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Most of the Modern Era nominees on the MLB Hall of Fame ballot don't deserve to be in Cooperstown

Why is Steve Garvey even on this ballot?

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Frankie Frisch was a great baseball player. He had a lifetime slash line of .316/.369/.432, had 2,880 hits, stole 419 bases and struck out only 232 times in a 19-year career. He played in eight World Series with the Giants and Cardinals and won four of them, the last as player/manager. He also managed the Pirates and Cubs, the latter from 1949-51, with a bit less success.

Frisch was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947, but his influence over the Hall reverberates today. Frisch was named to the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee in 1967, and became the most influential man on that committee — not for the better, as Joe Posnanski wrote in 2013:

... from 1970 to 1973, Frisch’s veteran’s committee inducted: Jesse Haines, Dave Bancroft, Chick Hafey, Rube Marquard, Ross Youngs and George Kelly — all [except Marquard] former teammates of Frisch. Frisch died in 1973 after an automobile accident, and in the next couple of years the committee elected Jim Bottomley, Freddie Lindstrom and Travis Jackson who were ALSO former teammates of Frisch (the last two were also teammates of Bill Terry, who may have become the dominant committee member in Frisch’s absence).

That’s eight players, all former Frisch teammates, and while they were all good players, let’s be honest, not one of them belongs in the Hall of Fame. But they are there, and with them there you can basically argue for just about any good player as a Hall of Famer. Let’s say you believe Mark Grace should be in the Hall of Fame. Well, Mark Grace was almost certainly better than George Kelly or Jim Bottomley, both first basemen on the Frisch List. So you have a real case.

I know there are a lot of people here who like Mark Grace. I think you’d agree that while he had a fine playing career, he’s not anywhere near a Hall of Famer.

And that brings me to the current Hall of Fame’s treatment of “veterans” who were overlooked by the Baseball Writers Association of America in their voting for Hall induction. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that the BBWAA shouldn’t be doing this in the first place, but that’s not my point here.

My point is this: The list of 10 names released Monday by the Hall of Fame in its “Modern Era” ballot runs the risk of stuffing the current Hall with players not much better than Frisch’s buddies who received induction in the early 1970s.

They are: Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant and Alan Trammell. (Some of the players on this list have previously been on similar ballots, including Garvey, Simmons, John and Tiant.)

First, let me address the one non-player on this ballot, Marvin Miller. Miller arguably had more influence over modern baseball than any other single individual over the last half of the 20th Century through his leadership of the Major League Baseball Players Association. He should have been inducted years ago, while he was still living. I sincerely hope this committee will correct this wrong. If Bowie Kuhn is in the Hall, Marvin Miller ought to be in. (And you can make an argument that Miller should be in and Kuhn shouldn’t.)

Regarding the players, it looks like a list of “Hey, here are some guys who were popular in the 1980s, let’s give them baseball immortality!”

Of that list, I would put one man in the Hall, maybe two.

Tommy John was the guinea pig for the surgery that has resurrected hundreds of pitchers’ careers over the last 40+ years. There was no guarantee it would work. John was a pretty good pitcher before the surgery, though in 12 seasons prior he’d made one All-Star team and received no Cy Young votes.

After? 14 more years, over 2,500 innings, three All-Star teams, three top-five Cy Young finishes, five postseasons, two World Series. He had a 2.4 bWAR season for the Yankees in 1987 — at age 44, among the 10 best seasons by bWAR for any pitcher that age or older. He had 288 wins and 46 shutouts.

He should have been elected long ago.

Ted Simmons was the prototype for the modern power-hitting catcher. In addition to hitting home runs, he was outstanding defensively, regularly throwing out 40 percent or more of runners attempting to steal — this in an era where stolen bases were far more important than they are now. Simmons mostly quit catching the last five years of his career, but he still caught over 1,700 games, which ranks 15th on the all-time list.

Some people think Alan Trammell ought to be in; to me, at least, he had only a handful of MVP-quality seasons (and finished higher than seventh in that voting only once) and was pretty much done as a regular after age 32. His managing career was nothing special. On the other hand, his career numbers are quite similar to Barry Larkin’s, and Larkin is in, so the argument goes, “If Larkin, why not Trammell?” That’s the “Mark Grace argument” that Joe Posnanski makes, I think. There’s also an argument being made that Trammell’s double-play partner Lou Whitaker got snubbed by not even being on the ballot.

I see the argument, but only up to a point. It’s not the Hall of Wins Above Replacement — if that’s the way the Hall wanted it, they could simply line up the players by WAR and induct them, no voting needed. That doesn’t seem the best way to do it.

The others: No, no, no, no, no, and no. Steve Garvey? Come on, now. Look at the list of similarity scores on Garvey’s page. The only one who’s in the Hall is Orlando Cepeda, and he’s pretty far down the similarity list (numbers under 900 aren’t really all that similar at all). Garvey won an MVP award in a year in which his bWAR (not that anyone knew what that was then) ranked 17th in the National League. He was a mediocre defender whose counting stats are just decent.

Don Mattingly was certainly on a Hall of Fame track until age 28, after which serious back problems ruined his career. In six seasons after that age, Mattingly hit .286/.345/.405, which is good but not up to the .323/.368/.521 he had established prior. I’m a believer in the idea that a good managing career following a good playing career could put someone in the Hall — thus if Mattingly manages several more seasons and perhaps wins a World Series, his combined body of work could put him in.

About Jack Morris, more words have been written about him and his Hall chances than I could ever equal here, so I think I’ll just leave this as a summary of what kind of pitcher Jack Morris was:

Morris pitched one memorable World Series game that helped his team win. That’s not enough, in my view. Most of the rest of the argument in his favor appears to be “he won a lot of games when that meant something.” Morris won 254 games. Rick Reuschel won 40 fewer games than Morris — with an ERA more than half a run lower, and missing big chunks of three seasons, and pitching for a lot of teams that were way worse than the ones Morris pitched for. No one talks about Reuschel as a HoF candidate, either.

Dale Murphy? Seven good years and a lot of mediocrity. Dave Parker? Same, except with fewer home runs. Luis Tiant? The pitching version of Murphy. His similarity scores have him compared to Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter and Jim Bunning, and there’s an argument to be made that neither one of those guys belongs in the Hall either.

There are some who are in favor of a larger Hall of Fame, who argue that the Hall ought to recognize that we have almost twice as many teams as in the pre-expansion era and that having more players produces more great players. I’m not sure I buy that, and in some ways it goes down the Frisch rabbit hole, almost inviting every player who’s better than Jesse Haines and Travis Jackson to be inducted. And if you’re in that group, why, then Jack Morris and Alan Trammell are fine candidates.

Me? I’d rather see only the best of the best. We’re not going to throw out players who we might not consider now as candidates, but that doesn’t mean standards have to be lowered to the level of “anyone better than the worst player already in should be in.”

Let’s hope the committee voting on this current list keeps that in mind.