This is a very tough decision for the Yankees involving a very good and popular player. Letting Cano go at a time when the rest of the team is aging and there is limited promise in the farm system would make it hard for the Yankees to contend in 2014 and 2015. Keeping him would ensure that the latest cycle of Yankee dysfunction, overpaying for aging stars, will continue unabated while other teams are getting smarter in this regard.
Robinson played in his last game well over 50 years ago, and died over 40 years ago. Thus many baseball fans never saw Robinson play, and have only read about him or seen old footage of his playing days. Over time, not surprisingly, the story of Jackie Robinson, has surpassed the memory of Jackie Robinson as a player. Robinson was, however, a great player, and an unusual one. Looking more closely at what Jackie Robinson did on the field helps fill in the picture of who he was.
Abreu is the kind of player who will be easily forgotten by most fans. His post-season footprint was not large for a player in the wild card era who amassed well over 9,000 regular season plate appearances. He underperformed in black ink and awards voting; and had a personality that rarely drew a great deal of attention. However, he was also a player with both an unusual skill set and career path who managed to put up numbers that would not look out of place in Cooperstown.
Carew, Boggs and Gwynn were the three great singles hitters of the last 60+ years. Obviously, they did more than hit singles, but that is the term used for players who, like them, don’t hit a lot of home runs. The reason there are so few players who meet this criteria is that some who we may think of as great singles hitter leadoff types, like Rickey Henderson, hit for more power than is sometimes remembered. Others, such as Lou Brock, did not produce enough offensive value to be great offensive players, while others, such as Jackie Robinson, had careers that were too short to accumulate enough plate appearances.
Therefore, what is at stake in Hall of Fame voting is how the game’s history gets passed down from one generation to another. This is further complicated by the vague and differing definitions of what makes a Hall of Famer, specifically the relationship between narrative and numbers in evaluating players. Jim Rice, for example, got an increase in support because of his great 1978 season and the false, but broadly accepted narrative that he was the most feared hitter of his generation.
One possible area worth exploring is different ways of using left-handed throwing players. For most of the history of modern baseball, left-handed throwing big leaguers have only been pitchers, outfielders, first baseman and designated hitters. Obviously, many left-handed throwers rank among the greatest ball players ever including hitters like Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial and pitchers like Lefty Grove, Randy Johnson and Warren Spahn. However, it is still possible that by restricting the use of left-handed players, teams are missing a possible strategic advantage.
When looking back on Jackson’s career many words come to mind, but underrated is not one of them. However, at least with regards to awards voting, Jackson, through a combination of being unappreciated and unlucky, may not have received his due. Jackson finished in the top ten in MVP voting six times, while only winning the award once in 1973. In 1973, when he won the MVP, Jackson played in 151 games hitting .293/.383/.531 for a league leading OPS+ of 162, stealing 22 bases while only being caught eight times for a team that easily won its division. He also played a decent right field and led his leagues in homeruns (32) and RBIs (117). It was a great year for a great player which was properly recognized by the BBWAA. It was not, however, his best year.
Cano and Pedroia are both 26 years old and among the best second baseman in the game. The rivalry between the two players could energize the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry for years to come. It is likely that fans of both teams believe they have the best player. This is supported by the narrative, but the numbers suggest that Cano has become the better player. It will be interesting to see if the awards voters reflect this.
Alomar and Larkin were among the very best ever at their positions and, petty biases regarding first time inductees aside, should take their rightful place in Cooperstown. McGriff and Martinez are more complicated candidates, and raise some interesting questions, but also deserve to be elected.
If Derek Jeter had split his career between say the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros, and only appeared in the post-season a few times while racking up his offensive statistics every season, he would almost certainly be a darling of the SABRmetric crowd and a target of derision from the Joe Morgans of the baseball world because of his inadequate defense and un-shortstop like stature. Of course, that is not what Jeter’s career has looked like. Instead, he has been the iconic player on one of baseball’s most famous teams, playing in an intense media climate. This has framed perceptions of Jeter a great deal, but when one gets past the nonsense written about Jeter in the local New York media, it is worth taking a second look at what kind of player he has been, and continues to be.