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Yep, another Baseball column.

Your Humble Blogger went to the National Baseball Hall of Fame this winter, so now that there's active discussion in the baseball world about what constitutes a Hall of Famer, that qualifies me to chime in, doesn't it?

If you're just joining the baseball world, Rafael Palmiero recently hit his 500th home run. Raffy has been an awfully good player for an awfully long time, but he's never been the best player in the league, and has never really been the best first baseman (or DH) in the league, either. Part of that is that he's been playing during the same years as Historic Greats such as Bonds and A-Rod, but also through the peak years of players with high peaks (and less durability), such as Clark, Gonzalez, Thomas, Galaragga, McGriff, McGuire, Mattingly, and Fielder. So the argument about whether he should be inducted into the Hall of Fame is, in large part, a question about peak versus career value in judging HoF candidates. If you favor career value, you think he's a no-brainer. If you think that you can't be in without being dominant at some point, you aren't convinced.

Now, it's time for a short digression to some thoughts I had about the HoF during the most recent phase of the Pete Rose controversy. I came to the realization that there are three Halls: the room with the plaques in it, which is the actual Hall of Fame; the museum part, which is where most people spend most of their time, and which has more pictures of non-inductees than inductees; and the Hall of Fame in the hearts and minds of baseball fans. Pete Rose is not in the first, is in the second (although neither his famed Reds nor the Wheeze kids of Philadelphia are done justice), and well, you will have to decide whether he is in the third for yourself. The categories are all overlapping and cross-influenced as well; if somebody shows up in enough of the museum stuff (Nolan Ryan, for instance) it will influence the voters for the plaque, as well as the hearts and minds of fans. If a player is prominent in the hearts and minds of fans (Tony Perez, perhaps? or Cepeda?), that also will influence the vote, as well as the museum. And, of course, if a player is inducted, it will affect how people think of him (Harmon Killebrew?)

On the other hand, if (for instance) Gossage is not inducted, he will still be in my personal Hall. I remember him coming in at the end of a game in Jack Murphy in 1984 or so and the crowd going nuts; he was feared beyond reason, and was a Star in a field without a lot of star power (at the time).

So if you think Raffy should be in the Hall of Fame, then he's an inductee into the Hall of your heart and mind, and that is no mean feat (is Roger Connor there?). Nothing in the discussion, or the eventual vote, can or should take that away.

That said, for an actual plaque in the Hall, my question has become this: Ten years after the induction, would a ten-year-old ball fan get excited about either seeing the plaque, or seeing the player at an old-timer's game? Ten years ago, Reggie Jackson was inducted; I can't imagine a ten-year-old baseball fan today who wouldn't be thrilled to meet him. Tom Seaver, the year before, or Steve Carlton, the year after, are also obvious. Rollie Fingers, also a 1992 inductee, makes my list, but then I saw him pitch; ask a nearby ten-year-old if they'd like to meet Rollie.

The year I was born, Stan Musial and Roy Campanella were inducted. I have my own issues with Campy, but there's no question they both pass the ten-year-old test. The next year, Lou Boudreau was inducted, and I ought to have been excited to see him, although I wouldn't have been at the time. That's part of it, too; if you count too much on charisma or mediageniety, you wind up thinking that Jeter is a Hall of Famer, just because he's in the comic books. You have to make some allowances, sure. The previous year Ducky Medwick got in, and I would have been excited about him, because I'd read more books about the Gas House Gang than about the Indians of the 40s (not sure why, they had that Feller with the Indians, not to mention Bob Lemon, and in that pennant-winning 1948 year, Satchel Paige).

Anyway, the question is whether Raffy passes the ten-year-old test. It's a tough test, not only because it's hard to predict which images will last, and whether that hard-working second-best thing will be as romantic as it seems now to many people, or whether with careers getting longer, and more players playing well into their late thirties and early forties (if that happens at all) his longevity and consistency will be seen as out of the ordinary. That's leaving aside the issue of predicting Raffy's future; he could certainly make it easy on everybody by having a tremendous year next year, getting an MVP, and nailing down the Hall right then. Anyway, if I had to decide right now, I'm inclined to say put him in. I'm imagining a kid whose father uses Raffy to teach about the value of consistency, hard work, preparation, and persistence (with Junior Griffey as the grasshopper?) and, looking at it that way, I like the idea of a Raffy plaque (and thus side with the career-value).

Sorry, no statistical analysis. On the other hand, no dick jokes, either.

Thank you,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

I like the ten-year-old test, though ten-year-olds are a varied lot. . .

Because I like baseball statistics, let me throw one out to see what you think of it. I'm inclined to think Career Win Shares is better than any other single number at telling us the greatness of ballplayer. I don't know exactly how many WS Palmiero has right now, but it's probably about 360 (he had 334 at the end of 2001 and has been right around 25 the last few years). That'd put him about 80th all time. The list of players with more win shares than 334 not in the Hall of Fame (for any reason) is this:

Pete Rose 547 WS
Rickey Henderson 530 WS (through 2001)
Barry Bonds 523 WS (through 2001)
Tony Mullane 399 WS
Tony Gwynn 398 WS
Wade Boggs 394 WS
Bill Dahlen 394 WS
Tim Raines 390 WS (through 2001)
Darrell Evans 363 WS

(74 players at 360+ CWS overall. 65 HOF; )

Rusty Staub 358 WS
Sherry Magee 354 WS
Roger Clemens 352 WS (through 2001)
Lou Whitaker 351 WS
Dwight Evans 347 WS
Rhyne Sandberg 346 WS
Roberto Alomar 345 WS (through 2001)
George Van Haltren 344 WS
Dick Allen 342 WS
Craig Biggio 342 WS (through 2001)
Mark McGwire 342 WS
Andre Dawson 340 WS
Bert Blyleven 339 WS
Jimmy Sheckerd 339 WS
Bob Caruthers 337 WS
Jim McCormick 334

(36 players 334-359 CWS; 20 HOF)

What this list suggests to me is that Palmiero is just now moving out the top end of a group of players about whom most of the enduring HOF arguments revolve, and he's about to move in among a group of players about whom there are no HOF arguments. Given that people are talking now about whether or not he is a HOFer, it seems to me pretty likely that he will be. Lou Whitaker was a great second baseman, but I sure don't recall there being media attention on the question of whether or not he was a HOFer as he was nearing retirment.

If Palmiero retires tomorrow, I think he probably goes in. If he hits well this year, and one more year, I think he definitely goes in, probably on the first ballot.

Thanks.


I note that an ESPN columnist has taken the next logical step from thinking about Palmeiro's HOF candidacy: thinking about Fred McGriff's HOF candidacy. He says there's no way McGriff is a hall-of-famer. I'm not sure that's right, but I'm not sure that's wrong, either. His arguments are bad arguments, in any case. What does our Humble Blogger think?


Well, you see, Your Humble Blogger is, first and foremost a Giants fan. When McGriff set the Braves on fire in 1993 (the end of the Golden Age), it was about as awesome as anything I'd seen. It was a Hall of Fame performance, and it wasn't his first.

On the other hand, even at his peak, say 1988-1993 (and weren't those fine years, even with the Friars), he was only perhaps the best first baseman in baseball (If you have the BJNHBA, you can cough up the Win Shares). Since then he has been good, but far from great. Durable and productive, but not great.

He's an interesting case, as his peak value is certainly greater than Raffy, but not as great as, say, McGuire. His career value is greater than McGuire's (or will be if he plays well for another few years) but certainly not as great as Raffy (unless Raffy falls off a cliff and the Hit Dog pulls a Bonds).

As you can see, it's a bit awkward to even talk about the HoF possibility of borderline players who are still playing, even if they appear to have started down the decline. You never know.

At any rate, any ten-year-old I have a hand in raising will be excited to see McGriff's plaque, I would think.

Thanks,
-V.


Chris Cobb sent me this table of the win shares per year of this group of star first basemen. By the way, as a general rule, 20 WS is being called an all-star type year, 30 is an MVP-type year. I don't really endorse the WS system, particularly because I haven't read the book and don't quite understand it, but the point is to assign a number for cross-era comparison, so that a 20 in 1998 would be the same value as a 20 in 1908.


















































































































86

87

88

89

90

91

92

93

94

95

96

97

98

99

00

01

02

Total

Fred McGriff

0

11

24

30

26

25

27

23

22

20

19

14

13

24

16

22

?

316

Will Clark

14

25

37

44

25

34

28

15

19

18

11

14

19

8

20





331

Rafael Palmeiro

1

7

17

17

22

26

24

31

17

21

30

18

24

31

23

25

?

334

Mark McGwire

1

30

28

21

27

18

29

6

6

23

29

25

41

30

20

8



342



















































Frank Thomas













13

34

33

32

25

28

28

39

25

16

34

1

?

308



Jeff Bagwell
















23

29

22

30

20

41

32

29

37

25

30

?

318



Eddie Murray

20

20

21

21

31

16

20

15

9

16

6

0
















437

The thing that stands out is how good The Thrill and especially The Big Hurt were; both clearly had HoF Po, but neither of them (probably) are in. Raffy comes across as a terrific example of a "career value" player; never dominant, never worse than good, often very good, for fifteen years (or more).

Here are Eddie Murray's years missing from the above table, for comparison:






77

78

79

80

81

82

83

84

85



Murray

21

28

25

26

21

29

31

33

28

If he is a Hall-of-Famer, and he is, then it seems very likely that Raffy is, too.

Thanks,
-V.


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