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Yankee Panky: Calling Cooperstown

Perhaps no other sport can elicit the level of debate among fans and pundits alike as baseball can. I believe this has everything to do with the numbers that drive the sport. Like golf, in the end, the numbers are your most tangible results. And few players in the history of the game posted numbers as gaudy as Rickey Henderson.

Henderson, the second straight ex-Yankee to be inducted, may arguably be the most obvious first-ballot choice of this era. (Congratulations also to Joe Gordon, the Yankees¢ second baseman on the 1930s dynasty and one of the best offensive players at that position of all-time. His induction, even by the Veterans Committee, was long overdue.)  The mainstream local media have treated him well, particularly with the retrospectives from former teammates Willie Randolph and Don Mattingly. And they will laud him again — maybe with similar profiles and features — at the end of July. His speech may be the most fun and accidentally eloquent we’ve ever seen. I put the over/under on 50 third-person references.

Henderson’s co-inductee, Jim Rice, spent 14 years climbing up the ballot and tipped the chads with 76 percent of the vote. I will go on the record here and on Alex Belth’s BB show later today to say Rice is undeserving of this honor. He’s in the Hall of Very Good, like many recent inductees — Gary Carter, the late Kirby Puckett, Tony Pérez, Orlando Cepeda, and by the VC, Bill Mazeroski — but not the Hall of Fame. I’ve participated in message board discussions analyzing the case for Rice, and I’ve concluded that this player’s inclusion in the Hall could polarize voters in the future.

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus nailed it when he said the further removed a player gets from his career, the more his numbers need to be measured. Sheehan discussed mythology and outlined the increase in Rice’s share of the vote over the years, and the results lead me to believe that subjectivity is playing an increasingly more important role in the Hall selection. I’ve discussed the theory of objectivity in this space when discussion writing and reporting. Objectivity is an impossible thing to achieve, but we can come close. Rice’s vote takes objectivity, crumples it up and tosses it out the window. This was a great campaign that took place over the past year. To me, it demonstrates the sway of the New York and Boston chapters of the BBWAA, the two largest BBWAA membership areas in the country. (Rob Neyer’s column about the voting process and the issues facing the BBWAA is a must-read if you’re like me and take this issue to heart.)

I reviewed Rice’s career numbers against one of his lead comparables, Dave Parker. Granted, they played in different leagues, but their careers and “level of dominance” spanned the same time frame. According to the data, Parker had the better, more complete career. Parker played more seasons, scored more runs, had more hits, led the league in slugging twice, and defensively, won three Gold Gloves. If Rice, who was claimed to be the “most feared hitter” in the American League, was so feared, why didn’t pitchers walk him? Parker led his league in intentional walks twice. Plus, Parker achieved two things Rice never did: win a batting title (Parker won two), and win a World Series.

Taking nothing away from Rice’s career, he got in for his 1977-79 seasons, which were dominant. His 1978 MVP year ranks as one of the best offensive years of that decade by anyone, in any league. Rice had three 200-hit seasons and seven seasons where he hit .300 or better (but never more than three in a row).

I look at Rice the same way I look at Don Mattingly, who only received 11 percent of the vote this year. Mattingly was the 1A to Wade Boggs’s 1 for a four-year stretch from 1984-87. But a four-season stretch of greatness in a 14-year career is not enough to make you a Hall of Famer.

Other ex-Yankees who were on the ballot: Tommy John received 31.7 percent of the vote from the BBWAA. If he gets into the Hall of Fame, it’ll be by the Veterans Committee. We’ll get into this on the show, but I believe a special section of the Hall should be created for players who made worthy contributions to the game even though their resumes didn’t merit induction. John, who gave his name to the ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery that extended his career and so many of those after him, should be a HOFer. If he doesn’t make it alone, put him in with Dr. Frank Jobe.

Roger Maris is a similar case. His career, to me, is a hybrid of Puckett and Mattingly. He won two World Series and was a great offensive and defensive player. As a baseball fan, it seems fundamentally wrong to me that Maris, who held the home run record for a longer period than Ruth, whose record he broke, is not formally recognized in Cooperstown for that accomplishment, along with his two Gold Gloves and back-to-back MVPs in 1960 and ’61.

Lee Smith, who appeared in eight games for the Yankees in the 1993 season, was the fifth-leading vote getter behind Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Rice and Henderson. As relievers garner more recognition, I believe he’ll get in before his 15 years of eligibility have expired.

Tim Raines received 22.6 percent of the vote, down from 24.3 last year. I believe he’ll be inducted in about five years. If Rickey Henderson was the most dominant leadoff hitter in the American League in his three-decade career, then Raines had a similar effect in the National League.

David Cone, the hired gun, former 20-game winner and hurler of a perfect game, earned only 3.9 percent of the vote and is ineligible to appear on next year’s ballot.

Counting it down until pitchers and catchers report. Until next week …

Categories:  Bronx Banter  Hall of Fame  Will Weiss  Yankee Panky

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1 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jan 15, 2009 7:24 pm

Gary Carter in the Hall of Very Good? Really? C'mon. He was the best catcher in the NL between Bench and Piazza. Should have been a first-ballot choice.

Meanwhile, I was stunned that Cone didn't at least get the 5% necessary to remain on the ballot. I don't think he's a Hall of Famer, but he certainly was good enough to stick around for a few more ballots.

2 Nutball Gazette   ~  Jan 15, 2009 7:49 pm

I do think Rice belongs but I like your idea of a special wing for special players who did something special in his career like Maris and Tommy John. I think that would be a good compromise.

3 monkeypants   ~  Jan 15, 2009 7:57 pm

The farther removed from a player's career, the more his numbers need to measured. I agree, so much so that I think there should be a longer waiting period (10 years at least) between retirement and election.

I wonder, though--does this possibly penalize players whose careers played out when different offensive metrics, now superseded, were used to analyze a player's greatness?

For example, I agree that Rice should not be in the HoF. His weakness, like Andre Dawson's, is that he did not really get on base all that often, especially given that he was more or less a .300 hitter. Yet during the 1970s and 1980s, far greater attention was paid to BA than to OBP, let alone OPS, OPS+, etc. Perhaps, therefore, Rice's career was extended because his offensive skill set was considered more valuable. And perhaps other players had shorter careers or were less well thought of because in the day no one noticed OBP or VORP.

So, where am I going with this? Well, perhaps therefore Jim Rice was considered the greatest player of his generation (or one of the greatest, or the best at his position, or whatever). If so, should that not carry a significant weight with HoF voters?

Should a player essentially be penalized by HoF voters because players now might be evaluated by very different standards than they were in the old days?

Now, I am not arguing for Rice, or anyone else for that matter. I'm just increasingly skeptical that, as thei great game lives on decade after decade, that any objective measure of "greatness," comparing players across generations, can be maintained. In the end, I wonder if we just shouldn't let without complaint or hand-wringing the process succumb to the whims--objective, subjective, ideological--of the voters.

4 monkeypants   ~  Jan 15, 2009 7:59 pm

[2] Of course, the HoF is technically a the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Thus, the feats of the likes of Maris and John are enshrined, in effect, in the "museum" section of the institution.

Or, just stick them all in the Hall (see my longer post above, at [3]).

5 eb   ~  Jan 15, 2009 8:02 pm


Babe Ruth held the single season home run record longer than Roger Maris. The record of 61set by Maris in 1961 did, however, stand longer than the record of 60 famously set in 1927.

Babe Ruth became the single season home run leader in 1919 when his 29 HRs surpassed Ned Williamson's 27. He increased his own record total three times, topping out at 60 in 1927. The Babe held single season home run record until 1961, 42 years. Maris' was the leader until 1998, 37 years.

6 Just Fair   ~  Jan 15, 2009 8:17 pm

Speaking of the HOF. Last night I dreamt I was in a NYC park watching the Yankees practice. My wife and I were strolling along the third base line as Jeter was fielding ground balls. Mo And Edwar came upon us. I told Mo to keep on keeping on. I was too embarrassed to extend my hand to him. But I did extend a circle change grip to Edwar and told him to keep throwing that nasty change-up. He kindly shook my hand.

7 DaveinMD   ~  Jan 15, 2009 9:58 pm

The only way Rice belongs in the Hall of Fame is if he buys a ticket. its a travesty that the writers voted him in. The guy was a slightly above average outside of Fenway. Dwight Evans was more deserving than him.

8 Will Weiss   ~  Jan 15, 2009 11:07 pm

[1] Cliff, I see your point on Carter, but I respectfully disagree. I agree with you on Cone. I thought he was more of a media favorite. I guess he never shook the mercenary tag.

[3] You make a great point, and I meant to mention it on the show. Bruce Markusen alluded to that in his post, re: the new generation of writers and analysts viewing HOF credentials, that it's the sabermetricians vs. the traditionalists. It doesn't have to be that way, but I do think standards beyond, "He wasn't my type of player," as the one writer used for Rickey Henderson, need to be addressed in determining who gets in and who doesn't.

[5] Eb, that's a great nitpick. Are you OK with saying we're both right?

[7] Dave, spot on. I looked at Dewey for s---s and giggles when brushing up on the Rice stuff, and you can easily make as compelling a case, if not more so, for Evans, than Rice. The average of 122 hits per season and lack of dominance in any offensive category hurts him. He was the best right fielder in that time frame, however.

9 MikeTV   ~  Jan 16, 2009 8:35 am

While I'm not entirely sure whether Rice belongs in the HOF, I trust that people who know a hell of a lot more than me or you for that matter know what they're doing when they're voting.... I'll let them make my argument for me... Here's some reading material:

Do you trust in great and Hall of Fame Member and Ex-Yankee Goose Gossage:

What about Hall of Fame Member and Ex-Yankee Wade Boggs:

How about Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Peter Gammons:

More from Gammons in this chat:

How about Hall of Famer Carl Yazstremski:

Remember Rice didn't take steroids etc...

The Home Town Papers views:


Too Homer for you?
How about some writers from California?




Or Detroit?

How about from MLB.com?


Ken Rosenthal and Fox:

Tom Verducii and Sports Illustrated:

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