Consider Tim Raines. He is the poster-child for Hall of Fame advocacy in the age of the internet. He was an undeniably great ballplayer. In Rock, he had a cool nickname. If I voted, Tim Raines would have been inducted inducted already. But for whatever reason—maybe because he doesn’t have those 3,000 hits—Tim Raines remains a long ways from that 75 percent threshold. Leading Expos nostalgist and 21st century baseball maven Jonah Keri has made a million compelling arguments in favor of Raines’ nomination and even helped create a website dedicated to his Hall candidacy. As if anybody outside of a Port St. Lucie hotel bar in March ever had a kind thought about the Baseball Writers Association of America, Keri has called Raines’ stalled candidacy a “damning statement on the cognitive abilities and biases” of the voters.
What’s obvious in all this is that it should not require high-level statistical analysis to appreciate Tim Raines as a special ballplayer. Nor should Raines’ legacy require the paternalistic approval of a bunch of writers who after a long season spent spinning melodrama from banality make it their business in the winter to draw sacred lines at some arbitrary point between goodness and greatness. Like all of the awards in baseball, induction into the Hall of Fame is purely subjective. The wall that Keri and company are banging their heads against on behalf of Tim Raines is invisible. And the best outcome of all that banging exists entirely apart from the Hall of Fame. The best outcome is that baseball fans are reminded—or even informed for the first time—about the dynamo that was Tim Raines.
It’s not lost on me that if the Hall of Fame stakes weren’t there, the Tim Raines appreciation society might not get the same amount of public attention. But that’s exactly the problem. Instead of appreciating baseball for all it offers and enjoying its stars for all they give us—which really is so much—we chose to give ourselves ulcers over the injustices committed by the BBWA. Yes, there is something to be said for tradition. Ballplayers emoting on the podium in Cooperstown in August makes for stirring television. Though not nearly as stirring as the thought that Ron Santo, who by all accounts wanted enshrinement more than anything, had to die before finally getting enough attention to merit entry via the backdoor that is the Veteran’s Committee.
[Illustrations: Aislin, aka Terry Mosher]
Over at Pinstriped Bible, Jay Jaffe takes a look at the Yankees on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Last week’s signing of Randy Winn was met with a thud the likes we haven’t heard since the Road Runner was leading Wile E. Coyote off of cliff after cliff. The reaction appeared to have little to do with the clusterf— that proved to be the back-and-forth hearsay between Brian Cashman and Scott Boras regarding Johnny Damon. No, it was more that the Yankees actually committed a seven-figure dollar amount to, well, Randy Winn, and didn’t loosen the waistband for the once Unfrozen Caveman Outfielder.
Some of us are still trying to wrap our brains around the pretzel logic that led to the release of a soon-to-be 36-year-old who, despite his defensive foibles, has a stroke tailor made for the New Yankee Stadium and is a perfect fit for the Yankee lineup, only to sign a soon-to-be 36-year-old who is, um, Randy Winn.
There was a great deal of rancor in the Yankeeland Blogosphere in the days following the Winn deal. Over at the Yankeeist, Larry Koestler, a friend to the Banter (well, this Banterer, anyway) likens the Winn acquisition to that of Tony Womack:
Randy Winn…may have at one time been a reasonable ballplayer, but that was back when Honus Wagner was suiting up for the Buccos. I know he’s coming aboard as the fourth outfielder/platoonmate, but sweet Jesus we’d have been better off flushing the money directly down the toilet. It would’ve taken what — an extra $3-$4 million to get Damon back into the fold? We couldn’t do that, but we could spend a third of the presumed cost of Damon on an absolute and utter complete waste of space like Winn? Better to have let Gardner at least try to hold the position down — I’m not even much of a Gardner fan but I’d still rather Grit in there every day than waste any at-bats on the second coming of Wilson Betemit.
Honestly, Brian Cashman knows better than this. Signing Randy Winn and his sub-.700 OPS in 2009 for any amount is craziness. It doesn’t make any sense nor fit with the Yankees’ work-the-pitcher, high-OBP MO.
Oh, but it gets better. The New Stadium Insider notes that Winn was the last straw in pushing a certain 2009 season ticket holder to the point of canceling his plans to upgrade in 2k10.
Backtracking a bit to Koestler’s item, it’s important to note that earlier in the piece, he shows startling similarities between Winn’s weighted on-base average over the past four seasons, and Womack’s during the last four years of his career. Combining Winn and Brett Gardner, you basically have the same skill set (.325 OBP, .700 OPS, etc.). In other words, two people providing replacement-level numbers. Not good if you’re banking on Curtis Granderson summoning his 2007 self and Nick Swisher repeating his regular-season production of last year.
Maybe left-field should be considered an afterthought. Consider that when the Yankees went on their dynastic tear in the late 1990s and early part of the oughts, left field featured the All-Star cast of Gerald Williams, Tim Raines, Darryl Strawberry, Chad Curtis, Ricky Ledee, Shane Spencer, Ryan Thompson, Chuck Knoblauch, Rondell White, and Juan Rivera. The Yankees made six World Series trips in eight years with that motley crew because the other eight members of the lineup were able to make up for whatever deficiencies existed by the 399 sign. This Yankee team is good, but is it good enough to overcome left field, the unknowns of Granderson and Swisher, and despite their productivity, the ever-increasing age of Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter?
Perhaps a more apt comparison to this year’s left field situation is the right field situation of 2002, when a noncommittal Joe Torre rolled out a combination of Spencer and the inimitable John Vander Wal on a platoon basis. Spencer, despite his desire to be an everyday player, never recaptured the bottled lightning of September 1998. At least, he never came close enough to putting up numbers worthy enough to merit his everyday presence in the lineup. Vander Wal eventually regressed into what he always was: a pinch hitter. The two of them gave way to Enrique Wilson playing right field against the Mets. Wilson misplayed a couple of balls so badly that within days, the Yankees traded for the ball player formerly known as Raul Mondesi.
If history repeats itself this year, Ramiro Peña will have to make an emergency start in left and bungle it so badly that in a fit of panic, Cash will trade for Milton Bradley by the Fourth of July.
This is all figuring, of course, that Granderson is playing center field and not left. Certain pundits on certain afternoon drive radio shows have already put Granderson in left, and have said that Winn was not a terrible signing, Nick Johnson was an upgrade and a solid No. 2 hitter, and Gardner is not a terrible player, either.
We’ll find out soon enough, right?