Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Hall of Fame 2013: Who Should Get In

There's been a lot of talk about this year's Hall of Fame ballot being among the toughest ever to choose from. A quick glance at the candidates more or less confirms the fact. Over the past several years, there has been increased emphasis on the use of sabermetrics--wins above replacement, black ink, gray ink, magenta ink and all that nonsense. Though I am a card-carrying member of the SABR myself, I openly admit that I don't put much stock in all those new-fangled statistics. To begin with, these measurements are most frequently endorsed by people who spend a lot more time crunching numbers than actually watching ball games. I have been watching baseball for over 40 years and I know great when I see it. I believe that players from the present should be measured by the same criterion that landed the old-timers in the Hall of Fame. It's only fair. Call me Old School if you will.  
With that having been said, let's take a brief look at this year's candidates. Returning from previous ballots, we have serious contenders in Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGuire and Rafael Palmeiro. New to the the list are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Sammy Sosa among others.

So who belongs in the Hall? I can dramatically shorten the list with a single brush stroke.

First and foremost, I don't believe that flagrant rule-breakers belong in the Hall of Fame. If Pete Rose and Joe Jackson (two of the greatest players ever to pull on uniforms) can't be enshrined at Cooperstown, then neither can Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro or Mark McGuire. All were immensely talented players with worthy statistics, but each of them tarnished the game in some small way. On the same note, we might as well add Roger Clemens to the list of ineligibles. Though he was legally absolved from charges of steroid use, there is compelling evidence to the contrary. Therefore, it matters not that he was among the most dominant pitchers of his generation (or of any generation for that matter). As the old saying goes: When in doubt, throw it out. This places me on the fence in regard to Sammy Sosa (who I think was a fun player and I like a lot) because of the bat-corking fiasco in 2003. Additionally, there are some who believe he used steroids (though no formal charges have been lodged against him).   

 On another controversial note, I don’t believe that designated hitters should be excluded from the Hall of Fame since it’s a specialized role not unlike that of a relief pitcher. If the doors of Cooperstown are open to the likes of Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter, then the powers that be should consider allowing a DH in at some point. The burning question is WHO?

A convincing case can be made for Edgar Martinez, a two-time batting champ who led the league in on-base percentage three times, doubles twice and RBI's once. He also stacks up nicely against the greatest players at his position. In 1,403 games as a DH, Martinez hit .314 with 619 extra-base hits and 1,003 RBI. These numbers far exceed those of Harold Baines, Chili Davis, Don Baylor and Frank Thomas—all of whom (in the opinion of many) were among the best designated hitters ever. The problem with Martinez is longevity. After claiming his first batting title in ’92, he saw limited action over the next two campaigns. He became a DH almost exclusively in 1995 and enjoyed his most productive stretch from then until 2001, when he completed a run of 7 consecutive seasons above the .300 mark. By 2002, he was 39 years-old and fading. Despite his prolific hitting, he topped the 100 RBI mark just 5 times in 18 seasons and in terms of triple crown-type numbers, he had just one truly remarkable season. That came  in 2000, when  he hit .324 with 37 homers and 145 ribbies. If you’re going to let a DH into the Hall, it’s got to be someone who’s off the charts in the hitting department. I don’t feel that Martinez fits that description. No one does—Not yet anyway.

...More about the 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot in my next post.          

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