall based on career Win Shares, just eleven of them were on one of the various Hall ballots this year. Here they are:
|Rank||Win Shares||Name||Voted By||On Ballot?||Inducted?|
|10||344||George Van Haltren||Veterans|
So one could argue that not only are the best candidates not being picked, they do not even appear on any ballot. BBWAA candidates today either seem to take one of three routes: 1) quick election, usually in the first year, 2) life in limbo staying on the ballot until their time runs out, or 3) failing to get the requisite 5% vote to remain on the ballot and falling quickly into oblivion.
The five-percent rule is arbitrary and unfair. There are good many current Hall of Famers, for good or ill, who would never have made it to the Hall had they been dumped upon failing to reach this magic number. Newly minted HoFer Joe Gordon got just 1 vote in 251 ballots in his first year of eligibility, and did not exceed the magic 5% number for another nine. Before getting the necessary 75% this year, he never exceeded 29% in the 17 previous elections and runoffs (though to be fair, that includes one vote he received in 1945 when he was at war).
But I digress perhaps using Win Shares alone is not the best way to gauge whether the best candidates are getting looked at by one of the ballots. As with Rice, we can look at the Bill James tests for each to determine his worthiness. Let's take a look at the eligible players no longer on the BBWAA ballot, either off the ballot altogether or shifted to one of the vets committees. Here they are sorted by Win Shares:
|Vets/ineligibles||Black Ink (Avg 40 P, 26 B)||>HOF Avg||Gray Ink (Avg 185 P, 144 B)||>HOF Avg||HOF Standard (Avg 50)||>HOF Avg||HOF Monitor (Likely >100)||Likely HOF?||# Similar in Hall||Similar in Hall >50%||Win Shares||> HOF Avg (336.89)||% Passed|
|George Van Haltren||10||No||138||No||57.2||Yes||111.0||Yes||8||Yes||344||Yes||67%|
Using this method a strong argument could be made for antediluvian pitcher Tony Mullane, Sherry Magee, George Van Haltren, Dick Allen, Bob Caruthers, and Jim McCormick. Of these just Magee and Allen appeared on a ballot.
You will note in the comparison above that Joe Gordon does not meet one of the criteria, not one. There's not really any kind of coherent argument you could make for Gordon's election. He's about 100 Win Shares below the average Hall of Famer, had a remarkably short careerhe was washed up by age 34 (though some credit should be given for his years lost to WWII), and had some very sub-par years mixed in even before his precipitous decline1943, his last full season before the war, was execrable (79 OPS+!). Besides his peak was never all that great. His best OPS+ was an impressive but far from earth shattering 155, and his career average even with the quick hook was 120.
The best argument for Gordon's election is that the newly constantly revamped Veterans Committee had to pick a player before they were jettisoned for good. They had to split the vote down to pre-1943 and post-1942 before they could election someone. And Gordon's ballot consisted of just ten men with 12 voters. We are getting closer to Ted Williams cajoling a couple of minions into picking his old buddies like Dom Dimaggio, the kind of cronyism that the new Veterans Committee was supposed to stem.
To Be Continued
Oh, almost forgot, but this a real gem, of the plain stone variety that one can find just about anywhere:
"Next, we can look at some of the standards that Mssr. Neyer's mentor put together in his Hall of Fame book many years ago. These sorts of arguments are the ones that James cites ad nauseum to make a point in that work. The point is anyone can manipulate the facts to meet his opinion. James strove to set up some of independent set of tools to analyze candidates."
You can manipulate the "facts" while you can manipulate the "criteria" even more easily. Usually, you "hide" the bad "fact" by choosing other "criteria". The "debate" was otherwise not over the "facts" but over the "criteria", and so the one soul, Mr. James, believes his to be more accurate when it comes to assesing player skill/worth.
Truly lastly, speaking of players that were left out, Reggie Smith was one of those one-time with less than 5% of the vote souls. As I remarked in a post on Dodger Thoughts, one HOF RF has this career line:
So if you take Clemente and the only other RF left on the board is one Reginald Carl Smith, have no pity for me, as I won't exactly be crushed in having to draft Reggie with the pick following yours.
Sorry, I lied, and so one more. If one considers where Mr. Wynn had to play the majority of his games, and then add to that the "golden era of pitching", his numbers look a whole lot better. Hell, just look at his line from '68 and then consider the pitching numbers from that year. Or take the NL avg line: .240/.300/.341 and compare with Jimmy's line of .269/.376/.474. He's a HOF too.
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