Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Hall Gets Two New Members

The writers voted in two new Hall lof Fame members this week--Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice. Henderson got in on his first time on the ballot by an ovewhelming percentage, and rightfully so based on his incredible career. The hits, walks, and stolen bases, not to mention the leadoff home runs, make him an easy choice.

Rice is more borderline. He actually got in only on his 15th and last time on the writers' ballot. I must confess to having ambivalent feelings about Rice's membership in the Hall. Rice was a dominant offensive player from 1975 to 1986. I was following baseball closely during those years, but I never saw him as a superstar. Usually only a genuine superstar, like Sandy Koufax, merits the Hall when he's had a relatively short career.

Certainly Rice's career numbers don't jump out at you. His on-base percentage was a mediocre .352. In only one season did he even draw as many as 60 walks. He finished with fewer than 400 homers. And remember, he had the advantage of playing his whole career in hitter-friendly Fenway Park.

If I had a vote I would definitely have to study this further, but my current impression is that I woujd not vote for Rice, though it doesn't particulary offend me that he is going in. Some of the other players on this year's ballot are worth discussing also.

Third on the voting list behind the two new inductees is Andre Dawson at 67%. Like Rice, Dawson has been creeping up year by year, leading one to surmise that the might eventually get in, like Rice now has. Dawson played 21 seasons, though he had injury problems. His OBP is only .323. Because he had such a long career, he ranks at or near the top in several categories in career stats for all non Hall members, making it easy for him to pick up votes among the less discerning BWAA members. E.g., consider his 2,774 hits, and 1,591 RBI's. Only Harold Baines has higher totals among Hall-eligible players who are not in. But consider this: his RBI total has been surpassed by no less than five players who are still active! In my view Dawson doesn't quite make it.

Next we have Bert Blyleven at 62.7%. Now here is a guy who definitely should be voted in, and it's a travesty that he has had to wait so long. Blyleven's 60 shutouts rank 9th all-time, and everyone above hm and remotely close below him are in the Hall. He was always a dominant pitcher and there is no reason to deny him his rightful place in the Hall. Looking at a historical analogy, Goose Gossage didn't reach Blyleven's current vote percentage until 2006, and he was inducted just two years later. Based on that apt comparison, perhaps Blyleven will only have to wait two more years. Having retired in 1992, Blyleven fortunately has enough more years on the ballot to get over the hump.

The other player of interest is Mark McGwire. Surprisingly, Big Mac's percentage actually went down this year from last, to 21.9%. This reflects the grain of salt the writers are currently taking towards the big stats of the steroid era. I've heard some reporters commenting this week that when it is realized how widespread the steroid use was, players like McGwire will not be punished so severely. But for now, we are trying to sort this all out, and I think it is right to deny McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, and Bonds any entry to the Hall until the cloud hanging over them is lifted.

Finally, Pete Rose is still not on the ballot. This is a travesty. The rules of the Hall are that you go in as a member of a single category only, and not for your overall contributions to the game. This is a flawed concept, but it is the way it is set up. Pete would go in as a player, not a manager. Why, then, is he being punished for something he did as a manager? It makes no sense. Put Pete in already!

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