Baseball's Greatest Honor

When I was about eight, I sent a letter to my favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees, asking for sticker and an autographed picture of my favorite player, Bobby Murcer. These were simpler times, back when teams wouldn't try to get a couple of bucks for anything they could stamp with a logo. I would do this for many, many teams throughout my childhood, sometimes even asking for and receiving a t-shirt but also getting schedules, and magnets, and buttons. All sorts of stuff, and it's all, sadly, long gone.

I say this as a preface to the statement that I've been a baseball fanatic for as long as I can remember. My favorite book - and greatest birthday gift ever - was the MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia I received on my 15th birthday. First thing, I highlighted the names of all the Yankees on the lists of All-time leaders. The Encyclopedia had all-time rosters of every team with years played but not on a year-to-year basis: it told you that Joe Dimaggio played for the Yanks from 1936 to 1951 but didn't have a straight-up list of the 1948 roster, so I would create one by cross referencing the all-time roster and writing them down by hand. With stats. As my knowledge grew deeper and as I started reading Bill James, I started taking that info and doing Runs Created calcs. And Offensive Win Percentage. And Approximate Value. I spent hundreds of hours playing APBA Baseball, only the greatest game ever invented...I replayed the 1930 American League Season and kept all the stats, constantly comparing them to the actual results.  Notebook after notebook, filled with columns of seemingly random numbers, meaningful only to me.

I wish I had all those notebooks, but my dad died, and my mom remarried and moved out of their house, and almost all of it was lost when she purged the place before she sold it. There's not a lot I hold against my mom, and I should have taken care of it myself, but all that stuff is lost to history. It deserved better.

Anyway. Baseball freak - and as you can see, a baseball HISTORY freak. The pinnacle of baseball history being, of course, its Hall of Fame (HOF), which it just so happens is one of my favorite subjects to talk and write about.

The next few years are going to be pivotal in the history of the HOF. The biggest big boppers of the go-go 90s and 2000s are coming up for election, and nobody really knows what to do with them. Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire have already come up and been discussed, but they're just the harbingers of the REALLY tough decisions. So I'm going to spend a few posts talking about it all. And, you know, solving it.

So, first thing. Ground rules. In one of his Abstracts, Bill James wrote a discussion of how to decide on a HOFer, using a letter he'd received regarding Indians 3B Mike Shannon as a launching point (in those days - and today, come to think of it - there was precious little worth writing about when it came to the Tribe). He had oh, I don't know, 14 different questions that needed to be asked when it came to a potential HOFer. It was long, it was overkill, but ultimately its focus helped me frame some of my own thinking. To me, you can decide in just a few questions, in descending order:

  1. Can he reasonably be put forth as one of the greatest players of all time regardless of position? (These guys get in. Period.)

  2. Can he be called one of the best ever at his position? (These guys almost always get in.)

  3. Was he ever considered one of the best players in baseball during his career? This one is more dicey. There are some guys who were clearly the best player in baseball at some point but flamed out early or late, got hurt, didn't do it long enough, etc.

  4. Was he ever considered the best player in baseball at his position? Also dicey - it depends on the rest of the league during the era in question...there's the "giant in a midget colony" problem of someone like well, Mike Shannon or Joe Torre, but there's also the reverse question of Nomar going up against A-Rod and Jeter. Nomar won't make it for other reasons, but someone who is NOT the best in the league at his position can certainly be a valid HOFer.

  5. Who are they like? This is one of my favorite conversations...if Craig Biggio is comparable to ten HOFers, then he should probably be in. please note that this is not a "if Chick Hafey gets in then Dave Kingman should too" argument. In fact, it's the exact opposite - if a player fits the typical profile, he's in, NOT a "he's better than the worst HOFer so he gets in." I'll expand more on this as we go.


Really, though, it's a gut feeling. Does Craig Biggio feel like a Hall of Fame player? Does Jack Morris? Does Bert Cryleven? I'm a stat freak, but I don't usually come down to that when it comes to the Hall.

Also, regarding rule 1, the "among the greatest of all time" argument: Pete Rose ain't getting in. Ever.

So there you go.  The class of 2012, coming up.