Second thoughts are not first disasters. There’s nothing wrong with thinking twice, which one gathers many wish the Baseball Writers Association of America had done with this year’s Hall of Fame non-election. If a large enough group of the 500+ voting writers elected to send a message about actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, they have done so.
They have also cheated (if you’ll pardon the expression) several legitimate Hall of Fame candidates out of being elected to Cooperstown this year. It may be a waste of breath, ink, or both to suggest every last voting writer be held to account for why they felt, if they felt, that the innocent deserved to be punished with the (actual or alleged) guilty, or that those about whom nothing worse than innuendo applies should have been punished likewise. And, in fairness, the rule allowing the voting writers to choose no more than ten players per ballot is a kind of unfair restraint. Why not let them put twenty names on?
Still, it seems somewhere between ridiculous and scandalous that (we’ll take it from enough of the writers’ apparent point of view) the actual or alleged cheaters couldn’t have been sent a message without unfairly shoving others to one side for another year, even if you allow the still prevalent and still mostly foolish first-ballot bias. (It’s no comfort to remind people that Cy Young, Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Grove, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Juan Marichal didn’t make it on their first ballots, either.)
Looking at the candidates in question in order of the votes they did receive, and leaving aside those who a) copped to using A/A-PEDs; b) were caught using them (though in Rafael Palmeiro’s case, I’ve said before and I’ll say again, there is a very real possibility that he got done in by a tainted vitamin shot, that the closer you look at him the less there really was to see on the PED issue); or, c) one and done candidates who didn’t exactly look like obvious Hall of Famers in the first place, here they are:
CRAIG BIGGIO—The leading vote getter at 388 (68.2 percent of the ballots; players need 75 percent or better for election), Biggio was probably the best second baseman of his time who wasn’t named Roberto Alomar. (Jeff Kent was a better slugger, but as an all-around second baseman he’s just behind Alomar and Biggio.) On the Bill James Hall of Fame monitor, Biggio rates 169 (the average Hall of Famer rates 100); on the James Hall of Fame Standards, Biggio meets 57–seven above the average Hall of Famer. By the JAWS system (Jay Jaffe’s Wins Above Replacement), which compares a Hall of Fame candidate to those at his dominant position who are Hall of Famers already, Biggio shakes out only slightly below average—and we’re talking about Hall of Famers here. But did you know that, if you took Biggio’s seven best WAR seasons he’s only .3 below Alomar?
If counting stats are your game, be advised that Biggio has a) more lifetime home runs than Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, and Joe Morgan; b) more RBIs than those men; c) more stolen bases than most Hall of Fame second basemen; and, d) more lifetime hits than Rod Carew and Frankie Frisch, naming Hall second baseman whose careers lasted as many seasons as Biggio’s. He probably got hurt by playing so many home games in the old Astrodrome, too, but he looks bloody damn good when you measure him against his should-be Cooperstown fellows.
Verdict: Biggio deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. A lot of people thought he had a shot at getting in because he was a clean player, too.
JACK MORRIS—I suppose that, if the PED (actual or alleged) class wasn’t a factor, Morris would still be the most controversial candidate, and he pulled up this time with three fewer votes than Biggio. For the longest time I was on the fence over him: I wasn’t convinced he was a Hall of Famer, I wasn’t convinced he wasn’t. What I can’t get past when all is said and done, though, is:
a) Morris’s big-game reputation seems to rest almost entirely on Game Seven, 1991 World Series; his postseason pitching record, and enough of his regular-season pitching record isolated to games pitched in the absolute heat of a pennant race, simply doesn’t quite match to that of a genuine big-game pitcher.
b) In only one of the seasons in which he went to the postseason did Morris earn Cy Young Award voting good enough for fifth place or higher—and he was battered over the four starts he did make in the 1992 postseason.
c) Some very fatuous arguments have been made on Morris’s behalf, perhaps the most ridiculous of them being how many Opening Day starts he made. I don’t know about anyone else but I can’t remember anyone justifying a Hall of Fame vote preponderantly because of how many times a man got the ball on Opening Day. Even Morris himself hasn’t offered that up very much, if at all.
d) In his own time Morris was actually held to be a workhorse who approached greatness often enough but didn’t quite cross the line as often as not. If you want to return to the postseason or “big game” argument a moment, and marry it to how many people’s jaws dropped when Bert Blyleven was finally elected to the Hall of Fame, be advised that 1) Blyleven has a better postseason pitching record than Morris does; and, 2) Blyleven and Morris once tangled in a postseason game (the 1987 American League Championship Series) . . . and while Blyleven manhandled Morris’s team Blyleven’s absolutely battered Morris.
e) You shouldn’t make Morris’s pro- or con-Cooperstown case purely by d) above. It’s absolutely true that there come times when you overlook statistics, but it’s difficult if not impossible to do when weighing Morris by the numbers and several of the factors concurrent to those I discussed earlier. Ken Davidoff—once a solid Morris supporter, but later retracting it based on the statistical evidence, is right: “[Morris]‘s an emotion-driven candidate, a narrative-driven candidate and the numbers don’t support him.”
Verdict: It’s sad to say because he was a workhorse and a gamer who throve on pitching as deep into games as possible, but Morris is just short enough of a bona-fide Hall of Famer. But he does have a shot at getting in next year, his final try. And if he does, whatever one argues above, you can say at least that he won’t be anywhere near the least-worthy pitcher in Cooperstown.
JEFF BAGWELL—Biggio’s longtime teammate and friend has nothing but innuendo working against him. Bagwell hasn’t been found in any way, shape, or form to have used actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances to any degree otherwise. How good was Bagwell? Good enough to average 150 on the James Hall of Fame Monitor, meet 59 of the James Hall of Fame Standards, and pull up sixth in the Jaffe WAR (JAWS) tally, well above the average among first basemen in or due for the Hall. Among Hall first basemen only four—Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Cap Anson, and Roger Connor—sit ahead of Bagwell; Albert Pujols, still active, sits in between Foxx and Anson. Among eighteen Hall of Fame first basemen, Bagwell sits 14.4 WAR above their average.
He wasn’t one of the great defenders at first base but he was a helluva run producer (219 runs produced per 162 games lifetime; 8.2 average runs created per 27 outs lifetime; 135 runs created per 162 games lifetime) and was a lot faster on the bases than you probably remember him being. (Lifetime stolen base percentage: .721.) He played a little more than half his career in a home park that usually killed hitters. It’s reasonable enough to think that Bagwell might have reached 500 bombs and perhaps 3,000 hits if his shoulder hadn’t been thrown into the tank by arthritis in 2005; the condition probably cost him three or even four more seasons of play that might have gotten him there, if those numbers mean anything.
Fun memory: Bagwell proved you could hit like hell using Von Hayes’s batting stance or a facsimile thereof. One of the lasting images of the Astros in his time is Bagwell spreading his feet to either end of the batter’s box, practically, and batting in a squat that looked like a fellow inching his way into a hot bath hoping his butt didn’t get third-degree burned before he could sink all the way into the tub. Most batters would probably split their groins into pieces if they tried just standing like that, never mind hitting like that. (Tim Salmon used a similar stance but wasn’t quite the player Bagwell was.)
Verdict: Bagwell did deserve first-ballot Hall of Fame election. This was his third try and he, too, got robbed. He and Biggio will go in sooner or later, though.
MIKE PIAZZA—The greatest hitting catcher of all time. It isn’t close. Not the greatest all-around catcher of all time—Yogi Berra still holds that distinction with Johnny Bench right on his tail and, probably, Ivan Rodriguez in Bench’s rear-view mirror. Like Bagwell, Piazza’s been wounded by innuendo and nothing much more. Like Bagwell, too, Piazza played most of his career in home parks that usually killed hitters or at least neutralised them.
Piazza, in case you didn’t know, has exactly the same lifetime WAR as Yogi Berra and about seven above the average of fourteen Hall of Fame catchers. (Why do I rate Berra higher than Bench considering Bench’s whopping WAR? Berra was actually a better defensive catcher and—you can look this up, though with a lot of effort—the pitchers who threw to him pitched better with him behind the plate than at any other time in their careers, Whitey Ford excepted. Bench’s pitchers pitched well with him behind the plate but not necessarily better than with other catchers. All-around, every inch around, Berra was just that much better.)
Strange fact: For all Piazza’s defensive shortcomings, he did catch Hideo Nomo’s no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies . . . in Coors Field, of all places.
The moment you’ll never forget: When the Mets returned home to open their first homestand following the 9/11 atrocity, Piazza squared up against Atlanta relief pitcher Steve Karsay in the bottom of the eighth, with pinch runner Desi Relaford aboard and one out, and hit an 0-1 pitch far enough over the left center field fence to bang off an elevated television camera. The fact that it made him number on on the all-time bombs-as-a-catcher list proved almost a footnote to the emotional release Piazza’s shot gave New York.
Verdict: Should have been first ballot. Will get in in due course. Suspicion is not evidence.
TIM RAINES—Sixth year on the ballot, the Rock landed 297 votes (52.2 percent). I’ve argued his Hall of Fame case in the past; his big problem seems to be that he doesn’t have a hard statistical benchmark to have made him look that obvious. Or didn’t, until you look at him sabermetrically: Raines has more WAR (66.2) than the average figure (61.7) of nineteen Hall of Fame left fielders, and his seven best WAR seasons shake out to an average just above the average of those nineteen’s seven-best.
Raines had about the same skill set as Pete Rose and hit in pretty much the same lineup position: early in the order, a little power, a surreal ability to reach base. But in their fifteen best seasons, Raines actually used up fewer outs to reach base than Rose did. (You can look that up in Total Baseball.) If you factor (as Allen Barra has) that Raines didn’t have as deep a quality of teammates batting behind him as Rose usually did, you could put Raines in front of Rose’s teammates and picture very easily that Raines would have produced even more runs using fewer outs, still. But you don’t have to make a might-have-been case to put Raines in Cooperstown.
Verdict: It’s going to take a little longer, unfortunately. It’s hard enough to argue he got jobbed this year because it was his sixth try, but Raines does deserve the honour.
LEE SMITH—I’m still on the fence with Smith. I can’t make up my mind whether he does or doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. This was his eleventh try, though, so I can’t really argue that the A/A-PED issue jobbed him this time around.
CURT SCHILLING—Schilling was what Jack Morris’s supporters claim Morris to have been: the very essence of a big-game pitcher. And it didn’t begin or end with the Bloody Sock games in the 2004 postseason, either. He meets 46 of the James Hall of Fame Standards but pulls up 171 on the James Hall of Fame Monitor. He’s eight points above the average WAR among 57 Hall of Fame pitchers; his best seven WAR seasons average just a sliver below those 57. He has a fine regular season record when all is said and done, particularly when you look at his strikeouts, but you can make a brilliant argument that Schilling’s big-game resume does yank him to Hall of Fame status.
Verdict: Schilling may also have been hurt by his outspokenness over the years, but he probably did get jobbed to a certain extent by this year’s, ahem, other factors. Don’t doubt for a moment that you’ll see him in Cooperstown soon enough.
EDGAR MARTINEZ—This is his fourth year on the ballot, and I’m figuring the DH bias continues to play against him. I can’t really say this year’s Other Factors had all that much to do with him not getting in this time around.
ALAN TRAMMELL—Trammell’s twelfth try was no soap, either. And I’m still on the fence with him. Can’t decide he belongs, can’t decide he doesn’t.
LARRY WALKER—Third try. Can’t say he was robbed this time. Can’t say he’s going to have a short wait if he gets in at all, either. But his case is stronger than those pointing to all those years with Coors Field as his home park might believe.
FRED McGRIFF—Fourth try, not jobbed. I suspect the number one thing holding the Crime Dog back is that he wasn’t quite as good hitting in pressure situations as he’s remembered to have been. If he does get elected in due course, he’d be—exactly—an average Hall of Famer. No more, no less, until you look at his WAR and realise he pulls up well below the average among the Hall of Fame first basemen. There was a little noise about including McGriff in a group of “clean” candidates, but that seems to have been all it was, thus far . . .
DALE MURPHY—Fifteenth try, fifteenth failure, leaving the writers’ ballot. His only hope for the Hall of Fame now goes to a future Veterans Committee group, but I can’t really see it happening. Murphy really was done out of a bona-fide Hall of Fame case by knee injuries. (For a comparison of two-time MVP winners, Roger Maris was probably done out of making a bona-fide Hall of Fame case by wrist injuries.) It stinks that it had to be that way for one of the absolute best people to play the game in his time and place, and if all you needed was character he’d have gone into Cooperstown in a walk long ago.
As a personal aside, I found it quite insulting to have seen enough people banging the drum none too slowly for Murphy’s enshrinement on the grounds that he was (and still is) Mr. Clean, in just about every sense of the term including you-know-what sense. Does it really seem worthy of the man himself to say that you should enshrine him merely because someone else was actually or allegedly dirty? That’s been a prevalent argument on Murphy’s behalf. Hall of Fame or no Murphy deserves a better argument than that.
“[H]e’s neither being sized up for sainthood nor even measured against those less-than-saintly types,” wrote Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated prior to the vote results. “He’s being measured against the players already in the Hall of Fame, sinners and saints alike, for his tangible accomplishments on the field, and by those standards, he simply falls short.”
DON MATTINGLY—See Dale Murphy, basically, but substitute his back and add two more years on the ballot to come. Then mourn that it won’t get any better for him, either. Mattingly was on the Hall track until his back turned traitor and robbed him blind of his chances. But there were reasons why they called him Donnie Baseball. And God only knows he should probably get some kind of commendation for having managed to remain an unflappable presence during the absolute worst of the Steinbrennerian insanity of the 1980s.
BERNIE WILLIAMS—Second time around, not enough to keep him around for a third try. He was a class act and a class Yankee and a terrific player, but not really all that close to a Hall of Famer. We can’t really say he got jobbed.
What we have, then, are four players who truly did get jobbed thanks to the A/A-PED factor making for such a presence on the ballot among a few first time candidates, not to mention a little unsubstantiated innuendo: Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, and Curt Schilling. Biggio, Piazza, and Schilling probably got hurt in tandem by the ridiculous first-time factor; we’re not talking about candidates whose Hall qualifications need a lot more in-depth examination (put Jack Morris, who probably won’t get to Cooperstown, and Tim Raines, who probably will, in due course, in that group), we’re talking about men who should have been obvious Hall of Famers from the moment they called it a career.
I’ve heard the arguments and read the arguments. The writers sent their message, seemingly, for better or worse. And while I agree absolutely that the voting writers should not be restricted to putting ten names on their ballots, I’m absolutely lost for a solid, no-questions-asked, sensible reason why four should-be Hall of Famers—two of whom played the game absolutely clean; two of whom have nothing but inadmissible innuendo and mere suspicion to say they didn’t—were made to wait.
If the writers really did want to become their own House Committee for the Dissemination of Great Messages to Kids, they’d have sent a very powerful message, to kids and otherwise, by awarding Biggio, Bagwell, Piazza, and Schilling, at least, the honour they deserve. Those of us who grew up with parents who were fool enough to punish all their children for the transgression of one know how wrong such parents were. Now you see voting writers punishing the innocent with the guilty, with no few of them absolutely unapologetic about it. Pray their parenting is more intelligent than their Hall of Fame voting.