Post Mortem

To begin with: congratulations to a pair of deserving players receiving baseball’s highest honor: Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken.

As to the rest, well…

Admittedly I’m a bit disappointed. Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts said that if Bert Blyleven got elected this year he’d devote his considerable energy and talents to the case of Tim “Rock” Raines.

It’s not to be…this year anyway. Expect a lot of Raines support in this space but that’s for another day.

Getting back to the present, I’ve got a lot of whining to do and I’d best get to it.

Probably the best pure head-scratchers are the vote totals for Jim Rice and Dale Murphy. Both had similar careers in that they enjoyed terrific peaks before falling off a cliff. Rice had a Runs Created Above Average from 1977-86 of 264, while Murphy had an RCAA of 283 from 1979-87. Rice won an MVP; Murphy won back-to-back MVPs. Rice hit 382 home runs in 8,225 at-bats while Murphy banged 398 in 7,960 at-bats. Rice went to one more All-Star Game than Murphy, yet he won two more Silver Sluggers than Rice. Also Murphy had a quintet of Gold Gloves while Rice’s defensive abilities were unremarkable.

Rice is sixth all-time in grounding into double plays while Murphy is 60th. Murphy was a better base runner while Rice had more RBIs and 100-RBI seasons. Finally Rice’s career OPS+ of 128 is better than Murphy’s 121, but that has to be weighed against Murphy’s better defense at a more demanding defensive position.

Bottom line, you could argue until you were blue in the face on who was the better player, yet Rice received 346 votes (63.5%) while Murphy garnered just 50 (9.2%). Am I missing something? Is it the RBIs (1,451 to 1,266)? The batting average (.298 to .265)? It sure ain’t because of their relations with the media.

Oh well.

What’s funny about this is Albert Belle kills Rice in OPS+ (143 to 128), had one more 100-RBI season, almost identical home run totals (382 to 381), more doubles (389 to 373), and over 100 RCAA (379 to 270), in 2,372 fewer at-bats, was the only 50-50 (2B/HR) in baseball history and almost did it twice (48 2B/49 HR in 1998) and yet didn’t last a single season on the ballot (19 votes—3.5%).

Considering how Rice treated the media it gives you some idea of how nasty Belle must have been, eh?

I’m disappointed that Goose Gossage didn’t make it, but it appears that his election is inevitable. One of my favorite baseball memories was sitting right by the visitor’s bullpen at old Exhibition Stadium in Toronto and watching Gossage get loose close up. Cripes he was scary, I can still hear the loud rifle report-sound of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt.

Next year (I hope).

I’m gonna leave Blyleven to Rich but I will say this much: Blyleven lost votes which means that some writers have gone from feeling he’s Hall of Fame material to feeling he isn’t. This isn’t rocket science people, if you think he’s a HOFer then you keep voting for him.

(dramatic sigh)

Other double-takes:

Using Recurrent Neural Networks to Predict Player Performance
Technology is rapidly advancing possibilities in decision-making.
Player          OPS+  RCAA GG  ASG MVP Votes  Pct.
Steve Garvey    116   163   4   10  1   115  21.1%
Don Mattingly   127   293   9    6  1    54   9.9%

In their six best seasons:

Player          Years     RCAA
Don Mattingly  1984-89    276
Steve Garvey   1974-79    159

Now I understand that Garvey has a notable postseason résumé (.338/.361/.550 in 222 at-bats) and some big moments (two NLCS MVP). However Mattingly’s Yankees were the winningest AL team in the 1980s (.547 winning percentage), and he could hardly be faulted that they never reached the postseason during Mattingly’s tenure that decade (1982-89). When he finally got his crack at the postseason in 1995 he didn’t disappoint, batting .417/.440/.708 in 24 at-bats in a five-game loss to Seattle in the LDS.

I think both fall short of the Hall, but I would think the vote totals would better reflect their careers.

Well Alan Trammell didn’t even come close this year. Does the BBWAA have some kind of grudge against the 1984 Tigers? Leaving aside Jack Morris for a moment, Lou Whitaker went one and out on the ballot. How many catchers in major league history have a solid defensive reputation (three Gold Gloves), were named to multiple (eight) All-Star teams, mashed well over 300 home runs, and spent almost no time on the ballot before falling off?

Well that’s Lance Parrish. (And don’t get me started on Bill Freehan.)

You’d think somebody on those mid-80s Tigers teams would be in the Hall by now.

As to McGwire I think the voters got it right but for all the wrong reasons. As we discussed about a year ago:

If I had a vote in 2006, I’d vote no. Not because I don’t feel he belongs, but because I think we need a bit of perspective before we come to a firm decision. He has 15 years to be on the ballot. During that time, hopefully more information will come to light. How long did McGwire use? Generally, how much did the “juice” skewer offensive stats? Was he a borderline player who got pushed over the top by it, or was a Hall of Fame talent who simply goosed his totals a bit? How are the non-player enablers of the steroid era treated by history?

Right now it’s too early to tell. A mistake Hall of Fame induction “stands forever in the guide.” A player mistakenly left out can always be put in.

If a mistake is to be made, let it be a reversible one.

I think the vote this year tells us more about the voters than McGwire himself. Never forget this: as to the statutes of major league baseball as they existed from 1986-2001, Mark McGwire broke no rules. He played in an environment where players were encouraged to use steroids. Management lavished huge contracts on players who could crush the ball regardless of how they managed to do—no questions asked. Jason Giambi’s agent, Arn Tellem, asked the Yankees to remove a clause that could cause the contract to be voided if Giambi was caught using steroids. If Tony LaRussa knew of Jose Canseco’s steroid use then he probably knew about McGwire too—however he never notified his bosses so they could invoke the “probable cause” rule and have him tested.

The media never asked and never investigated the steroids issue until Jose Canseco, Mark Fainaru-Wada, Lance Williams and the United States Congress made it impossible for them to ignore the issue any longer. Up to that point they cheered along with everybody else barely uttering a peep about what they were privy to.

Now they choose to be vigilant about the game’s integrity? What makes them so qualified to protect the game? They demonstrated that they cannot be trusted with it. There was an 800-pound elephant in the room, and they ignored it until it practically sat on them.

Assuming he used (I feel he did), the question has to be asked: why did McGwire do it? People have short memories. They forget that McGwire left $30 million on the table. He had a two-year, $15 million per year contract ready to be signed. He could’ve put his name on the line, spent two years on the DL or been baseball’s highest-paid pinch hitter.

Does this sound like a guy who used steroids to cheat? To defraud everybody? To make more money? How could that be since he didn’t test free agency, re-upped with the Cardinals, and then later walked away from $30 million? He repeatedly turned down opportunities to maximize his income.

Or maybe he did it because it helped him play a few more years. It doesn’t make it right, obviously, but it’s hardly worth so much righteous indignation.

Geez, you’d think that if the United States ever stated that the war in Iraq was wrong, the baseball media would insist on having any soldier that killed an Iraqi now be charged with murder. Who cares if you were just doing what you were being encouraged to do at the time. The war doesn’t count anymore and the law states that if you kill another person you’re guilty of murder. (No I’m not equating using steroids with killing another human being…I’m just ranting—I’ve been known to do that on occasion y’know.)

I guess that’s why steroids aren’t a deal breaker with me. Are they something to be taken into consideration when assessing a career? Absolutely. Is there a difference with a player who used when it wasn’t against the rules as opposed to one who uses when it is? Yes. The legal ramifications are overblown. The simple fact of the matter is that you can do things in professional sports that you’re not allowed to do in society in general. Up here in Canada it’s said that the number one reason for prison riots is the National Hockey League, since inmates go crazy when they see a player get five minutes for doing the same thing that they’re serving a 17-year sentence for doing.

I’ve been watching felonies on ice since the 1960s. Nowadays the best felonies make the highlight reels, and the very best felonies make it to DVD.

McGwire got his 5% to stay on the ballot. If he falls off then there’s the Veterans Committee. Over that span hopefully we’ll be better able to assess the career of Mark McGwire and place it in its proper historical context.

Final thoughts: I’m not a big believer in every Hall of Fame vote being sacred. I do feel you can pay tribute to somebody’s terrific career by tossing a few votes his way. It was nice to see Harold Baines get his 5% and another round on the ballot. It was nice to see Paul O’Neill, Orel Hershiser, Eric Davis and Jay Buhner get some recognition for their fine careers. I would like to thank the four writers who voted for Tony Fernandez. I honestly think he would’ve had a legitimate Hall shot had he played his entire career in Toronto (that’s a subject for another day). Devon White didn’t get any votes, but he walked away with three World Series rings and my admiration as the finest ball hawk I ever saw. A lot had better arms and better bats, but I’ve never seen anybody track fly balls like Devo. He was textbook perfect out there and watching him run from first to third like a spooked deer is one of my more enduring memories of the 1991-1993 Toronto Blue Jays.

So thanks Devo…clear horizons on the rest of your life.

References & Resources
Excerpt from Mark McGwire’s opening statement to the Government Reform Committee:

“What I will not do, however, is participate in naming names and implicating my friends and teammates. I retired from baseball four years ago. I live a quiet life with my wife and children. I have always been a team player. I have never been a person who spread rumors or said things about teammates that could hurt them. I do not sit in judgment of other players, whether it deals with their sexual preference, their marital problems, or other personal habits, including whether or not they use chemical substances. That has never been my style, and I do not intend to change this just because the cameras are turned on.

Nor do I intend to dignify Mr. Canseco’s book. It should be enough that you consider the source of the statements in the book, and that many inconsistencies and contradictions have already been raised.

I’ve been advised that my testimony here could be used to harm friends and respected teammates, or that some ambitious prosecutor can use convicted criminals who would do and say anything to solve their own problems and create jeopardy for my friends.

Asking me or any other player to answer questions about who took steroids in front of television cameras will not solve the problem. If a player answers no, he simply will not be believed. If he answers yes, he risks public scorn and endless government investigations. My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family, and myself. I intend to follow their advice.

McGwire has received a lot of negative publicity for repeatedly saying “I’m not here to talk about the past” but it’s good to remember that before a single question was asked, he told the committee what he was and was not willing to discuss.

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