Friday, July 23, 2010
Hall of ehh, yeah he's alright
A new batch of former major leaguers get inducted into the baseball hall of fame this weekend. I know the names but I didn't really see them play/manage. Andre Dawson's career numbers are okay. He played a long time but really only had three great years based on the numbers. However, numbers aren't everything. I was alive, but barely, so I don't ever remember watching Dawson play. Apparently he was intimidating at the plate and that's good enough. Whatever. What is interesting is this next batch of players on the ballot in the coming years. I know these guys; I watched them play growing up and remember them. Roberto Alomar, on this year's ballot but didn't get the votes necessary, is also a guy I remember. He seems like a hall of fame player to me and will probably get in next year or the year after. Yet there are many big names who just seem like all numbers and no sizzle. And as Andre Dawson just proved, numbers aren't everything.
Up for election in 2011 is Rafael Palmeiro. Obviously and without argument his career deserves a plaque in Cooperstown. Yet almost as obvious is the fact that he will not get in next year. He might never get in. I'm not sure how this will play out. But I don't wish to delve into whether he should or shouldn't, whether Bonds should (he should) or any of these steroid suspects should get in the Hall. I am more interested in the guys with no dirt, big names and big numbers, who I watched play and I just don't see it.
Let's take Jeff Bagwell, up for election next season. Sure, he's a fine player. His numbers are great: 449 career home runs, over 1500 RBI's, won a league MVP with two other top three finishes, won a Rookie of the Year award, and has a career line of .297 .408 .540. For the uninitiated, those three figures are his career batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. All three are tremendous. His career OPS ranks in the top 25 all-time. Yes all-time. His numbers are Hall-worthy. There's no doubt. But it's Jeff Bagwell. Sure, I rooted for an AL club in the 90's, (the Yankees) and Bagwell played his whole career in the NL, but I never recall a time where I was afraid of Jeff Bagwell coming to the plate. I guess his MVP season, pitchers tried to avoid him, yet he still doesn't remind me as an intimidating player. He's no Andre Dawson in this case. If his numbers get him in, then good for him. Yet I don't see it. I never thought of Jeff Bagwell, at any point of his career, as a Hall of Fame player.
Larry Walker is up in 2011 as well. Now you're saying to yourself, "Larry Walker is not getting in the hall of fame." I would have agreed with you wholeheartedly just remembering him play, but then I looked up his stats. Walker has over 350 home runs, 230 steals, over 450 doubles and also won a league MVP. Remember Bagwell's line? Well Walker's actually beats it. With a career .313 .400 .565, Walker ranks 16th in history in career OPS. Those numbers are epic, dare I say, historic. Maybe we can discount him a little for playing in Coors Field all those years. Or maybe we can discount him for being Larry Walker. Weren't teams more afraid of Todd Helton anyway?
Maybe I am being unfair but I just can't picture these guys in such historic context. They don't pass my 'eye test.' When I picture Bagwell or Walker or Mike Mussina or Andy Pettitte, I don't see a hall of fame talent. These guys were all really good. On occasion, they were near the top of the world. But should a handful of great seasons, mixed with longevity really get someone into Cooperstown?
Perhaps that is the formula and maybe my problem is I am too critical. These things can only go one of two ways. You either treat the players you watched growing up with too much respect or with not enough. I believe most people think more highly of players they watched as kids. You idolize some guys, think all these guys are heroes and stars. At the end, years later, you think back and only recall how awesome they seemed. Or it can go the other way, my way. I watched these guys growing up. They were good. Some were great. Yet they don't live up to the 'legends.' I mean none of these guys were as good as someone like the immortal Harmon Killebrew. There is no way. Then you look up Killebrew's stats. He was a home run machine. He was also a .256 career hitter. He didn't bat over .300 in any full season of his career. In today's scrutiny, he'd be thought of as an all or nothing hitter, a rich man's Jack Cust. (a very rich version, but still.) Ryan Howard obviously hasn't played long enough but his current numbers far outweigh Killebrew's. If Howard plays another ten years, his career will look like a better version of Harmon's. And that just shouldn't be the case, right? I mean, Ryan Howard is certainly no Harmon Killebrew!
So this brings me back to my dilemma. Do I romanticize the heroes of the past too much? Do I hold too much against the current stars? Or maybe the numbers aren't everything. Maybe it is as simple as that. Obviously, during certain eras, certain numbers have been inflated. There is nothing we can do about this, except change our estimation of what makes a hall-of-famer. Does 500 home runs automatically do it anymore? I would have to say no.
Bagwell and Walker will be followed by Craig Biggio, Javy Lopez, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Mike Piazza, Manny Ramirez, etc. Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, and so forth are coming up as well. Clearly some of these gentlemen will get in the Hall, and deservedly so. Yet so many of them seem ordinary to me. I never skipped school or sneaked to a television set past my bedtime to watch a Frank Thomas at-bat. In 10 or 12 years, I can see myself looking at the crop of recently inducted hall-of-famers and just think "Yeah, he was alright. Did he really get into the Hall of Fame??"
(Image taken from towbehindtubes.com)