Yankee fans probably need to accept not only that Don Mattingly is not getting into the Hall of Fame and that despite his four great years in pinstripes, he did not quite earn that honor. However, if Steve Garvey gets in and Mattingly does not, Yankee fans would be very justified in feeling their man was not treated fairly by the voters.
Baseball lost a bit of its history last week when Don Zimmer died. Zimmer was the starting 2nd baseman the day the Dodgers won their only championship in Brooklyn. Twenty-three years later he spent Rosh Hashanah managing the Boston Red Sox to their most famous defeat ever as Bucky Dent's three run home run dashed the Red Sox pennant chances. He was the starting third baseman in the first game the New York Mets ever played; and 27 years after that spent Yom Kippur managing the Chicago Cubs as they got eliminated from the NLCS on a clutch single by Will Clark. Zimmer, however, wasn't Jewish, so probably was not aware of the connection between important defeats and Jewish holidays in his life.
The bigger problem facing the Hall of Fame is that due to the backlog on the ballot, as well as the increased numbers of team, players and thus, eligible candidates, the players from the 1990s and later will be severely underrepresented over time. Finding a way for one of these players to get in will only make the lack of players from the 1990s and later more striking. If Parker gets into the Hall of Fame only a few years after getting rejected by the voters, the cases for more recent corner outfielders like Lance Berkman, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Vladimir Guerrero and others who were better hitters, but with shorter careers like Bobby Abreu and Brian Giles will be much stronger. Similarly, the logic of letting Garvey in, while, as is likely to happen, keeping John Olerud, Jason Giambi and Fred McGriff out, is tough to follow. Garvey or Dave Parker would not be the worst Hall of Fame selections, but perhaps the most puzzling.
Therefore, a good test for whether a player should be elected to the Hall of Fame is whether or not he was clearly better than Jack Clark. The data suggests that people who were better hitters than Clark probably should be in the Hall of Fame. There have been 47 players who, like Clark, posted an OPS+ of 135 or better over 8,000 or more plate appearances. Of those 26, are in the Hall of Fame. Of the remaining 21 all but four other players, Will Clark, Bob Johnson, Sherry Magee and Reggie Smith are either on the ballot, still active or not yet eligible.
Posey, only about fifteen months removed from a horrific injury which caused him to miss most of 2011, is hitting .329/.394/.541 for an OPS+ of 167. It is unlikely he can continue that pace, but he will not need to do that to accumulate 1.6 more WAR and break Breshnahan’s record. Posey is likely to record the greatest season ever by a Giants catcher, to some degree because catcher has been a weak position for the Giants throughout most of their history. Posey is, despite that context, still having a great season for a catcher. If he continues at this pace, he will have 6.6 WAR by the end of the season, good enough for a tie for 17th best season for a catcher and eighth best ever for a catcher under 26 years old.
Ron Santo will appear on the Veteran’s Committee ballot for the Hall of Fame this year and has a good chance to be elected. Should Santo win election, it will be the second year in a row in which a favorite of more quantitatively oriented fans and writers will have been elected to the Hall of Fame. This will be good news for Lou Whitaker, Tim Raines and others. If I had a vote, I would also support the late Santo who was one of the best third baseman in the game when he was playing, is still among the very best ever to play that position and was a beloved announcer and community figure in Chicago during his post-playing days.
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.
The recent Hall of Fame balloting yielded some interesting results. First, for the first time in several years there were no false positives. The two players elected, Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar, were well deserving of the honor and in no way bring down the overall quality of players in the Hall of Fame. This is different than each of the last two years when the election of borderline candidates like Jim Rice and Andre Dawson troubled many because many clearly superior players, for example Tim Raines, did not get elected while other superior players, like Will Clark, who were contemporaries of these two received little or no support when they were on the ballot.
There are nineteen new players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot: Carlos Baerga, Jeff Bagwell, Brett Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Al Leiter, Tino Martinez, Raul Mondesi, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Kirk Reuter, Benito Santiago, B.J. Surhoff and Larry Walker. There are no new candidates this year that can be expected to easily get elected. The closest to this is Jeff Bagwell, who is deserving of the Hall of Fame, but is not viewed as a sure thing. There are, however, several players on the ballot who, while being good players, in some cases for many years, are clearly not Hall of Famers. This group includes Baerga, Boone, Grissom, Harris, Higginson, Johnson, Leiter, Martinez, Mondesi, Reuter, Santiago and Surhoff. That leaves a diverse group of seven players including Bagwell, Brown, Franco, Gonzalez, Olerud, Palmeiro and Walker whose candidacies should at least be seriously considered.
The Giants have won the World Series bringing the championship to San Francisco for the first time ever! When Buster Posey caught the third strike on Nelson Cruz, a journey which began with my mother dropping off me, my brother and our friend Charles, who back then was known as Tony, on the corner of Clay and Van Ness in San Francisco sometime in the mid 1970s, ended in a hotel room in Tbilisi, Georgia more than 30 years later. Those spring and summer mornings, my mother would give each of us seven dollars-three for a ticket in the upper reserved section of old Candlestick Park, the remainder was for bus fare and food. When the bus driver was in a good mood and only charged fifty cents for the ballpark express, there was plenty left over for hot dogs, soda, popcorn and ice cream, but if the driver charged two dollars or more, it made for a hungry day at the ‘Stick.
Rice and Dawson are not the worst selections in Hall of Fame history, but they are definitely among the weaker outfielders in the Hall of Fame. One way to see this is to compare Rice and Dawson not to other Hall of Famers, or borderline candidates like Evans, but to a player who clearly did not have a Hall of Fame career. There was another slugging outfielder who was also active from 1976-1989, but whose entire career lasted from 1975-1992 thus overlapping significantly with Rice and Dawson.
Sometimes players who would be expected to be borderline candidates get elected, such as Dawson this year or Jim Rice last year, but sometimes similar candidates get little consideration at all. One example of this type of player is Will Clark who got less than 5% of the vote the first time he appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot and was dropped from future ballots. Will Clark’s story is well known. He had a few great years with the Giants before moving to the AL where his career took a downturn, but had one last great run in 2000, the last season of his career as a late season pickup by the Cardinals where he filled in for the injured Mark McGwire down the stretch run.
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.