|Wednesday, December 5
Five for the Hall of Fame
By Rob Neyer
After moderately careful consideration -- hey, it's not like my opinion actually counts for anything -- here are the five Hall of Fame candidates, in alphabetical order, who get my vote this time around ...
A few words on each of them ...
A year or two ago, I wrote many hundreds of words about Bert Blyleven, who is on the ballot for the fifth time, having received scant support his first four tries. Blyleven, quite frankly, is overqualified for the Hall of Fame. Blyleven was, over the course of his career, a better pitcher than Ted Lyons or Early Wynn or Bob Lemon or Red Ruffing or Rube Waddell or Red Faber or Catfish Hunter or Lefty Gomez, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame. Blyleven was also a better pitcher than Luis Tiant or Tommy John or Jim Kaat or Ron Guidry, none of whom are in the Hall of Fame but all of whom have their supporters. More to the point, John and Kaat have both received more support than Blyleven from Hall of Fame voters.
And there simply isn't any reason for that. It's not Blyleven's fault that he generally pitched for unspectacular teams that played in hitter's parks. In fact, Blyleven pitched for 22 seasons, and in only four of those 22 seasons did Blyleven's home ballpark favor the pitcher, statistically.
I've written many hundreds of words about Gary Carter, too. It's very simple, folks. Gary Carter is one of the eight or 10 greatest catchers who ever lived. Unfortunately, just as Blyleven spent most of his career pitching in hitter's parks, Carter spent most of his career hitting in pitcher's parks; he played 18 full seasons in the majors, and in only six of those seasons did Carter's home ballpark favor the hitter, statistically.
Unfortunately, the great majority of your Hall of Fame voters don't pay attention to such things, which is why neither Carter nor Blyleven will be elected this year.
Goose Gossage, on the other hand, has essentially been victimized by lousy timing. In his prime, the late 1970s, you could lead your league with 25 or 30 saves, and in fact Gossage did lead the American League in saves three times, never with more than 33. But Gossage just pitched and pitched and kept on pitching, came up when he was 20 and was still pitching (and pitching well) when he was 43.
Gossage pitched in 1994, and so wasn't on a Hall of Fame ballot until 2000 ... by which point closers were leading their leagues with 45 or 50 saves. And suddenly Goose Gossage, who was easily the most feared relief pitcher in the American League for close to a decade, didn't seem so impressive any more.
There are, at this moment, two relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame. The first is Hoyt Wilhelm, whose career began in 1952 and can't really be compared to Gossage because their roles were so different. The second is Rollie Fingers, who can be compared to Gossage because their careers were roughly contemporary.
Fingers was, of course, a fine pitcher, both durable and effective. That said, adjusting for his home ballparks, Fingers' ERA was 19 percent better than the leagues in which he pitched. Gossage's ERA was 26 percent better than the leagues in which he pitched. Fingers wasn't any better than Gossage; he simply was lucky enough to finish his career in the 1980s, when 300 saves still seemed like a lot.
It's a funny thing about Ozzie Smith; there doesn't seem to be any fence-straddling. I hear from people who don't believe that a player with his hitting stats should even be on the ballot, and I hear from other people who think that not only should we elect Ozzie Smith, but also Dave Concepcion and Omar Vizquel and every other brilliant defensive shortstop.
Well, I'm going to straddle the fence. Yes, Ozzie Smith does belong in the Hall of Fame. But no, every other superior defensive shortstop does not belong in the Hall of Fame. Ozzie wasn't just a great defensive shortstop, he was the greatest defensive shortstop. He was to shortstop what Willie Mays was to center field, what Brooks Robinson (or if you prefer, Clete Boyer) was to third base, was Keith Hernandez was to first base, what Bill Mazeroski was to second base.
There's a difference between Ozzie and those other brilliant fielders, though ... shortstop is more important. The best defensive shortstop is generally going to save more runs than the best defensive second baseman or the best defensive center fielder. So in Ozzie Smith, you've got the greatest defensive player at the most important defensive position ... and you know, he wasn't that bad with the bat, once he'd been in the league for a few years. He always stole bases profusely and effectively -- 80-percent career success rate, about the same as Vince Coleman and Rickey Henderson -- and over the 11-year stretch from 1982 through 1992, Smith posted a solid .357 on-base percentage.
All of which is to say, there is very little doubt in my mind that Ozzie Smith was one of the 10 greatest shortstops ever, notwithstanding the current crop. And it seems to me that if you're among the top 10 players at your position, then by definition you're a Hall of Famer.
Which brings us to Alan Trammell, who also ranks as one of the 10 or 12 greatest shortstops ever. Let's compare Trammell to Ozzie, hitting stats only:
Runs RBI OBP Slug Ozzie 1257 793 .337 .328 Alan 1231 1003 .352 .415
Big edge for Trammell, obviously. And he was not helped much by Tiger Stadium, which was a good home-run park but was not a particularly good hitter's park in general. Yes, Ozzie has a big edge defensively ... but how big? Nobody seems to remember this now, but Trammell was once considered the best defensive shortstop in the American League. He won Gold Gloves in 1980 and '81, and then again in '83 and '84 (and probably would have won the GG in 1982, except Robin Yount was all-everything that year).
Trammell was the best player in the American League in 1987, but finished a close second to George Bell in the MVP vote because baseball writers are obsessed with RBI. Trammell never played quite so well again, though he did put together a few more solid seasons. He was overshadowed by Cal Ripken for much of his career, but we shouldn't let that blind us to his greatness.
So those are my five.
I do know that Andre Dawson and Dale Murphy will draw significant support, and both might well deserve plaques in the Hall. My problem with Murphy is that he was a good player for only eight years, though of course he was a great player for five or six of those years.
Dawson, meanwhile, was a fine player for a long time, but I just don't buy him as a Hall of Famer. He played in an era conducive to hitting, and finished his career with a .323 on-base percentage. In 1987, his MVP season with the Cubs, Dawson drew 32 walks and scored 90 runs. Like I said, he was a fine player, but he wasn't much better than Dave Parker or Bobby Murcer or Dwight Evans.
Jim Rice was helped immensely by his home ballpark, and when you account for that, he simply doesn't have the hitting stats you'd like to see from a Hall of Fame left fielder who also DH'd in 530 games. And Jack Morris ... well, let's just say that he might be one of the 100 greatest pitchers ever. But then again, he might not be.
Rob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and to order his books, including the just-published Feeding the Green Monster, click here.