Hall Of Fame Talk

added 12/8/2008 by Scott Barzilla

Hall of Fame talk is always infuriating and a blast at the same time. It makes my blood boil, but I figure like the BCS in college football, that ends up being a good thing for baseball. Especially during these down economic times, we need something to pass the time while teams figure out how much they have to spend. Naturally, the winter meetings on Monday will take up most of the conversation, but the Hall of Fame is always in the background.

The infuriating part of the Hall of Fame is listening to disk jockeys that know little about statistics completely destroy sabermetricians and other knowledgeable fans with their, “but I played the game” routine. The latest came from Rob Dibble when he asserted that Jim Rice should be in the Hall of Fame. Naturally, that is a popular opinion given the fact that 72% of the BBWAA voted for him last year. Historically, no one has ever come that close (you need 75%) without getting in the next year. So, Rice will likely get in this year despite all of the statistical proof to the contrary.

I have no outright issue for someone arguing for Rice, but the statistical arguments used are lame and the reasoning used by Dibble was even lamer. First, he argued that we should ask the players who played against him. If they say he is a Hall of Famer, then he is a Hall of Famer. Ah, let me not go too overboard in poking holes in that argument. Suffice it to say, the Veterans Committee has elected numerous duds on the same premise. Presumably, a majority of players from the 1900s and 1910s thought Rube Marquard was a Hall of Famer. Then he proceeded to say the Hall of Fame is too exclusive. The reality is that it is not exclusive enough. Everyone in sports agrees the Baseball Hall of Fame (not necessarily the museum) is the finest in professional sports. It creates more debate and interest every year than the other major sports combined. This happens because it is exclusive.

Leaving that aside for the moment, I want to finger through the cursory arguments for Jim Rice and explain why they are based on faulty logic. It should be noted that Rice would not be the worst outfielder in the Hall of Fame. That title won’t go away for some time and with a legitimate MVP award to his credit, it isn’t as if he is chopped liver. I suppose that is the first misconception about the Hall of Fame. A vote against Rice does not mean that he wasn’t a good player. In point of fact, everyone on the ballot is a good player because the players get pre-screened beforehand. You have to play a full ten seasons in the big leagues in order to be eligible and then you have to pass muster on top of that. So, keeping that in mind, let’s begin our journey.

“Jim Rice has more home runs and RBIs than any American League player during his sixteen year career.”

So in those exact sixteen seasons (1974-1990) no one had more home runs or RBIs in the American League. Can anyone see a problem here? Well, first we have two qualifiers. The first is the designation of league. If we include the National League then we have to throw Mike Schmidt into the equation. More importantly though, how many players began playing exactly in 1974 and how many ended exactly in 1990. That is always the hidden fallacy in these types of arguments. If we really want to go this route, it would be better to find contemporaries (players within a five year window either way) and compare numbers:

Home Runs
Reggie Jackson	        563
Mike Schmidt		548
Eddie Murray		504
Willie Stargell		475
Dave Winfield		465
Dave Kingman		442
Andre Dawson		438
Darrell Evans		414
Graig Nettles		390
Johnny Bench		389
Dwight Evans		385
Harold Baines		384
Jim Rice		382

RBIs
Eddie Murray	        1917
Dave Winfield		1833
Reggie Jackson	        1702
Tony Perez		1652
Harold Baines		1628
George Brett		1595
Mike Schmidt		1595
Andre Dawson		1591
Willie Stargell		1540
Dave Parker		1493
Jim Rice		1451

These standings are not quite as impressive are they? This is especially true when you consider the number of non-Hall of Famers above him on each list. Furthermore, it is doubtful that either Harold Baines, Andre Dawson, or Dave Parker will make it into the Hall of Fame. Dave Kingman finished above him on the home run list and he barely even made the ballot. When looking at players that are overrated, I often compare the traditional counting stats (home runs, runs, and RBIs) with the sabermetric counting stats (runs created). The biggest gaps indicate players that are either overrated or underrated. Let’s consider the above list of RBIs and see how they fare individually:

			RBIS		 RC	     Difference 
Eddie Murray		1917		1941		  -24
Dave Winfield		1833		1813		  +20
Reggie Jackson	        1702		1771	          +69
Tony Perez		1652		1524		 -128
Harold Baines		1628		1606		  -22
George Brett		1595		1878		 +283
Mike Schmidt		1595		1757		 +162
Andre Dawson		1591		1518		  -77
Willie Stargell		1540		1531		   -9
Dave Parker		1493		1451		  -42
Jim Rice		1451		1384		  -67

This is not good when you consider he already stands pretty low in RBIs. In fact, there were many more players that finished in front of Rice in the runs created rankings that did not make it here because they were low RBI guys. While the BBWAA loves home runs and RBIs in the MVP voting, they should take pause here because RBIs and runs really don’t tell the story. If Jim Rice were on the Twins, Rangers, or Brewers would he have had over 1400 RBIs? If he wasn’t a right-handed power hitter hitting in the park with the short wall in left would he have had 382 home runs?

“Jim Rice finished in the top five in the MVP voting six different times in his career.”

So we should perpetuate bad voting with shoddier voting? He was the MVP in 1978 and his numbers bear that out, but how often was he really among the top five players in the league? Plus, even if he was, are those six seasons really enough? Jim Rice was a productive player from 1975 through 1986. 1987 and 1988 were mediocre seasons at best with 1976 and 1980 being good, but not great. Is that really enough at a position where most Hall of Famers played at least fifteen productive seasons?

Don’t get me wrong, this argument is the most compelling, but you have to separate how the voting fell with how it should have fallen. If the BBWAA feels those votes were justified then you could argue that he was one of the top players in the American League between 1975 and 1986. That’s something to hang your hat on, but twelve years is a not a long time. There are quite a few players that are in the same boat (Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dwight Gooden). You have to do it over a longer period of time.

“You step into the batters box for a year and see if you can put up even half of those numbers.” - Jim Rice

Indeed. When all else fails go back to the “I played and you didn’t” card. By this definition, the BBWAA is incapable of voting because they never played. We could take this argument to its logical extreme. Political commentators shouldn’t comment unless they’ve served in public office. Movie, music, and book reviewers shouldn’t ply their craft unless they have dabbled in the creative arts. Art critics shouldn’t comment until they throw paint on the canvas. Nielson units should only go into the homes of actors, actresses, directors, producers, and those that work under them. We go back to the same point we made earlier. Saying you’re out is not the same as saying you suck. It’s just that we want the very best for the Hall of Fame. Baseball fans deserve no less.