Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Hall Crap II: The Return

Dave Buscema of the Times Herald-Record (what a crazy redundant name - hi I work for the NY Examiner-Enquirer Tribune!) gets a vote. Let’s get to it.

First Hall of Fame ballot no easy decision

NEW YORK — After seemingly endless analyzing, re-analyzing and agonizing that often threatened the sanity of everyone around me as well as my own, I finally had decided.

Okay – so starting out we know two things:

1.) This was Buscema’s first HOF ballot.
2.) He took it very seriously, and spent a ton of time doing analysis.

So I noted the time at 12:52 p.m. yesterday as I typed a message to a colleague, confidently announcing an end to the chaos, along with the names of the players who would be checked on my first Hall of Fame ballot.

Those player’s names only being checked after endless analyzing, re-analyzing and agonizing. Gotcha.

Nearly four hours and one scratched out name later, I actually submitted the damn thing.

Then, you made a sandwich and took a big nap to rest your tired, analysis-drained head.

After a week in which my ballot occasionally varied from having anywhere from one to six names, the final tally was two:

Goose Gossage.
Jim Rice.

I can tell this is going to be awesome. At least no Jack Morris.

Amazingly, they are the players my instinct initially told me to select.

Because you made a classic mistake and decided up front and then crafted your logic around those conclusions. You rationalized. This is not amazing.

By the end of this process they were not deemed worthy due to nostalgic memories of my youth, but because they had survived a rigorous, yet imperfect inspection that inspired pride in my new status as a voter and ultimately a confidence in the voting philosophy I was creating as a standard for the future.

This guy is super fucking grandiose, isn’t he? Let’s get to the rigorous inspection! A new standard for the future? I’m going to be looking for how exactly this analysis is going to change the current paradigm (which generally sucks). Will he be talking sabermetrics or doing graphs and shit?

In the end — after I had allowed myself to be lobbied into a vote for Tim Raines before frantically re-opening the case to change my mind — I discovered a thought I will now use as my guide:

If a player's status somehow came down to my vote, he has to make me feel worse for keeping him out of the Hall than inducting him.

So this rigorous new standard is…..gut. Guess what? That’s what they all do buddy.

My Hall of Fame standard is not based on who is already in — I had no say in those players, though I did compare these candidates to players I would have selected for the Hall in the past. I want an elite Hall, in which only the best players — if not of all time, at least of their era or position — enter.

My hall of fame standard is not based on who is already in, but I did compare the players to who is already in. Hmmmm, then aren’t you sort of basing, in at least some way, who to vote for based on who is in? If only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays were in……would you vote for Jim Rice?

Now, players who have some sort of pioneering legacy could also earn points, which is why Gossage gets in as one of the game's first and best closers — in real life, not stats. Gossage was a true "fireman" who escaped jams rather than prevent them by coming on to start the ninth.

So, you’re basing it on the elite players of all time (or, a much easier test, at their position)….buuuuut pioneering legacy gets you some points! I think this will help Jeffrey Leonard, he of the “one flap down” home run trot. Plus Mel Hall, who used to put a batting glove in his back pocket so that it waved bye bye when he rounded the bases – which he took like 17 minutes to do. That guy was awesome – for that reason. He's in the pioneer wing of my Hall of Fame.

Rice qualifies as the best left fielder of his era and stood up fairly well by averaging 90 RBI for his career, along with that run of 12 years when his combination of home runs (natural and realistic), RBI and average made him widely thought of as the game's most feared hitter.

Ladies and gentleman, we have entered a new era of hall of fame voting as set forth by Dave Buscema. We are now looking at Homeruns that are deemed “natural and realistic” – this really helps Jose Oquendo’s case – his barely cleared the fences! We are also now looking at Runs Batted In (RBI, to you sabermetrically inclined) and Batting Average. Note that 90 RBI a year is sufficient. Batting Average of course is the result of a complex divisional-related computation whereby “Hits” are divided by “At-Bats” and a percentage is derived. We don’t call it Batting Percentage though, because that sounds too nerdy.


Based on unique talent, Raines nearly got my vote as one of the best leadoff hitters of all time and Tommy John received a last-ditch look because so many of his 288 wins came after he served as the pioneering guinea pig for an arm surgery that has saved a ton of careers.

So add a point for “pioneering guinea pig”. Unbelievably I think this should also help the case of Jose Oquendo, who played all 9 positions over the course of an MLB season. I also think Louis Polonia was a guinea pig for using a glove bigger than his arm. But I’m not sure what either of these experiments proved. But they are both in the pioneering guinea pig wing of my HOF.

But John — and to some extent Bert Blyleven — lost points with me for compiling numbers through longevity rather than a dominating run. It's the Hall of Fame, not endurance.

Nothing wrong with that opinion I guess. They should just call it the Hall of Dominance. That’s a kickass name and it would only have dominating guys in it. Also, Colin Cowherd wouldn’t be able to say that Jose Canseco should be in because he’s, like, wicked famous.

Ultimately though there is the criteria offered by the Hall itself — "the player's record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." To me, you can be lacking a little in some of those areas if you have an abundance of the others.

But integrity, sportsmanship and character are enough to keep out those who hurt the game in the steroids era. So Mark McGwire does not get my vote, because I can't imagine why he wouldn't "talk about the past" before Congress if he was clean. I have five years to decide on Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, but I lean toward a no for now.

This is a justifiable position if you view the steroid era that negatively. I love it. McGwire? Now that guy hit some dingers!

Raines' name was removed from my ballot at the last possible moment.

When he was in his first full season with the Expos, Raines admitted cocaine use, sought help and is thought to have been drug-free ever since making a mistake when he was a "young, young, young 20," as he said in one interview. The rest of his career and status as a great teammate and leader was enough to make me consider overlooking the offense because cocaine is an addiction more than a performance enhancer, but three things finally tore at my gut enough to take him off my ballot for now:

I don’t understand why Tim Raines' relatively brief battle with cocaine addiction ever gets mentioned. Can we let the guy get over a drug problem he had at the very beginning of his career? It was over 25 years ago. Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic and no one gave a shit. What if we found out that Manny Ramirez drops acid before every game? That would be awesome. The thing here is that Buscema is going to beat the shit out of the cocaine issue and not vote for him because of it.

1. He admitted sliding headfirst the year he used because he kept coke in his uniform pocket and didn't want it to fall out — which is an act as disrespectful of the game as you can imagine.

No, that’s an act that shows his level of addiction. Disgracing the game would be if he received a “steal” sign at first base and then angrily pointed back to the dugout with his “Fuck you I aint’ stealing – I’ll break my vile” sign….which I think goes middle finger/head shake/finger on side of nose with snort sound/shrug. This isn’t as disgraceful as cheating or gambling on games in which you are a part of the outcome.

The most disrespectful thing I can imagine would be a player hitting a home run 700 feet, then refusing to round the bases because he thinks the game is stupid and then taking off his uniform and pissing on it before saying he was retiring to go work for big tobacco, because that’s more meaningful, rewarding and fun.

2. As a player whose key Hall of Fame attribute was his speed, I want to examine a little further whether the use of a stimulant could have enhanced his performance whether he used it for that purpose or not.

I’ll answer this for you. Tim Raines was not one of history’s best base stealers because he did cocaine. The Pittsburgh drug trials were in 1985 - and I believe he was well done his drug use before say age 20 even. I’m not sure exactly when Raines used, but his stolen base numbers were 1981= 71, ’82 = 78, 90, 75, 70, 70, 50, 33, 41, 49, 51, and 45 which leads us to 1993 season when Raines was passed his SB prime (he was 32) and caught some injuries. So, Dave, let me know what your research RE: "Impacts of Cocaine on ability to steal bases" yields over the next 12 months. That’s looks like a pretty normal distribution to me.

3. He wasn't a surefire Hall of Famer without that issue by any means; in fact, I had only seriously considered him after several compelling columns turned my head.

Raines is a more murky issue for me than a straight cheater, but going back to the rule I created for myself, at this moment I can live with Raines not having a plaque.

So that’s it? Raines is out because you don’t know if cocaine helped him steal bases and you can sleep at night without him in? What happened to rigorous inspection? What happened to creating a standard for the future? Why is Raines a more murky issue than Mark McGwire? Why am I asking you all these questions when you’re not reading this?

That doesn't mean I won't reconsider after more time to ponder and research. Which brings up another lesson/rule I discovered.

What is your research going to be? Give a little leaguer some cocaine to see if he starts stealing bases at a higher rate? Actually, that would also be fun. I fully support this.

I had vowed not to be one of those voters keeping players out on their first year because "he's not a first ballot Hall of Famer." I figured a Hall of Famer was a Hall of Famer or he was not. But with a ballot in my hand, I've realized it's not that simple. Some players require more time, thought and research than others.

Why do all Hall voters seem to act like the names on the ballot are complete surprise to them? They act like they show up one day and are handed an envelope with a bunch of names in it, with no prior knowledge, and are asked, right then, to decide their hall worthiness. What the hell are these guys doing for 5 years after the player retires? Why can’t you start determining hall worthiness THEN?

Blyleven is one, as his 287 wins, devastating curve ball and consistently low ERA will make me seek out some of his contemporaries to discuss him this year. For now, he was a no because he won 20 games just once in 22 years and never even led the league in ERA.

Yeah, we need more time to determine if Bert Blyleven is Hall of Famer. He retired in 1992! And for all your newfangled rigorous changing-the-future voting practice, you rest on “he never led his league in ERA and he only won 20 games once”. You know who won an ERA title and one 20 games 1 time? Teddy Higuera, Bill Swift, Mike Scott, Mike Boddicker and Rick Sutcliffe. Does that mean they are better, or were all better at their peaks, or more dominating than Bert?

He’s fifth all-time in strikeouts and he has a better ERA+ than two of the guys in front of him – Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton. He has more K’s and a better ERA+ than “compilers” like Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins. Wins are a sucky measure.

He then goes through his ballot (every player) in a sort-of addendum to his column. Here are a few.

Bert Blyleven – Plenty of people stumped for him, both in stuff I read and people I spoke to and a look at his career made me think long and hard. He’s fifth all-time in strikeouts, has an impressive 60 shutouts and is known for having one of the best curves in the game. And I can let the mediocre win-loss record go a bit because he played for so many poor teams and excelled in the postseason when given the chance … but ultimately I still would have liked to have seen at least a little better winning percentage and/or more Cy Young votes, an ERA title and more than one 20-win season in 22 years. I’ll re-examine next year.


I can let the win-loss record go because of the poor run support…. so he didn't need to win more, but I’d like to see him win more, get more Cy Young votes (which dopes vote on based on wins), an ERA title, and win more. But the guy has only been retired for 15 I need more time. Makes sense.

Tommy John – Didn’t make it for me this year since he was a product of longevity more than stardom. But in paving the way for future pitchers by rehabbing from the arm surgery named for him, I’m going to give him a closer look next year.

Take your time, Dave, he only retired in 1989. He's only 64 years old. The surgery is always cited when talking about Tommy John. Unless he did the operation HIMSELF in the dugout to keep pitching in a close game, I don’t give a fuck. It should based on what he did on the field, not what a doctor did on the operating table.

Don Mattingly – Is your screen wet from my tears here? I’ll admit it, this one was more heartbreaking than I thought. I thought he’d be an easy no because I was now a full-fledged professional rather than the star-struck fan I was of him as a kid.

How old is Dave Buscema? Like 30? 35? To have a HOF vote you need to be in the BBWAA for 10 years. Did he start covering a pro team for a newspaper at like 15?

Jack Morris – Great big-game pitcher; his 1-0 World Series victory is considered one of the best games ever pitched and he was one of the best pitchers of his era. But that 3.90 ERA is high and so many of his wins came thanks to a strong offensive Tigers team. I will look longer and harder at him in the coming year, but my gut says his regular seasons needed to match his postseasons a little more.

Jack Morris – career regular season = 3.90 ERA. Career playoffs = 3.80 ERA.

Tim Raines – My column offers a detailed analysis of the tough time I had with him. As one of the greatest leadoff hitters of all time, Raines compares decently with Lou Brock – who I consider a bona fide Hall of Famer. But he’s not quite Rickey Henderson and so the black mark on his record early stopped me just enough to take more time to think.

He’s not the best leadoff hitter ever and one of the best baseball players ever like Rickey Henderson, so he’s not in. Christ that’s a tough comparison.

If Raines were as dominant as Henderson, I might have been able to deal with his admitted cocaine use during games (keeping stuff in his back pocket is the real killer there) when he was just 20 years old. And I still might even get past it because the voting criteria including “character” and “integrity” could still fit since Raines admitted the use himself rather than waiting to get caught and it seems to have been for one season. But I need more time to think about that and compare it to performance-enhancing use. My gut says it doesn’t compare and I might still vote for Raines eventually. For now, it was a no.

Enough with the cocaine! Holy shit you have pounded that into the ground.

XJim Rice -- He was on my ballot. Then off. Then on. And so on. Ultimately, I looked at his 12 dominant seasons and a career average of 90 RBI a year along with his average and pure home run power and decided he was too dominant for too long to leave out. He’s a Hall of Famer for me.

No mention of him in the field, where he was below average. Or his home/road splits. Just 90 RBI a year and a .298 average and “pure home run power”, which translated into 382 dingers. This is not revolutionary thinking that was promised.

Alan Trammell – Great all-around shortstop; sort of a little brother type to Cal Ripken in the link toward today’s offensive minded shortstops. Ultimately, despite an excellent career, I felt he wasn’t quite good enough to get the call. He’s just short of Ripken in the all-around shortstop mode and not the Wizard Ozzie Smith was at short.

Okay – so Tim Raines is out because he’s not Rickey Henderson and Alan Trammell is out because he’s not Cal Ripken at the plate and Ozzie Smith in the field. That seems harsh.

Don't worry, plenty of time to think about it in 2008.

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