Hall of Shame

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I received my IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in my inbox yesterday. I look forward to it every year, as it is an honor to be able to vote for players I feel are worthy of baseball’s highest honor. It also gives me the opportunity to really dive into the numbers, or as my wife calls it “fall down the statistic rabbit hole”. You will see that article in about a months time, where I breakdown my votes and why I voted the way I did. Since I occasionally get asked this, in the IBWAA we do things a bit differently than the boys and girls over at the BBWAA. We have a number of guys who have been voted in (Vlad Guerrero, Edgar Martinez) that the BBWAA still has on their ballot. We are also able to vote for 15 players instead of the 10 the BBWAA are left with. Finally, we don’t have a former player like Joe Morgan send us a letter, trying to sway our vote with arrogant confidence and ignorant hubris…and for that I am grateful.

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Credit: Kansas City Star

If you aren’t aware(or maybe in a cave), Joe Morgan sent out a letter a few weeks back, hoping to veer the writers of the BBWAA away from voting for players linked to steroid use. If you want to read the entire letter, here it is:

Now, I’m not going to get into a huge debate over the Hall of Fame or steroid use in baseball; I have done that so much over the years that I’m just bored with it and it just seems to agitate me. I will tell you that if you want my opinion on the Hall, read this; I wrote this a few years back and it pretty much encompasses my feelings on “cheaters” in the Hall. So I’m not going to get into a big debate about steroid use and Cooperstown. But…I do have a few comments about what Joe said and just who Joe is speaking for.

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Credit: MLB.com

First, let’s start with Joe’s comment about those linked to steroid use:

We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They
cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here.

I hate to tell Joe, but I’m pretty positive there is someone (or likely more than one) in the Hall who used steroids. Oh yeah…Mickey Mantle took steroids. So right there, you have a player in those “hallowed halls” that falls below Morgan’s standard for Cooperstown. Pretty sure you won’t catch ol’ Joe looking to pull “The Mick” and his plaque.

Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League
Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in. Those
are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.

Look, there is a some validity to the Mitchell Report but lets not act like it is a 100% guilty verdict. That is just someone wanting to believe guilt without the proof.

Now, I recognize there are players identified as users on the Mitchell Report who deny they were
users. That’s why this is a tricky issue. Not everything is black and white – there are shades of gray
here. It’s why your job as a voter is and has always been a difficult and important job. I have faith in
your judgment and know that ultimately, this is your call.

Wait, so Joe knows the Mitchell Report is probably not 100% accurate, yet earlier wants voters to use that report as a template? Come on Joe…

But it still occurs to me that anyone who took body-altering chemicals in a deliberate effort to cheat
the game we love, not to mention they cheated current and former players, and fans too, doesn’t
belong in the Hall of Fame. By cheating, they put up huge numbers, and they made great players
who didn’t cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame. That’s not right.

Body-altering chemicals? You mean like performance enhancers? So players who used amphetamines, right? Because, if we are being honest, amphetamines are enhancing a players performance…and Greenies were used in baseball up until they started testing for amphetamines back in 2006. Greenies were prevalent in the game for years and were widely used during Morgan’s playing days. In fact, players like Hank Aaron & Willie Mays have both been linked to amphetamines over the years…and no one is asking those two to leave Cooperstown (nor should they).

It’s gotten to the point where Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they’ll no longer
come to Cooperstown for Induction Ceremonies or other events. Some feel they can’t share a stage
with players who did steroids. The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame
too. The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will
divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.

Does this include Gaylord Perry? Is he appalled by the cheating?

I care about how good a player was or what kind of numbers he put up; but if a player did steroids,
his integrity is suspect; he lacks sportsmanship; his character is flawed; and, whatever contribution
he made to his team is now dwarfed by his selfishness.

So when do we point out the selfishness of baseball for allowing steroids to be used all those years? The owners? The GM’s? Bud Selig? I’m sure their selfishness won’t allow them to return all the money they received from fans flooding the ballparks during this period. You can put some of the blame on the players, Joe, but there is enough blame to go all the way around.

Steroid users knew they were taking a drug that physically improved how they played. Taking
steroids is a decision. It’s the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of.

See “Greenies” from earlier.

I and other Hall of Famers played hard all our lives to achieve what we did. I love this game and am
proud of it. I hope the Hall of Fame’s standards won’t be lowered with the passage of time.
For over eighty years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls
honor those who played the game hard and right. I hope it will always remain that way.

Honestly, baseball has never been a pure game and never will. If I’m being completely honest, when I first read this letter, it felt sanctimonious and hypocritical. Reading it again doesn’t make me change my mind. In fact, it just further cements my initial thoughts of the ignorance in Joe’s words…and how Joe is being used as a puppet.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Don’t get me wrong; I totally think Joe Morgan believes the words he wrote in this letter. But I also believe that what he wrote was allowed to be sent because the people on the board for the Hall of Fame and those involved agree with this sentiment. I also feel this is a direct reaction to seeing Barry Bonds’ and Roger Clemens’ vote total moving upward these last couple years. The honest truth is that testing for performance enhancing drugs was not being done when these players were putting up those “tainted numbers” that Joe mentioned. Maybe it’s just me, but since baseball wasn’t testing and those involved seemed okay with it continuing (that was until congress stepped in to put a halt to it), it feels self-righteous to then turn around and punish the players and no one else (including the true villain in this, Bud Selig). Luckily, the letter appears to have angered many a writer in the BBWAA and it makes one wonder if Bonds’ and Clemens’ total will continue to rise. As a member of the IBWAA, we don’t have to worry about any of this mess. I don’t expect a letter from Howard Cole telling us about “hallowed grounds” and “flawed character”. I thank Howard for that, as he appears to “get it”. I’m still going to enjoy the Cooperstown inductions next summer, as I love watching some of the best players in the history of the game get to celebrate their career in the best way possible. The real taint on the Hall of Fame is those involved who try to move the chess pieces to their liking by ignoring a section of history. History is exactly what it is, a part of the past. If you don’t ignore it, you aren’t likely to repeat it again. Now, it appears it’s time for me to go turn in my IBWAA ballot…

 

 

 

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Baseball Thank You’s

League Championship Series - New York Yankees v Houston Astros - Game Two

Thanksgiving is a great time to spend time with family and friends, eat lots of carbs and be thankful for everything in your life. Yes, we should be more thankful on a daily basis, but with the pace of life speeding up more and more, we sometimes forget to stop and smell the roses (so to speak). We probably don’t say it enough, but I am thankful every day that baseball appears to be on an upswing and is still such a large part of my life. I’m not for sure what the ratio would be, but the amount of joy that this great game gives me would appear to be greater than what I am able to give back to it. So for today, let me be thankful for all the glory that is this kid’s game that we adore…

Mike Trout

I am thankful for Mike Trout. Literally everything about him. Trout is that every day working man who goes out there and helps his team almost every game. Defense, hitting, hitting for power, running the bases; Trout brings it to every aspect of his game. We are seeing the best player in modern-day baseball and possibly one of the greatest of all-time when it is all said and done. I am thankful we get to see such a great player in my lifetime.

Almost the same can be said for Clayton Kershaw, only on the pitching side of the game. I’ve seen Maddux, Johnson and Pedro in my time, but Kershaw could be the best of the bunch. I am thankful for his precision, dedication and work ethic that makes Kershaw as great as he is.

I am thankful for the current playoff system. I was initially against the second wild card in the playoffs, but it has added a new, exciting element to the postseason and I feel it is for the better. The last four October’s have been spectacular and it has shown a steady uptick for baseball viewing among the general public.

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Credit: Chicago Tribune

I am thankful for the mass group of players that I love watching all throughout the baseball season.

Ben Zobrist’s versatility and patience.

Andrew McCutchen’s five tools.

Giancarlo Stanton’s unbridled power.

Yasiel Puig’s child-like enthusiasm.

Bryce Harper’s hustle and ‘Hair on Fire’ approach on the field.

Wade Davis’ ‘Vein’s of Ice’.

Jose Altuve’s ability to hit the ball “where they ain’t”.

Baseball not only has a great group of guys that encompass the immense talent in the game, but a group that are positive role models for the game and makes rooting for them even easier.

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I’m also thankful for all the retired players whose accomplishments I’m still in awe of today.

Ted Williams’ love and dedication to hitting.

Willie Mays’ grace.

Bob Gibson’s fire.

Yogi Berra’s understated play on the field…oh, and his sayings.

Tony Gwynn’s knowledge of the strike zone.

Greg Maddux’s precise location.

Edgar Martinez’s understated study of hitting.

Tim Raines’ speed and ability to put himself in a position to score.

Jackie Robinson’s patience, maturity and determination to prove his worth.

Hank Aaron’s power, quiet leadership and calm demeanor.

I could go on and on with some of the greats of the game, but more than anything I am thankful they were able to pave the way for the talent that would follow them.

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Credit: NPR

More than anything, I am thankful for my favorite team of the last 30+ years, the team I fell in love with as a child and the team that always reminds me why I love baseball, the Kansas City Royals.

Thank you George Brett, for the hustle and inability to give up that helped me love this game.

Thank you Bo Jackson, for doing the impossible on a baseball diamond.

Thank you Dan Quisenberry, for your unique delivery, late inning shutdowns and your sense of humor.

Thank you Bret Saberhagen, for being one of the best of your generation.

Thank you Mike Sweeney, for your loyalty.

Thank you Alex Gordon, for quiet leadership and ability to become a Gold Glover at a new position. Oh, and that home run in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series.

Thank you Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Without you, 2014 and 2015 do not happen.

Thank you Salvador Perez, for your infectious smile and childlike love of the game.

Thank you Denny Matthews and Fred White. You were the voices of my childhood and will always be my favorite baseball announcers. The pictures you drew with your words made listening to a Royals game on the radio an absolute joy.

Thank you Kauffman Stadium, for being so beautiful.

Thank you, 1985.

Thank you, 2015.

Thank you, Kansas City.

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More than anything, thank you baseball. Thank you for loving me back. There will never be another like you. I could go on all day with the things I love about baseball, but more than anything, I love it all. I am thankful that baseball has been a major part of my life since the age of 7. I look forward to the many years ahead we have together. I will always be thankful for you. You’re the best, baseball.

 

 

 

 

My 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot

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There is no greater honor in any sport than getting a plaque in the baseball Hall of Fame. I’m sure someone who believes the NFL or NBA is a greater honor will debate me on this, but there is never the sort of debate toward their hall’s as there is in baseball. That debate has grown into a fervor amongst baseball fans, writers and even players, as every one seems to have an opinion on this topic. What has made it even more intense is what we should do with players who were “suspected” of enhancement thanks to steroids and other performance enhancement drugs, and whether or not they deserve a spot in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown or left on the outside looking in. In some ways, the people who vote on this honor are the judge, jury and executioner, as testing was not done during this period so for many of the players of that era there is no definite of what they did or did not do. As a member of the IBWAA, this will be my third year of voting for ‘the Hall’ and as I have said in years past, I have no issue voting for anyone suspected for PED use, since I feel those players played within the parameters of the rules allowed at that time. I’ve long considered the Hall of Fame a museum of the game, not a church, and because of this I vote based on performance alone. Now, there are a few differences between us in the IBWAA & our brethren in the BBWAA, one of which is the players we have already inducted. Last year we inducted Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, and in years past we had already voted in Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines, so none of those players showed up on our ballots this year. Also, we are allowed to vote for up to 15 players, where as the BBWAA can only vote for 10. Before we get to my actual votes, you can read my previous votes: Here is 20142015, and 2016. Also, follow Ryan Thibodaux on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before the big announcement on January 18th. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot.

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Barry Bonds

I have voted for Bonds every year and will continue to until he is finally elected. In my eyes, this is a no-brainer, as Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players ever, not just of his era. I could rattle off all the numbers that show how great he was, but I think the best way to explain it is this way: before there was any whispers about suspected steroid use, Bonds was a 5 tool player who could literally do anything on the baseball field…and then he became an offensive juggernaut that could not be contained. The all-time home run king took that whole era to another level and it wasn’t even close. You might not like him or what he had to do to elevate his game, but I am not concerned about any of that when it comes to voting. To me, Bonds is a slam dunk pick and should already be in the Hall of Fame.

 

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Roger Clemens

Like Bonds, Clemens is an easy pick, the greatest pitcher of his era and one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. Clemens won the Cy Young Award 7 times throughout his career, and is on top of a plethora of statistics that garner him near the top of almost all pitching leaderboards. Both Bonds and Clemens seem to be garnering more support, as the election of former Commissioner Bud Selig to the Hall seems to have allowed some voters to start putting an ‘x’ in the box next to their names. At one time it appeared both men would have to wait until they showed up on the Veteran’s Committee ballot before they would get elected; now we could see that wall busted through in the next couple of years.

 

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Vladimir Guerrero

Guerrero is the first debut on my ballot this year and appears on the surface to be a borderline pick for the Hall, but digging deeper shows you a guy who should be more of an easy pick for voters. Most will remember Guerrero as a hitter who never saw a pitch he didn’t like (as he was a notorious bad-ball hitter), but he was also a very good hitter, which those two things normally clash if put together. Instead, Guerrero posted a career .318/.379/.553 line with 449 home runs and 2,590 hits during his 16 year career, with a career contact rate of 79.9%. The accolades are there with this guy: 2004 AL MVP, 9 time All-Star, 8 time Silver Slugger award winner and 2010 Edgar Martinez award winner. All that should entice a voter’s view of Vlad, but what really takes the cake is his place in history when it comes to his offensive stats. Guerrero’s all-time rank is staggering: 56th all-time in batting average, 24th in slugging percentage, 34th in OPS, 49th in total bases, 85th in doubles, 38th in home runs, 57th in RBI’s, 79th in OPS+, 64th in runs created, 56th in adjusted batting runs, 61st in adjusted batting wins, 45th in extra base hits, 5th all time in intentional bases on balls, 45th in power-speed #, 59th in RE24, and 50th in Win Probability Added. Most people could tell you that he was a really good player, but it isn’t until the numbers slap you in the face that you see just how great he was, not just really good. The cherry on top of his offensive numbers is this fun little fact that Graham Womack found: Guerrero’s career batting average, home runs and hits are only topped in baseball history by five players. Those five? Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig. Yes, all five are Hall of Famers and yes, Vladimir Guerrero should be as well. If not this year, hopefully Vlad will get in the Hall in the very near future.

 

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Trevor Hoffman

For the second consecutive season, I voted for Trevor Hoffman. There has been plenty of debate on whether or not closers should be judged on a different criteria than most other positions and to a small degree I get some of the trepidation. Closers today don’t always face the strongest part of the lineup and it seems odd to have your best bullpen arm only throw an inning or less an outing. The thing to remember though is that “the closer” is still a position and if you excel at it for 16 seasons, you should be rewarded justly. In some ways, the Hoffman argument is very similar to Tim Raines; Raines was the second best leadoff hitter of his time, behind another Hall of Famer in Rickey Henderson. Hoffman was the second best closer of his, behind future Hall honoree Mariano Rivera. Hoffman not only shouldn’t be punished for not being Rivera, but was about as consistent as one can be. During his career, Hoffman posted 15 consecutive seasons of 20+ saves (and I hate the save stat, but this is still very impressive) and had an 88.8% save conversion rate, which within itself is almost insane when you consider the amount of save opportunities he received in his career.Throw in his lethal change-up that was almost as deadly as Rivera’s cutter, and you have a one of the best relievers of all-time. He might be no Mariano Rivera, but then again who is? What Hoffman is though is a Hall of Fame closer.

 

Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina

When thinking about Mike Mussina, what is the first thing that springs to mind? Is it his start in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS? Or maybe his use of the knuckle-curve, which was his out pitch? Or does nothing specific pop into your mind when hearing Mussina’s name? I sometimes wonder if those of us on the Mussina bandwagon would have to praise his career if he had been even just a tad bit flashier.What I end up realizing is that part of what made him so great was that he wasn’t flashy and just went out for 18 seasons and performed as a top of the rotation starter in that span. There are no Cy Young awards on his mantle, but there are numbers that back up his greatness. Mussina has the 24th best bWAR for pitchers, 19th in strikeouts, 22nd best strikeout to walk ratio, 17th best adjusted pitching runs, 21st best adjusted pitching wins, 9th best RE24, and 10th best Win Probability Added. Mussina was that guy who you could count on for a big win or just to go out and save the bullpen from being overused. Mussina jumped up to 43% of the ballots in 2016 and one can only hope he inches closer to the 75% he needs to reach the Hall. One of the pitchers that Mussina’s stats are comparable to is another former Oriole, Jim Palmer. While Palmer might have the accolades that Mussina does not have, the one thing in common is that both pitchers deserve to be in the baseball Hall of Fame.

 

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Manny Ramirez

Manny makes his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot and with that comes a bee-hive of debate. Many voters have said the difference to them between Bonds or a Clemens and Palmeiro or Ramirez is that the latter tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was justly suspended. In fact, when I started filling out my ballot, I paused on Ramirez and had to really stop and think of which direction I wanted to go. Like I have said, my voting is performance based but an actual suspension (and for Manny it was multiple suspensions) muddies the water a bit. After much contemplation, I went ahead and voted for Manny since he had put up Hall of Fame numbers before the suspensions. While Ramirez wasn’t a stellar defender (and that is evidenced by his career bWAR of 69.2), offensively he was a juggernaut. Manny posted a career line of .312/.411/.585 with 555 career home runs, and an OPS+ of 154. I firmly believe he could hit blindfolded and still produce league average numbers, as he was that good of a hitter. Manny also contributed during the playoffs, where he hit .285/.394/.544 with 29 home runs and 78 RBI’s over 111 postseason games, all fairly on pace to his regular season averages. The awards are all there for him as he was a 12 time All-Star, 2 time Hank Aaron award winner, 2002 AL batting title, 2004 World Series MVP, and 9 time Silver Slugger award winner. If that isn’t impressive enough, the numbers are quite gaudy: 32nd all-time in oWAR, 32nd in On-Base Percentage, 8th in Slugging Percentage, 8th in OPS, 29th in total bases, 31st in doubles, 15th in home runs, 18th in RBI’s, 28th in OPS+, 21st in runs created, 17th in Adjusted Batting Runs, 20th in Adjusted Batting Wins, 16th in extra base hits, 11th in RE24,  and 23rd in Win Probability Added. Those are Hall of Fame numbers and most of that accumulated before he tested positive for anything. Would I hold it against anyone for not voting for him because of the suspensions? Nope. I get it.But for me, Ramirez has long been a Hall of Famer; the only thing those suspensions did was tarnish the perception of him, which is unfortunate. Instead of people remembering Manny for his child-like antics or immense hitting, he will be branded a cheater. He has no one else to blame for that, but I still felt like he had earned my vote, scarlet letter and all.

 

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Ivan Rodriguez

This will be “Pudge’s” first time on the ballot and for most accounts should be an easy, first ballot inductee. The problem is that like many of that era, he has been rumored to have used PED’s, as former teammate Jose Canseco (a bastion of trust) said he shot Rodriguez up during their time together on the Rangers. Since it just speculation at this point, he got my vote, as he is easily one of the best catchers in baseball history. Over a 21 year career, Pudge would hit .296/.334/.464 with 311 career home runs, 1,332 RBI’s, an OPS+ of 106 and a bWAR of 68.4. Rodriguez was the 1999 AL MVP, 2003 NL NLCS MVP, 13 time Gold Glove winner, 7 time Silver Slugger award winner,  and 14 time All-Star, including this little honor he gets all to himself:

His numbers are somewhat mind-boggling for a catcher, a position that has been very hard for most to excel on both offense and defense. Rodriguez is 9th all-time in career defensive WAR, 48th in hits, 54th in total bases, 26th in doubles, 97th in RBI’s, 58th in extra base hits, 13th in Total Zone Runs, 1st in defensive games as a catcher, 1st in career putouts as a catcher, 23rd in assists at catcher, 5th in double plays turned at catcher, 78th in caught stealing percentage, and 1st in Total Zone Runs as a catcher. In some ways, Rodriguez re-invented the catcher position, as he was a hybrid of speed, guile, power, and  nimble defense with a cannon of an arm. According to JAWS (which is a ranking system created by Jay Jaffe that is of great use to help determine Hall of Fame worthiness),  is the third best catcher of all-time, just behind Johnny Bench and Gary Carter. When you factor in his comparable players (Carlton Fisk, Ted Simmons, Carter and Yogi Berra) it is easy to see why Rodriguez should be a first ballot HOFer. So far, he is polling at 79.9% of the ballots, which is probably a good sign that he will either get in this year or come up just short, which would be a good sign for 2018. In my eyes, there is no debate here: Pudge is one the greats of the game.

 

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Curt Schilling

There might not be a bigger lightning rod on the Hall of Fame ballot than Schilling, who has caught quite a bit of scorn for his behavior on social media within the last year. While I might not agree with his politics, I do realize it has nothing to do with his candidacy in the Hall and justly had no qualms in voting for him yet again this year. Schilling’s numbers speak of a top notch starter: 26th all-time in pitchers bWAR, 15th in strikeouts, 3rd best strikeout to walk ratio, 18th best Win Probability Added and 46th best ERA+. Those are just his regular season numbers; toss in the postseason and you have a surefire Hall of Famer. Schilling has rubbed many a writer the wrong way (and by no means do I feel sorry for Curt; he would probably be better off learning when to keep quiet) and because of that his vote totals have gone down this year, but so far he is polling exactly where he finished last year, at 52%. I might not like Schilling the person, but the baseball player was one hell of a pitcher out on the diamond. For that, he has my vote.

 

Hall of Fame Baseball

Billy Wagner

This year is the first that I voted for Wagner, although I came very (very) close to voting for him in 2016. Since I was so close last year to marking an ‘X’ next to his name, I decided to dig deeper into his numbers and compare them to some of his peers. Wagner was a 7 time All-Star, twice was in the top ten of the NL Cy Young award and took home the 1999 NL Rolaids Relief Award. While he sits in 6th place all-time in saves, that doesn’t mean as much to me as his 86% conversion rate, which is close to Trevor Hoffman’s 88.8%. What does interest me is some of the deeper numbers when compared to fellow relievers. Wagner is 5th all-time for relievers in ERA+, 14th for relievers in bWAR (in fact, just under Hoffman), 4th in strikeouts for a reliever, 86th in Adjusted Pitching Runs, 93rd in Adjusted Pitching Wins, 55th in RE24, and 36th in Win Probability Added. All this was done in less than 1,000 innings, which for some is a hindrance rather than a positive. I get that relievers today aren’t used in the same scenarios as their forefathers, and because of that their innings totals will seem meek in comparison. But that is also what the role calls for nowadays and there is something to be said for compiling numbers like this in a much shorter amount of time. For Wagner, it was more about the efficiency than the longevity; Wagner came in, shut down the opposing team and was done. In some ways, Wagner and Hoffman are linked in that they both pitched about the same amount of time, in the same period and were very equally efficient. Both were top of the food chain for their position and in my eyes, both should be in Cooperstown.

 

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Larry Walker

Much like Wagner, this was the first year I voted for Walker and my take on him seemed to be a bit different than a lot of folks. For many, the fact that Walker played a large chunk of his home games in Coors Field (Walker was a Rockie from 1995 to 2004) seemed to deter voters from placing a vote for him; I had no issue with that, since I knew he hit on the road almost as well as he did  at home. No, my issue with him was injuries, as he had 7 seasons of less than 130 games, 12 of less than 140. Walker’s issue wasn’t the ‘Rocky Mountain High’s’ as much as the ability to stay on the field and play. The numbers speak volumes: .313/.400/.565 career slash line, 141 career OPS+, 5 time All-Star, 1997 NL MVP, 3 batting titles, and 7 time Gold Glove winner. So what changed for me when it comes to Walker? His place in history. According to JAWS, Walker is the 10th best right fielder of all-time. All-Time! Just seeing who he is better than sounds like a who’s-who of right fielders: Shoeless Joe Jackson, Tony Gwynn, Ichiro Suzuki, Dwight Evans, Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero, Willie Keeler, Paul Waner and Enos Slaughter, just to name a few. Walker is 86th all-time in bWAR, 56th in bWAR for position players, 55th in on base percentage, 12th in slugging percentage, 14th in OPS, 31st in power-speed #, 38th in RE24, and 36th in Win Probability Added. Those numbers are just a sliver of what he could do; there are 7 other categories where Walker is in the Top 100 of all-time. What makes me curious is the voting for Walker during the first six years on the ballot; He peaked in 2012 at 22% and last year bumped up a bit to 15%. One has to wonder if the voters viewpoint of him would change if he hadn’t played so many games in Colorado. It took me awhile to recognize it, but Walker deserves to be with the other elite right fielders in Cooperstown.

 

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So those were my picks for this year’s class of the Hall of Fame. There are always those players we struggle with, the ones that we hem and haw about before deciding yay or nay. Here are a few of those and why I didn’t vote them:

Jeff Kent-While being one of the best offensive second baseman of all-time, his defense hurts him a ton. 19th all-time in bWAR for second sackers, 27th in WAR (which factors in a players best 7 seasons). Even just factoring in hitting, he is 18th amongst his position in OPS+. Close, but not quite.

Fred McGriff-Also close, but just misses the cut for me. Number-wise he is in the “very good but not quite great” category.

Gary Sheffield-I go back and forth on him every year, mainly because I love his offensive numbers and where they stand in baseball history. But his defense…he has a career bWAR of 60.3; just imagine if he was even just an average defender? Sheff is a close call for me and could very well win me over next year.

Lee Smith-Longevity seems to be his main catch but nothing much really stands out for me. Nice strikeout ratio and ERA+, but outside of that he would seem to fit in the “good not great” category.

Sammy Sosa-Sosa always felt like a one-dimensional player: home runs and not much more. In fact, when you consider he hit over 600 home runs, you would think his bWAR would be higher than just 58.4.Below average defender, struck out a lot, and only cracks the Top 100 of all-time in six offensive categories. Not a Hall of Famer in my eyes.

I always love writing these Hall of Fame articles, as there is a ton of research to gloss over. Every year I feel like I receive a greater perception of the bigger picture and every year I feel like I left someone off that maybe deserved a deeper look into their case. Some of these you will agree with, some you won’t, as each person’s definition of a Hall of Famer seems to be different. What I can say that in my eyes these are the best of the best and earned the honor.

My 2016 Hall of Fame Ballot

Newly-inducted National Baseball Hall of Famers from left to right, Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez hold their plaques after an induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center on Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Cooperstown, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Nothing is debated more intensely each year than who should and shouldn’t be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. The last few years have been filled with a moral dilemma for some, as they struggle with voting in players whose numbers are ‘Hall Caliber’, but the scarlet ‘S’ (for steroids) looms around their neck. This has led to a backloaded ballot for BBWAA members as they struggle with the decision of voting in a player who they feel would tarnish the game. Some of us(myself included) am not bothered by this, since the Hall is all about the history of the game, good or bad, and it is hard for me to sit here and tell you these players shouldn’t be voted in when there are no positive tests, because baseball was not testing at the time. So right there, you see the dilemma. As a member of the IBWAA, we have our own Hall of Fame and do our own voting each year. Our voting has not been completely parallel to the BBWAA’s, as last year Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines all reached the 75% of the votes needed for election. In years past, Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza have been elected by us in the IBWAA, so they are no longer on the ballot either. As a group, we also decided that we can vote for up to 15 players on the ballot, which opens it up even more and has allowed the ballot not to get so clogged up. Before we get started with my votes, you can go back and read my last two years of voting: Here is 2014 and 2015.  Also, to keep up to date with all of the BBWAA votes that have been revealed, follow Ryan Thibs on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before Wednesday’s big announcement. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2016 Hall of Fame ballot.

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Barry Bonds was also on my list the last two years and is easily one of the greatest baseball players ever, the all-time home run king and that is all tainted by supposed steroid use. To me Bonds was a Hall of Famer before his supposed use and was a 5 tool player early in his career. We can debate all day about whether or not PED users should be allowed in the Hall(and I am someone who believes the Hall of Fame is NOT sacred ground) but what is easy to decipher is that Bonds is one of the greats of the game. ‘Nuff said.

 

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Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens is another duel year vote for me and like Bonds, has the PED albatross around his neck. Clemens is thegreatest pitcher of his era, a 7 time Cy Young award winner and should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. Instead we are stuck continuing an argument that might never finish and also like Bonds, might have to wait for the Veteran’s Committee to get voted into Cooperstown. Clemens deserves to have a plaque next to the Johnson’s, Koufax’s, and Gibson’s of the world. When(or if) that happens is another issue.

 

Seattle Mariners
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Ken Griffey Jr.

Some votes are so easy you don’t even have to think about them before marking the box. So is the case with Ken Griffey, Jr., an easy first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players of his generation. Griffey came into the league as a wide eyed youngster, bringing his enthusiasm and childlike glee to stadiums everywhere. It would been awhile since the baseball world had seen a five tool player(outside of Bonds, of course) perform so easily and graceful on the field the way Griffey did. Griffey was a 13 time All-Star(10 as a Mariner, 3 as a Red), AL MVP in 1997, 10 time Gold Glove Winner and 7 time Silver Slugger award winner. At one point or another he lead the league in runs, home runs, RBI’s, slugging percentage, total bases and intentional walks. Griffey would finish 1st in the league in WAR once(1996, while finishing 1st three times for position players), while finishing 2nd three times(pulling a career bWAR of 83.6, 57th all time. The numbers just continue to stack up- 55th all time in OPS, 35th in slugging percentage, 33rd in runs scored, 50th in hits, 13th in total bases, 6th on the all time home run list and 15th career in RBI’s. There are some interesting stats that won’t pop out but are interesting nonetheless-22nd all time runs created, 7th all time extra base hits, and 6th all time intentional walks. The numbers show someone who is an easy vote for the Hall, but one has to wonder just how much higher Griffey would rank on all-time lists if not for injuries that curtailed him late in his career. It’s easy to point at his trade to Cincinnati before the 2000 season as the beginning of his decline, but that 2000 season was actually a solid one for Griffey. After that though, the injuries piled up and he went from being a player who could challenge Hank Aaron’s(at the time) all-time home run record to a ghost of his former self. In fact if you take out that 2000 season, Griffey only averaged 100 games a season during the rest of his time in Cincy, with an average of 22 home runs and 62 RBI’s per season. Even with these numbers you have a player who should be mentioned in the same breath as Mays, Ruth and yes, even Bonds, as one of the most prolific home run hitters(and all around best players) in baseball history. The question this year will be: will Griffey be the first player to be an unanimous selection to the Hall?

 

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Trevor Hoffman

I’m sure my pick here will cause some debate, since there are those that believe you have to be Mariano Rivera to be a Hall of Fame closer, but much like the Tim Raines debate(which I am a strong supporter of), you can’t fault Hoffman for not being the best closer in baseball history. Yes, the closer in modern day baseball is a defined role that is the guy who closes out the game for his team, not always the guy who faces the toughest part of the lineup. Yes, the save is probably the worst stat in baseball, based just off of its parameters on how you can get one. But when you are the second best player at your position for 16 seasons, you deserve to get more recognition than to be just tossed aside and scoffed at. Here is why I voted for Hoffman and why I feel he is a Hall of Famer. First, he was as consistent as they come. Outside of 2003 when he was injured, Hoffman posted 15 consecutive years of 20 or more saves and is second all-time(ALL-TIME!) behind Rivera. I know some use the argument “well, he was no Gossage or Fingers or even Sutter”, and to be honest, no, he wasn’t. But that is the whole point behind this; no one compares to those guys anymore, because closers aren’t used the same way they were in the 70’s and early 80’s. Why compare a pitcher to guys who faced completely different game situations 30-40 years earlier? It’s not a fair assessment and people sure as hell don’t use that same comparison when talking about Rivera and his place in the game. Second, besides the consistency he was also fairly dominant, which sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Hoffman is a 7 time All-Star, placed 2nd in the National League Cy Young award voting twice(!), has the 8th best K per 9 percentage, 8th best WHIP, 14th best ERA+ and the 18th best WPA(Win Probability Added) ever. That’s not even mentioning he also blew just 76 career saves, which gives him a 88.8% save conversion rate. What about his out-pitch? Hoffman had a lethal change-up that was one of the hardest pitches to handle during this period. Sure, it wasn’t Mariano’s cutter, but it got the job done and normally threw batters off of their game. No matter which way you cut it, Hoffman is one of the great closers in baseball history, even if you took away the save stat. Very few pitchers have been able to do what he has done and do it for as long as he did. Bottom line is that ‘closer’ is a position filled by each team in the big leagues and Hoffman was elite at that position for a very long time. That is why he gets my vote for the Hall of Fame.

 

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(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez has been looked over for years but he was an easy pick for me the last two years. Edgar is the greatestDesignated Hitter of all-time, and one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Apparently Martinez not playing much in the field hurts his case, but that honestly should be superseded by the fact that he was so good at one thing(hitting) that he is 76th in career WAR. Just like when discussing closers, Designated Hitters are a part of the game just as much as their late inning friends. Soon David Ortiz will be eligible for the Hall of Fame and you don’t hear anyone question whether or not he belongs. If he belongs, why doesn’t the guy who they named the DH Award after? Edgar is the GOAT and should be honored justly.

 

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Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina probably never dazzled anyone over his 18 year big league career. He wasn’t the most dominant, didn’t really blow gas past batters or have that one pitch that no one could hit(although his knuckle curve was a nice little out pitch when he needed it). But more than anything Mussina was consistent and stayed that way for the entire span of his career. In fact if you didn’t know better you would think Mussina was a ninja with the way his numbers jump up on you. So here are just a few of the numbers Mussina compiled during his (what should be) Hall of Fame career: 5 time All-Star, 6 Top 5 finishes in American League Cy Young voting, 7 time Gold Glove winner, 57th all-time in career WAR(24th all-time for pitchers), 19th all-time career strikeouts(2813), 89th all-time career ERA+(123), and 270 career wins. Mussina also pitched a large chunk of his career during the ‘Steroid Era’ and the two ballparks he called home during his career(Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium) were both hitters parks. I’ve always considered ‘Moose’ the right-handed equivalent of Tom Glavine, a guy who wouldn’t blow you away but put up solid numbers year after year. 2014 was Mussina’s first year on the BBWAA ballot and he compiled 20.3% of the vote, which I have to believe will go up again this year. If you want flashy, Mussina isn’t your guy. But if you want a top of the rotation starter who you can rely on year after year for quality starts and quality innings, Mussina was a lock. Eighteen years of that quality should also mean he is a lock–for the Hall of Fame.

 

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Curt Schilling

Just how much difference does a player’s postseason success factor into a Hall of Fame vote? In the case of Curt Schilling it matters a lot. In fact I would say without his playoff numbers Schilling probably wouldn’t get into the Hall. But when you add that to the mix, his true greatness shines through. A 2.23 ERA, .846 winning %, and a WHIP of .968(plus one bloody sock), all over 133 innings pitched in October shows just what kind of mettle Schilling really had. In fact, just go look at his postseason stats for 2001; ridiculous! When you then add in the regular season numbers it becomes much more obvious. Schilling was a 6 time All-Star, 1993 NLCS MVP, 2001 World Series MVP, 4 times was in the Top 5 of the Cy Young award voting, 62nd all-time in career WAR(26th for pitchers), 15th all-time in career strikeouts(3116), and 47th all-time in career ERA+(127). All this from a guy who floundered in the majors until he was 25 in 1992 with the Phillies. Schilling the person might not be a guy who we would agree with on a regular basis(and definitely don’t argue evolution with him) but none of that matters when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. Schilling was a front line starter in the big leagues for 15 years and has the numbers to prove it. That is ‘Hall Worthy’ if I have ever seen it.

 

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Alan Trammell

It took me a long time(almost too long) but after really studying his case, I believe Alan Trammell is a Hall of Famer. Trammell case has probably been hurt for a number of reasons. Trammell’s offensive numbers don’t pop out at you and he never reached any of the big milestones that voters look for when it comes time to fill out a ballot. The argument for Trammell though outweighs a lot of the negatives; Trammell has a career WAR of 70.4, which makes him 94th all-time and 63rd amongst position players. To go a step further, Trammell has a career dWAR of 22.0, which places him 34th all-time. Trammell was solid with the bat, winning three Silver Slugger awards and in 1987 probably should have won the American League MVP(which went to George Bell of Toronto). Trammell was a 6 time All-Star, the 1984 World Series MVP, a 4 time Gold Glove winner during a period where he competed with Cal Ripken Jr. for the award, and walked more than he struck out in 7 different seasons(and had the same amount of both in 2 other seasons). Trammell is the batter equivalent of Mike Mussina; he never blew you away with anything but he was so consistent for a long period of time that what he put together was a Hall of Fame career. Still aren’t convinced? Joe Posnanski has made the argument that if you are of the belief that Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer, then you should compare his numbers with Trammell’s. Joe points out just how close Jeter and Trammell were as players, with Jeter holding a slight edge over Alan offensively, while Trammell was easily a better defender. If Ozzie Smith can get into the Hall on his defense, and Jeter will get in on his offense(and leadership; you know that will be brought up) then Trammell deserves to be in for being the better all-around player. The sad part is that this will be Trammell’s last year on the ballot, which means after this year his case will be handed over to the Veteran’s Committee. I wish I had really studied his case sooner, not that my lone vote would mean much. If anything I wouldn’t have underrated Trammell as much as I did, not realizing he was way better than the memory remembers. Now about his double play partner, Lou Whitaker…

 

2004 National Baseball Hall of Fame Weekend - Induction Ceremonies - July 25, 2004
(Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

So eight votes from me this year, which was less than last year. I did consider a number of other players for this honor, players who I feel are just on the cusp but not quite there. On that list that I heavily considered was Larry Walker, Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent and Jim Edmonds. All were great players but I felt for now they fall just short for me. Does that mean I could change my mind? I could, honestly. I did when it comes to Trammell and Raines and I could with any of these guys in the future. Sometimes it just takes a longer look to really grasp how important a certain player was to his era. This is a special honor not given to just any player, but only to the greats of the game. The eight I voted for this year I consider great; next year Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero will show up on the ballot for the first time. Oh, and Russ Springer. That means we have a year to determine who of that group should be inducted; yes, even Russ Springer. All these players add a certain element to the baseball Hall of Fame, good and bad. It is all part of the story that is this great game we call baseball.

MLB is to Blame, Not Barry

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants

(Editors Note: I originally wrote this piece back in 2006 for PWInsiderXTRA.com as they were looking for sports articles to post on their site. I happened to stumble onto this while cleaning out my old drafts and thought I would toss it on my blog. Enjoy and just know my thoughts on this really haven’t changed much in 9 years.)

The Major League Baseball home run record is quite possibly the most well known record in all sports. It’s a record that for years was held by an athlete who defined the sport, Babe Ruth. When it was passed some 30 years ago by Henry Aaron, many people were not happy with the record falling, with Aaron receiving many a racist letter and even death threats. The next closest person to Ruth’s 714 has been Willie Mays for many a year, and Mays sits at 660. Many felt no one would ever get close to Ruth’s old record, let alone Aaron’s 755. Then Barry Bonds came along. Bonds has always been a great athlete, but in the last 7 years he has obliterated the record books, and is sitting on the doorsteps of Ruth’s hallowed 714. He probably won’t reach Aaron’s 755, but Ruth’s is so close he can taste it…and Major League Baseball doesn’t like it.
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In 1998, baseball was still recovering from the strike of 1994 that ended the season in August, with no World Series being played that year. Fans revolted, some even saying they would never watch baseball again. But in 1998, many a fan was brought back to the great american pastime, as two athletes chased the single season home run record held by Roger Maris. Mark McGwire was Paul Bunyan with a bat, a prolific slugger who many felt was the closest to Ruth of this generation. Sammy Sosa was well known among die hard baseball fans, and the lovable Chicago fans, but outside that he was just another player. That changed in this year, as these two players chased Maris’ record, bringing baseball back into the forefront. Many feel that was the year baseball was saved. It was also the year many started hearing grumblings about steroids.
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Barry Bonds was quite possibly the best player in the game, a five tool player who could hit, hit for power, hit for average, field, and run, with a weak left arm being his only downfall. Bonds was a good power hitter, known to reach around 30 homers a year, but not a whole lot more. Bonds was more the complete player; he still stands as the only member of the 500 homerun/500 steals club. But when Barry showed up to spring training in 1999, there was a noticeable difference. He was big; very big. Bigger muscles, bigger chest, bigger head. Big all the way around. It didn’t go unnoticed; the rumblings in baseball about steroids had started years before, but it seemed no one cared. Baseball was in an upswing. No steroid policy was in the baseball collective bargaining agreement, so no testing was being done. Baseball seemed more enamored with their new-found popularity than seeing a growing problem underneath their nose. But this problem wouldn’t just go away.
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Season after season, Bonds continued to hit home runs. He even eclipsed McGwire’s single season record of 70 by slugging 73. Bonds passed many a Hall of Famer on his climb to his own Cooperstown induction that seemed to be a simple formality. He even passed his godfather, the great Willie Mays, putting Bonds in 3rd place in all time home runs. But as records began to fall, more talk of steroid use and abuse was becoming prevalent. Congress was even beginning their own investigation into baseball’s dirty little secret.
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Baseball finally implemented their own steroid policy in 2005, as Congress looked on, almost making them do something that should have been in their agreement anyway. MLB looked the fool; nothing like the government to tell you you’re not patrolling your organization like you should. Baseball now had egg on their face, and decided after putting harsher penalties under the drug policy(with more pushing from Congress) that they would induct their own investigation into players past steroid use. But at what price?
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Barry Bonds is one home run away from tying and two away from being the second most prolific home run hitter of all time. He is also the main target of MLB’s investigation. Why Barry? Could be his surly attitude, which has angered more than just a few of journalists, writers, announcers, fans and yes, baseball commissioners over the years. Could be that he is walking on hallowed ground, that of Ruth who some consider almost Godlike in baseball circles. Or it could be that with all the heavy scrutiny already surrounding him, MLB does not want to be associated with him. Commissioner Bud Selig has already said there will be no celebration if/when Barry breaks Ruth’s mark. Selig has used the phrase “we don’t celebrate getting second place.” That’s fine, and maybe even a little valid, but would they celebrate if this was Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking this number? Would someone of Ripken’s stature be made public enemy number one for this investigation and a possible fall guy? The answer is no.
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So why wouldn’t he be? The answer is baseball has looked like the fool. They allowed steroids to run rampant in their sport with no penalties, all for the mighty dollar. Now that they have been called to the floor, they don’t want to take the fall. So let’s blame Barry Bonds. Better to blame a man that is already hated by many a fan then have to admit their own mistake. The mistake of letting a substance control a game. Nothing can be gained by going back and finding out who used and who didn’t. All it will do is paint a black eye on a sport that has been forced to take the right path and should be growing off of that. Instead they want to point a finger instead of pointing it at themselves. I’m not saying Bonds is not guilty and I’m definitely not saying he’s an angel. What i’m saying is MLB allowed this; there was no policy on record when all this happened. They made their own bed; too bad they probably won’t have to lie in it.

Rickey Said He Was the Greatest…And He Isn’t Too Far Off

Oakland Athletics

                 “My impact on the game was going out there and making things happen”
Rickey Henderson is a lot of things. Rickey is entertaining. Rickey is a Hall of Famer. Rickey is baseball’s all-time stolen base leader. But is Rickey the greatest of all time? After breaking Lou Brock’s career stolen base record, he declared just that:
Sure, in May of 1991, this seemed like a ludicrous statement. We all knew Rickey was a great base stealer and a future Hall of Famer, but declaring yourself the greatest back then just seemed cocky(which it was). Normally when you think of the greatest in baseball history, names like Ruth, Aaron, Williams, Mays and Mantle all come to mind, but the more you think about, putting Henderson in that list isn’t as far fetched as it seemed back in 1991. When it comes to a complete player, Rickey is on that short list of players who can make that argument.
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To really dive into this, we need to define our parameters. This isn’t the player who meant the most to the game or dominated his era; that would go to Babe Ruth, who while being one of the greatest ever, was not a five tool player. It isn’t who was the best fielder or best hitter either; those are singular sections of the game that don’t encompass a complete player. A complete player is one who does a bit of everything and does them really well. Running speed, arm strength, hitting for average, hitting for power, and fielding are the five tools and very few players are able to show greatness at all of them. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey, Jr. would join Henderson on this short list of players who were able to be a complete package. Obviously most on this list might have one tool they were maybe average at, but greatness at the other four made it easier to look past it. So let’s break down these players numbers…
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Let’s start with the obvious, which is running speed. If we just went by stolen bases Rickey would run away(deliberate and expected pun) with the category. I decided to dig a bit deeper into this category though, so lets look at ‘Runs from Baserunning'(Rbaser). Comparing the six players mentioned above,Henderson is the easy winner with 144 over his career. In fact this race isn’t even close, as the next closest in this category is Willie Mays at 77. The surprising player in this department is Ken Griffey Jr. who only compiled a 16 over his 22 year career. In fact Griffey had numerous seasons in the negative, mostly later in his career once his injuries started piling up. We could check a few more numbers relating to base running, but I’m pretty sure we end up at the same spot, with Rickey at the top of the mountain. No big surprise there.
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Arm strength wasn’t one of Rickey’s strong points, as he probably had an average throwing arm at best. Maybe the best way to decipher this is to look at assists in a season. Hank Aaron sits atop this leader board with 201 assists over his career while Rickey is next to last on this list. Mantle sits lower than Henderson, but Mickey also played 8 less years then Henderson which plays into his 117 assists compared to Rickey’s 131. Since we are already on fielding, lets compare these players using dWAR first. Henderson has a -3.4 career dWAR, but he is not alone on the negative side of the board. Both Aaron and Mantle also reside there, -4.8 and -10.1 respectively. Willie May’s blows away the competition here, as he has a career dWAR of 18.1! Bonds is next at 6.7 and Griffey at 1.3. I should also mention here that how you feel about this is probably predetermined on how you feel about defensive metrics. In my mind defensive metrics help show a player’s value, but I also think they are a work in progress. We can all probably agree that Mays was probably the defensive superior out of this bunch; that’s probably not even really up for argument. But do you feel as if Griffey was just a barely better than average defender? Or that Mantle was a horrendous defender? Probably not, although both players were slowed down by injuries late in their career. I decided to go a bit deeper defensively so I decided to check each player’s UZR rating(Ultimate Zone Rating, putting a run value to defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess, or lack thereof). Using UZR(TZ before 2002) showed us basically the same thing that dWAR showed us; Mays and Bonds are the superior defenders, while Mantle and Griffey were the bottom of this list. Both Bonds and Mays were in the 180’s with their UZR while Griffey and Mantle were in the negatives. Henderson floated in between, sitting at 63.4, lower than Aaron but better than Griffey. What I take from all of this is that Henderson was probably an average defender, maybe even slightly above average who was aided by his speed early in his career, especially when it came to range. I think this also points out that our perspective on Ken Griffey Jr. was from early in his career when he was a defensive daredevil. His later years(mainly once he was traded to the Reds) showed a defender who was a shadow of his former self. Injuries can do that to even the greatest of players.
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Now lets look at hitting for average.The easiest way to do this is by batting average, with most of this group hitting between .298 and .305. The only two with career batting averages below that is Griffey at .284 and Henderson at .279. You have to think that Rickey hanging on and playing those last 4 years didn’t help him, as he posted his lowest hitting averages those years. But I don’t think average really covers this whole section, so lets dig deeper. A big part of a consistently quality hitter is someone who can get on base, so I figured I would check these players career On-Base Percentage(OBP). No surprise that Barry Bonds would lead here with a .444 career OBP, with Mantle second at .421 and Rickey coming in third at .401. Henderson did lead the league 4 times in walks and 7 times had seasons where he accumulated over 100 walks. Obviously Rickey knew how to get on base and was a master at it.
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Time to move on to hitting with power, and I don’t think I am going on a ledge by saying that Rickey probably won’t match up as well with the other players in this category. Considering the other 5 players in this comparison all have at least 500 home runs and 4 of those have over 600, it’s safe to say Rickey will lack a bit here, since his career total is at 297 career home runs. Now Rickey does hold the career record for home runs leading off a game with 81, which is a nice consolation prize. But I think we can go a step further since power alone isn’t defined by home runs. Lets check these players career slugging percentage and see where Henderson stands. Not a shock here but Henderson lags far behind, as his percentage sits at .419 while the next closest is Ken Griffey Jr. at .538. Barry Bonds career slugging percentage is sick, an insane .607! One last test; since OPS is widely used anymore(on-base percentage + slugging percentage) I figured we could check these players’ career OPS+, which will factor in the league averages during these players era’s while also factoring in the ballparks. With 100 equaling average, every player is above that with Henderson the lowest at 127. But he isn’t too far off from Griffey at 136, Aaron at 155 and Mays at 156. So what these numbers tell us is that Henderson, who had good power for a leadoff hitter, was not at the elite level power-wise as most of the greats of the game. This isn’t much of a surprise but shows that Henderson obviously affected the game from a different perspective than the bigger hitters in baseball history.
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So it comes down to this, one last comparison, one that will digest every part of a players contribution to his team(s), WAR. Lets preface this by saying that the WAR stat is not perfect and not the end all be all of statistics. But it is a stat that can quantify just how much of a complete player he is, and until another statistic pops up that breaks it down even more, it is the best assessment of what we are looking for here.  What WAR tells us is that Barry Bonds and Willie Mays are in a league of their own, with 162.4 and 156.2 respectively, followed by Hank Aaron at 142.6, then Henderson at 110.8, Mantle at 109.7 and Griffey down at 83.6. Rickey isn’t the elite here, but he is right in the middle of the pack and holds his own with the greats of the game.
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So what did we learn from this little exercise? For one, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays are quite possible the two most complete players in baseball history, as they did everything above average when they played. Maybe the most surprising item from this is that Ken Griffey Jr., soon to be a member of the Hall of Fame in 2016, was really hurt late in his career by all the injuries. And Rickey Henderson? He is the greatest basestealer of all-time, taking what Lou Brock did to another level. He is the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history, a man who redefined what that even means. While he might not be the greatest player we have ever seen, he holds his own with the other 5 tool players I compared him to. Rickey isn’t the greatest like he said he was, but he was pretty damn close and that means almost as much. At some point a player will break his stolen base record or a leadoff hitter will hit more home runs to lead off a game; records are made to be broken. But there will only ever be one Rickey Henderson, just the way Rickey likes it.

Celebrating Jackie Robinson Day

(Writer’s Note: I originally wrote this a couple of years ago for a weekly feature I do during the baseball season for 14 KVOE Emporia.  I stumbled across it today and wanted to share it with everyone)

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Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day around the Major Leagues and it’s great all these years later that Robinson is honored for his grace and courage in handling a situation that could be both difficult and even dangerous at times. Robinson’s number “42” has been retired by all Major League teams in honor of not only his legacy that he has left with the game, but also for what he stood for. Sixty Five years ago, Robinson appeared in his first game, the first man of African American descent to suit up for a Major League team. Integration was not popular back in 1947, and he was treated accordingly. But for all that Robinson did(and he truly was the right man at the right time), there are other men that roamed the fields in the Negro Leagues for years that deserve praise too, even if they might have never played for a Major League team.

LARRY DOBY

Larry Doby is the first to come to mind, the first African American to play in the American League. Doby debuted for the Cleveland Indians just eleven weeks after Robinson, but is largely forgotten. Doby incurred the same indignities that Robinson did, with nowhere near the media attention and implicit support.

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Another man was Satchel Paige, a man who played twenty one seasons in the Negro Leagues and is considered by some to be the greatest pitcher in Negro Leagues history. Paige would make the big leagues in 1948 and played six seasons in the Majors.

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Who can forget Josh Gibson, maybe the greatest power hitter ever, if only the Negro Leagues had kept statistics all those years ago. Gibson never made it to the big leagues, but nonetheless is still a member of the baseball Hall of Fame.

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Hank Aaron is one of the greatest of all time, but Aaron had to deal with insurmountable pressure back in the 1970’s as he approached Babe Ruth’s all time home run record. Aaron even received death threats but pushed on to break the Babe’s record, only to eventually be toppled by Barry Bonds back in 2007.

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The list could go on and on. Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, and Smokey Joe Williams are all players that never received their just do. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier was for those players. Robinson not only broke a color line that needed to be broke, he also excelled and turned it into a Hall of Fame career.

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One last person should be mentioned if we are giving credit. Branch Rickey, then the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was the man who not only signed Robinson but also believed that Jackie was the right man for the job. Rickey once told Robinson, “I know you’re a good ball player. What I don’t know is whether you have the guts.” Robinson then asked Rickey, “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey shot back, “I’m looking for a ball player with guts enough not to fight back.”

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Jackie Robinson Day has been celebrated for years in the Majors and for good reason. It is not only celebrating a special part of baseball history. It is celebrating a man who did something no normal man would have been able to do. For that, we thank you, Jackie.

Why I Can’t Be Bothered By Baseball’s Cheaters

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Over the last year I’ve had a few people tell me that my stance on baseball’s PED users almost makes it sound like I am okay with them cheating. With Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun being the first casualty of the Biogenesis scandal(he will be serving a 65 game suspension this year, which means his 2013 season is over with), it seems like the appropriate time to lay my cards on the table and just say what I really feel about the steroid mess we’ve dealt with these past 15 years. It’s a complicated debate that has no right or wrong answer, and really is not white and black as much as gray.

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Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve tackled this subject that quite honestly I am tired of talking about. There is this. And also this. Whoa, I guess that last one didn’t really quite pan out the way I thought. My bad. Anyway, there is a good chance that if you discuss baseball, even if it is just with your buddies while drinking a cold one, you have debated steroids in baseball, or just cheating. To be honest, I am a firm believer that cheating has always occurred in baseball and always will. There is no stopping that. Sure, you can try to weed out the bad seeds, and to a degree it works in the long run, but you will never catch everyone. So why is there such an uproar about cheating now than any other time in history? It’s simple; the cheaters knocked fan’s heroes off their pedestal.

Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds isn’t a likeable guy. Never has been. He has been a pain in the ass from day one. Don’t believe me? Just ask Tigers manager Jim Leyland. But the biggest offense Barry ever made was breaking Hank Aaron’s career home run record. Aaron not only was a great symbol of all that was great about baseball, but also baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s hero. Anyone remember when Barry broke the record? Bud was watching up in the box and if looks could kill he would have done just that to Bonds. I know in some circles Bonds’ record is ignored, but the honesty of the situation is this is the baseball world Selig created, so he only has to look into the mirror to place blame. Bonds, the poster boy for the ‘Steroids Era’, dethroning Aaron is exactly what happens when business men let greed control their business decisions. There are many who think this record is now tainted, but remember– for the longest time Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s single season record was considered ‘tainted’ because it was done in more games. I’m not saying it was okay for Bonds to cheat; what I am saying is it was allowed to happen and is now part of baseball history.

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I guess that is what I need to clarify here. No, I don’t like that cheating was so glorified in baseball during this period. No, I do not feel like it was good for the game, even if it was profitable. But I’m not naive. There was cheating when Ruth played. There was cheaters when Mantle, Mays and Aaron were playing. Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to discuss greenies, am I? Because to be honest, amphetamine use was just as bad as steroid use. Both help you bounce back quicker from game to game. So why is that not as looked down on as steroids? There was just as much rampant use of greenies, but it was never shoved in anyone’s face. It wasn’t paraded around and used to ridicule those in charge. It was used behind closed doors and no one was the wiser. Baseball became a joke and it was the people in charge that were to blame and anytime that happens…well, when that happens those people with power use their power to make those players pay for being so ballsy.

Baseball 2006

That right there is why I quit caring if any baseball player used something they weren’t supposed to. When the higher ups in baseball decided not only to not take blame for any of the problems happening with their lack of a drug program, but then pointing fingers at players while not pointing any back at themselves, well, why should we care at that point? I’m not saying the players shouldn’t be blamed, or the players union. No, both shoulder a fair amount of that burden. But there is more than enough blame to go around, and to have the hierarchy of baseball act like they were disgusted, while making truck loads of money, well, I can’t just act like that is not one of the most hypocritical things I have ever heard. Bud Selig should have stood up, said he was just as much to blame for letting it go on as long as it did, and then profess to clean up the game. Instead, he acted sick to his stomach that these players would do such a thing. That is why I don’t care. But that isn’t the only hypocrisy going around baseball.

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A large portion of baseball’s Hall of Famer’s have also spoken out against steroid use, yet are just as bad about their cheating ways. So none of those Hall of Famers ever used greenies? No corked bats? No spitters or illegal pitches? Not so fast, Gaylord Perry. Perry is a known cheater and yet was welcomed into the Hall with open arms! So it’s okay to throw an illegal pitch, but dammit, those damn steroid users, they ruined the game! Newsflash guys: IT’S ALL CHEATING! You can’t excuse one and abhor the other. Here is the kicker to this whole thing–at some point, while trying so hard to not let in any steroid users, they are going to let in someone who never was on the radar. Never looked the part, never gave a hint they were using. But they’ll get in. Then, with all the other guys on the outside looking in, some not even having any proof against their supposed “guiltiness”, will realize that the system is flawed and that they got screwed. Just another reason why the arguments against steroid users have become a joke.

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So do I have a problem with players who use illegal substances in 2013? The honest answer is I just don’t care anymore. There is no way to ever catch everyone, and very few in the game can ever walk away saying they are a saint. Is it right? Nope. Not even a bit. But is it our reality? Yes, yes it is. I am not naive–this will still be going on in five years, ten years, fifteen. Major league baseball has a good testing program, and guys do get caught, right, Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera? Instead of just accepting that the system is working nowadays, Selig has gone out of his way to prove a point. Ryan Braun is just the first. Alex Rodriguez is on deck. But should we care? No, no we shouldn’t. Baseball has allowed this to be an issue, by ignoring it for so long. So let these guys use what they feel they need to. It soils the game, yes. But is it worse than gambling or racism has been for the game over the years? Nope. It’s just another chapter in a book on how if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying.

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