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The Hall Of What?

Here, I figured, is a surefire way to start tons of arguments!

(Note, this article is pretty long; prepare to spend extra time reading!)

I got the idea for this post yesterday, because those of us who are in the SB Nation have a private e-mail list to discuss matters that have to do with our group of blogs.

All of which are worth checking out, incidentally.

OK, plugola over, on with the topic at hand. Anyway, we were discussing various ideas on what people could post on slow news days or weeks for our various teams, and I mentioned that the HoF voting results were going to be announced Tuesday, January 10 at 1 pm CT.

Well, this got everyone going, and a few emails wafted their way across, stating everyone's preferences for who is -- and more emphatically, who ISN'T -- a Hall of Famer.

So I thought I'd give you my thoughts on who I'd have voted for had I been given a Hall of Fame ballot this year, and the reasons why.

Here are the 29 players listed on the BBWAA ballot (in alphabetical order):

Rick Aguilera, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Will Clark, Dave Concepcion, Andre Dawson, Gary DiSarcina, Alex Fernandez, Gary Gaetti, Steve Garvey, Dwight Gooden, Rich Gossage, Ozzie Guillen, Orel Hershiser, Gregg Jefferies, Tommy John, Doug Jones, Don Mattingly, Willie McGee, Hal Morris, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Jim Rice, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter, Alan Trammell, Walt Weiss and John Wetteland.

Now, keep in mind the rules for appearing on the ballot:

A baseball player must have been active as a player in the Major Leagues at some time during a period beginning twenty (20) years before and ending five (5) years prior to election.
Player must have played in each of ten (10) Major League championship seasons, some part of which must have been within the period described [above].
Player shall have ceased to be an active player in the Major Leagues at least five (5) calendar years preceding the election but may be otherwise connected with baseball.
In case of the death of an active player or a player who has been retired for less than five (5) full years, a candidate who is otherwise eligible shall be eligible in the next regular election held at least six (6) months after the date of death or after the end of the five (5) year period, whichever occurs first.
Any player on Baseball's ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate.

OK, so you have to play for 10 years and be retired for at least five as a player, which explains the presence of Gary DiSarcina. If a player doesn't receive 5% of the vote, he's off the ballot the next year.

Let's begin with those of the 29 who I feel are absolutely, positively, never, ever, not now, not a year from now, not 10 years from now, not 10,000 years from now, qualified to be in the HoF:

DiSarcina, Guillen, Jefferies, Jones, H. Morris, Weiss.

That brings the list to 23.

Next are several solid, regular players for a long time, or pitchers, who had good careers but for reasons of either lack of longevity, or lack of production, shouldn't get in either:

Belle, Clark, Concepcion, Fernandez, Gaetti, Gooden, Mattingly, McGee.

That leaves fourteen players who appear to be qualified for the Hall, in one way or another, by either career achievements, or being dominant in their league or in the majors for a number of seasons... or, for lack of a better term, for just being famous.

This is something Bill James once pointed out in his book "The Politics of Glory", later retitled "Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame" in more recent editions. Although James is famous for creating many statistics, including the Hall of Fame Standards Test and the Hall of Fame Monitor, he also was quick to point out that the HoF isn't a "Hall of Statistics" -- that part of being in a "Hall of Fame" is that you should, in some way, be "famous".

Those of you who are statistically oriented will cringe at that notion, for that is something that cannot be measured.

I'll give you an example from one of the fourteen remaining on my list: Steve Garvey. By James' standards, Garvey falls well short of the Hall -- he ranks at 31.5 on the "standards" chart, where the "average" Hall of Famer ranks at 50 or above. He led his league in a significant statistical category (hits) twice; the rest of his league-leading numbers were in games played (led the NL six times, and of course holds the NL consecutive-games record with 1207). His career totals in the "sexy" categories -- hits and HR (2599 and 272) are well below HoF standards, and his lifetime average is under .300.

But Garvey is indisputably famous; partly for a game that Cub fans will always cringe while remembering, partly for the World Series he played in with the Dodgers and Padres, and partly for some off-field hijinks.

Does this make Garvey a Hall of Famer? No, in my view, it does not. But some people will take that fame and view Garvey as a more likely HoFer than he really is. The ten most similar hitters to Garvey are: Al Oliver, John Olerud, Ruben Sierra, Bill Buckner, Mickey Vernon, Cecil Cooper, Chili Davis, Orlando Cepeda, Will Clark and Mark Grace, none of whom are even remotely qualified to be in the Hall.

So you can see the problem here.

Without going into similar great detail on the other thirteen "finalists", I'll tell you who my HoF ballot would have contained had I been privileged enough to fill one out this year (keep in mind, a HoF voter can vote for as many as ten, but need not vote for that many):

Bert Blyleven
Andre Dawson
Tommy John
Lee Smith
Bruce Sutter

Here are my reasons for those five:

Bert Blyleven pitched twenty-two major league seasons and won twenty games only once. This, you might think, would disqualify him. Don Sutton, a Hall of Famer, did pretty much the same thing -- 23 years, one 20-win season. Sutton, though, had the advantage of playing for great teams most of his career -- he was in five postseasons, four World Series, and was considered to be a key acquisition in late 1982 by the Brewers, helping them get to the WS. Blyleven toiled for years for bad Twins and Pirates teams, though he did get to a World Series with each. 287 wins and 3701 strikeouts -- fifth on the all-time list -- are enough for me.

Andre Dawson had one of the most marvelous seasons ever in a Cub uniform, the 1987 season which began with him submitting a blank contract to Dallas Green; that's how much he wanted to play for the Cubs.

Imagine someone doing that today. Right, you can't.

On September 27, 1987, a sun-kissed day, Dawson came up in the eighth inning for what we all knew would be his final home at-bat of the season. He ran the count to 3-1 against Cardinal reliever Bill Dawley, and every single person in the ballpark knew that he'd hit a HR on the next pitch, which he did, his forty-seventh of the year. It was a magical moment in a dreary season.

This is one reason -- for providing Cub fans with many, many thrills despite playing virtually every moment of his six Cub seasons on ruined knees, destroyed by ten years of artificial turf in Montreal.

The statheads will look at Dawson's .323 lifetime OBA and sneer. I look at his 438 HR and 314 SB and marvel; his numbers aren't all that much different from another Cub Hall of Famer, Billy Williams; oh, except that Dawson stole a ton more bases and was a far more spectacular defensive outfielder. Dawson's numbers pale a bit compared to some put up in the 90's and early 2000's, but we now know some of those numbers are tainted; Dawson's are all legit.

Add that to the fact that he is a wonderful ambassador for the game, a genuinely nice guy, and worked hard every day. That's MY definition of a Hall of Famer.

Tommy John ought to get in if for no other reason than the surgery that bears his name -- the surgery that extended his career by more than a decade, and the surgery that now rescues the careers of young pitchers every winter. In fact, it can be argued that the surgery made him better -- he won twenty games three times afterward, none before. His 288 wins are one more than Blyleven, and he was a key part of both Dodger and Yankee playoff teams in the late 70's and early 80's.

Tommy John surgery. The game was changed significantly by it. Let's honor the pioneer.

Many people thought that Lee Smith's career save record would fall. But one by one, the challengers fell, showing how difficult it is to get to 478 saves. Trevor Hoffman, 42 short as of this date, might break it, and Mariano Rivera has a shot if he wants to pitch three more years (and he may not), but Smith was the pioneer. He has ten thirty-save seasons (and two more of 29), and was a premier closer for thirteen consecutive seasons. Only Hoffman comes close.

Bruce Sutter's numbers don't compare to Smith's, and his career longevity was cut short by injury, forcing him to retire at 33 (he made a brief comeback two years later, then quit for good).

I vote for him not because he was a Cub, but because he singlehandedly introduced a new pitch -- the split-finger fastball -- to baseball. In 1977, that pitch was virtually unhittable. For those of you too young to remember, I watched game after game, where you'd see what appeared to be a Sutter fastball go straight into the plate, then dip about two feet just before it got to a puzzled hitter, who would flail wildly at it and miss.

Sutter threw 107 innings that year, walked 23 and struck out 129; allowed only 5 HR and put up a 1.34 ERA with 31 saves.

And this, in an era where closers routinely threw two innings or sometimes even more. In fact, Herman Franks, the Cub manager at the time, is credited with helping invent the current role of closer, by never using Sutter unless the Cubs were ahead in the late innings.

Sutter was a baseball pioneer, as well as a dominant closer. He also was awarded what at the time was the largest arbitration award in history -- $700,000 in 1980 -- which the then penny-pinching Wrigleys used as an excuse to let him go in free agency after the 1980 season.

I'm figuring this article ought to start enough arguments and discussion to last all of you till just about Tuesday, when the results of the voting are announced. Enjoy!